Monday, 29 December 2014

What is Smart Technology? (vs. Dumb Technology)

***** Note: Originally posted @ SmartWeek blog: ***** 

Ok. Today everything seems to be "Smart", from Smart Food to Smart Cars to Smart Phones, but what we really mean by Smart Devices?

(Smart Car -

I first heard the term used when working with RFID readers about 10 years ago. Smart RFID Readers were devices which a certain amount of logic could be added for filtering based on tag reads. (This was great as it helped us to lower overall 'noise' due to unwanted tag reads, etc. There might be hundreds of tags in a read range, but we often only wanted to myopically deal with a small handful of them.) This was in stark contrast to what we called "Dummy" readers which were older devices which could only simply read RFID tags and simply send that information along.

Today the term "Smart" is co-opted for anything that is a primary function "+"  (or plus) device. Basically it's better than it's non-Smart or Dummy predecessor. A phone that does more than just make phone calls, such as stores & plays music, run apps and gets email is a Smart Phone (as compared to a Feature Phone). A whiteboard that is touch sensitive and connected to a laptop and projector is suddenly a Smart Board (see SMART Technology's SMART Board). A fridge with a computer & LCD panel to tell you how much energy it consumes and what's inside is a Smart Fridge (see LG's SmartThinQ Fridge).

Therefore my humble definition is:
Smart Device -  next generation of multi-use/multi-functional device (or appliance), created through the addition of auxiliary complementary technologies to an existing previous device. 
These potentially simple changes or additions should not be underestimated as they can vastly improve the overall impact of the previous device. Take for instance the humble Fax Machine, which in it's basic functional components is part Optical Scanner, part Printer and part Telephone. When Xerox invented & patented the Long Distance Xerographer (LDX) in 1964, all 3x technologies were well established and none were invented specifically for the Fax Machine. However when put together, the sum is greater than the parts and more importantly there is power in having a single device that is integrated vs. simply just connected. (Note: In the case of the invention of the Fax Machine, it was created as a whole new device not just a Smart Scanner or Smart Printer.)

One of the easiest ways to make something "Smart" is to add Internet connectivity to it. Therefore any devices that is part of Internet of Things (IoT) is connected and therefore generally Smart(er) than it's disconnected predecessor. This is why IoT and Smart Devices and M2M (machine-to-machine) are often talked about in the same breath and sometimes interchangeably.

(For those interested, at SAP we are working hard on helping Smart Devices get off the ground with a good push. We're working on things like Smart Vending Machine that can interact with consumer's smart phones and also help to maintain itself through metrics and predictive maintenance. We're also working with places like University of Guelph on Smart Green Roofs, which are not only environmentally friendly but are also self-maintaining and optimized for energy and resource consumption. Additional we're also making the world safer through Smart Cranes, which can detect and avoid collisions in dense construction environments. Just to name a few things...) 

Unfortunately the terminology isn't ideal and it's sometimes confusing. Smart Devices shouldn't confused with Artificial or Machine Intelligence, which is about building software in a way that it can mimic learning and improve over time. These Smart Devices aren't that kind of Mensa "Smart".

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau

p.s. Maybe the trend will be for "Super" Devices next. In the mobile world we're already past Smart Phones and now we often talk about Super Phones (like Androids and iPhones, etc). These phones are even a step above Smart Phones, which were step up from Dummy Phones or Feature Phones

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