Before the turn of the last century, ‘smart’ used to be an adjective used describe an intellectual person. These days however, we hear the word ‘smart’ being thrown in front of almost everything in our everyday lives (smart-phone, smart-watch, smart-TV, smart-home, smart-office, and so on). And ironically, it’s now used less about describing people! But is this trend just a new age fad, or is this a paradigm shift for technology of the early 21st century? Let’s find out!
Often times, when we describe something as being ‘smart’ it typically means that ‘thing’ has additional functionality from its main intended purpose. Just take the same example of smart-phone, smart-watch, and smart-TV and you can see what I mean. But is this enough to define ‘smart’? Let’s look at the world’s first smart device; it was the ECHO IV home computer. The device was made by engineer Jim Sutherland in 1966, pre-dating even the ancestors of our personal computers.
It was an antique computer system used to control many aspects of his home such as computing shopping lists, controlling the temperature of the house and turning appliances on and off; half a century before another similarly named device would also popularise home automation (more on that later). This was the first concept of a home with added features, the Smart-home.
Now-a-days when we talk about smart devices, the first thing that may come to mind are smartphones no doubt. The term smartphone was popularized around the mid 2000’s about the time of the Nokia Communicator, first blackberries and palm smartphones. By this time, phones were already being given ‘additional features’ such as cameras, SMS text messaging capability, and basic applications (such as games, calendar, clock etc.). However, what really made these devices worthy of being called ‘smartphones’ was their ability to incorporate internet based features such as email and web on a mobile device. These phones were generally used by the elite business class. Later-on, due to advances in computer technology and falling prices, Apple’s IOS and Google’s Android operating systems (OS) further revolutionized smartphones for a general audience and made them truly mainstream. In addition, software features on these devices made them even more connected with the user. The key driving force of this smart revolution is as a result of computer networking and automation. Computer networks allows for the collaboration of separate electronic systems to communicate with each other and the processor or AI takes that information operates everything seamlessly as one system greater than the sum of it parts.
Taking all we’ve discussed so far into consideration, we can probably define ‘smart’ as being the ability to incorporate additional features other than the main usage, the ability to operate interactively with a user, and most notably the ability to communicate with other smart systems through networking. As you can imagine this definition opens the door for almost any inanimate object to be ‘smartified’ by just apply the aforementioned features to its design.
This phenomenon we refer today as the Internet of things (IoT), and it is seen in businesses and the home. Many of the larger well know tech companies have taken up this design philosophy and paved the way for the technology of 2018 and beyond. Companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google Samsung are the leaders of smart home consumer electronics. Similarly in the business/industrial space, Building management systems (BMS), Distributed Control Systems (DCS), and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) are all examples of smart systems used to improve business efficiency and quality through automation.