IOT is not about data – Plane thoughts

Pieter will be travelling a lot this year and this blog was written in one of his trips.


When we think of IOT (check this blog if you don't know what IOT is) there are several examples that spring to mind. Tracking objects in transports, watching how crops grow and making your heartbeat be logged every minute of every day automatically by your smartwatch.

Many say it’s a revolution like one we haven’t seen before and that it’s going to change the way the world works and our lives.

IOT might change the world but this kind of revolution, we’ve seen before, and this is why:

What do IOT products do?

Most, if not all, IOT products incorporate data collection with some also being able to undertake action on inputs from the internet.

Some track temperature, some track humidity. You can track your sleep, blood sugar and yes, even pee.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

What do you get from these new sensors? Is it like getting a new sense? Can we suddenly know everything? If you believe the marketing, you’d think that’s the case.

The way we communicate with the IOT devices is usually with a graph, a number and, if you’re lucky, some reward badges on your phone. For industrial IOT it’s a dashboard overflowing with data for operators to sift through.

Is this really the full potential of IOT? I don’t think so and believe the most exciting things are yet to come.

We’ve been here before

The story of innovation since the industrial revolution is straightforward; less people can do the same amount of work.

Machines enhanced man’s capacity for physical labour. Computers enhanced man’s capacity for mental labour.

The ways computers have enhanced mental capacity comes down to two parts: Replacing simple tasks and providing access to more information. Combine the two and you have access to more dense information.

A file in excel that takes an hour to make could have taken between a day or a week before computers.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels (2)

More information density

IOT will do the same, it will make the information we have even denser. If you apply this, you get back to the nice graphs of my heartbeat or how my last night was with a nice badge with a single score. That badge is the result of processing all the information that my watch sent to my phone about my heartbeat and my movements in bed while asleep. The phone takes all that info and transforms it in a pretty graph (which is already better than just data) and a single score which is al I want to know.

How useful is this number actually? Do I care about my weight being a little lower today if it’s going to shoot up again tomorrow? Is the soil being too humid today a problem or not?

Data has become denser, but the interpretation still lies with the end user, in other words, with us.

Photo by Lukas from Pexels

From interpretation to decision.

I don’t care so much about my weight as a number as I care about the fact that I seemed to have lost all my progress because of a single family event. (I blame my sister’s baking skills).

If the soil of my crops is too wet just after watering them, no big deal. I’ll just wait a little and everything will go back to normal. If it has been too wet for a week, I should do something quick.

The decisions we make based on info we have is what makes a difference. IOT should allow us to get the right info in the right moment for us to be able to make a good and informed decision.

This means that we as designers should not ask “what data can I collect?” or “which actions can I make my device do?”. Instead we should focus on the decisions we can enable the user to take.

My package has been exposed to too much shock on the route, I should refuse delivery. My heart rate is too high while sitting, I should get my blood pressure checked. What is truly empowering is not the data, but what to do with it.

Photo by Bianca Marolla from Pexels

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