Real Value Springs from Synergy

Sensors Insights by Tom Kevan

Technologies like Google Glass and Pebble draw everyone's attention, and as the latest-and-greatest technologies vie for attention, market watchers try to determine which has the most influence or the greatest value. Looking at technology this way, however, is too myopic. It misses the key fact that technologies increase in value through their synergy with other technologies. In fact, the synergy is the source of their greatest value.

Consider the convergence of sensors, the Internet of Things, big data analytics, cloud computing, wearable electronics, and augmented reality. Each provides an essential ingredient; together they have an impact beyond the reach of any single technology.

In a discussion of big technologies and even bigger concepts like these, it's easy to overlook the role and importance of the most mature of these technologies: sensors. Long associated with industrial automation and automotive applications, these devices are growing smaller in size but greater in significance, as they play increasingly more important roles in consumer devices. Their ability to detect and measure physical properties are fundamental to the "Quantified Self movement—the drive to collect data about an individual's life using technological tools. This monitoring covers a wide range of physical issues, ranging from steps taken and calories consumed to sleep patterns. Essentially, sensors are the senses of electronic devices and the key to the physical world.

When you add the Internet of Things to the mix, you create a global physical-digital community in which to collect and share "quantified self" data about people and things, providing access to everything from data on your body's well being to insight into your refrigerator's mechanical health. The byproduct of this connectivity is the creation of volumes of structured and unstructured data so large that it's difficult to process using traditional database and software technologies.

Big data analytics and cloud computing come into play at this point. The analytics' software and database tools make it possible to examining the mountains of data and uncover hidden patterns, correlations, and other useful information. Cloud-based services cost-efficiently deliver the processing and storage capacity required to handle this much data, and they provide users easy access to cloud-based applications via Web browsers or mobile apps.

Now consider wearable electronics. Whether its Google Glass, Pebble, or some form of smart clothing, wearables will take the Internet of Things to the next level by intimately interweaving technology into everyday life, blending the digital and the physical to make technology pervasive and interactive. Wearable electronics incorporate and leverage sensing and Internet connectivity, bringing the Internet to you and adding volumes of data that can be mined and accessed effectively only via big data analytics and cloud computing services.

Augmented reality (AR) completes the process begun by wearable electronics. Dan Shey, ABI Research Practice Director, predicts that augmented reality can serve as a visualization medium that will make sensor data situational, bridged to the real-world surroundings. AR takes the personalized data generated by wearable electronics, combines it with public data, uses big data analytics to identify personally and contextually relevant information, and provides frictionless and powerful beneficial services, ranging from traffic alerts to the location of friends and family.

Individually, none of these technologies can have the impact of all working together. As technologies become more complex in their functionality and objectives, synergy becomes a necessity.

Tom Kevan is a New Hampshire-based freelance writer specializing in technology.