Telkonet’s CTO Envisions the Future of IoT
Interview with Jeff Sobieski, Chief Technology Officer, Telkonet, Inc.
Jeff, can you share your vision of the future of the Internet of Things?
The future of IoT will be shaped by the desire to simplify our lives, and solve the small problems. We will start seeing advances that are specific to each of our markets, like hospitality, higher education, military, senior living, and MDU’s.
In hospitality I think it’s going to be driven by the guest expectations: they will expect their hospitality environment to have the same technology they typically use in their homes. Take internet service adoption as an example. Once internet service became a standard in homes, guests came to expect it in their hotels too. It was adopted by hospitality industry and it’s pretty much standard now.
These days, the more people adopt smart thermostats at home, the more we see the functionality adopted at our hotels. The same applies to other types of automation like lighting, outlets, and blinds.
What you see in your homes today is what you’ll see in hospitality in the future. It’s a slow adoption, to be sure. So what’s cutting edge today is going to be what’s standard in hotels several years from now.
What is cutting edge today?
What’s still relatively new in the market is walking in your home and your blinds open automatically, your lights turn on, your alarms are disabled, the TV turns on to your preferred channel. All these functions can be done for you based upon your presence. And it is all scripted the way you want it to work.
These types of automations are still cutting edge and we are starting to see the different hotel brands have interest in it. Some of the leaders like Hilton and Marriott are designing their rooms of the future with those concepts involved. They recognize this is the direction they should head.
Can you give us an example of how our current IoT technology is being used in new and innovative ways?
There’s a sensor of interest to me: emergency beacons for housekeepers. In California it’s a requirement. Chicago and Seattle require them as well.
It’s actually being mandated in several cities now that you have to provide housekeepers with panic buttons. If there’s a safety issue, they can push the panic button and security can respond. It will automatically identify where on the property housekeepers are located. That sensor is being demanded by the industry and it is slowly gaining traction.
I recently met with a large management group on the west coast who is looking for emergency beacon solutions right now. They don’t want to develop a whole new network, a whole new system of sensors just for that. They want to rely on infrastructure they’ve already put in the hotel to make it more efficient.
We can further develop sensors that check air quality and that track an HVAC filter life. How clean is the air? How clean is the filter? How much pressure differential is being generated by the filter? Do we know how efficient it is?
What about the student housing market?
In the student housing market, it might mean automation that can improve their schedules or their study habits. Students are generally more willing to be first adopters. Unlike hospitality, this market is not driven by what’s in the home market. On the whole they’re more technically savvy.
In student housing, I can envision thermostats on the wall being replaced by smart phone controlled thermostats: using a phone app to adjust room climate. This will happen sooner in student housing than, say, hospitality, because a) as a group, students are more savvy technically and b) a hotel guest whose stay is limited to a day or two is not going to take the time to learn how to use a phone app for climate control.
What’s the future of IoT in senior care facilities?
In the senior living market, I envision technology that makes everyday tasks easier for our seniors, so they don’t have to learn how to program a thermostat, for instance. Tasks will be completed without them having to be aware of it. Take occupancy sensors, which can monitor movement. Movement patterns can be defined, and if those patterns change (for example, if there is no movement for a certain period of time), there will be an alert so someone can check on them. I think of this as “out of sight, out of mind” IoT: tasks are done behind the scenes on seniors’ behalf to help keep them safe and comfortable.
What are some of the challenges we face with IoT?
Before every little device is connected and able to send data, we have to see some things change on the networking and security side.
This is where technology struggles today: anyone can build platforms for their devices. However, if they want to allow their devices to play on somebody else’s platform, their device has to behave differently. That limits the number of options that are out there.
Collectively, the industry is creating standardizations to pave the way for just about any device to talk to another device. In the next couple years, many more standards will be developed around how devices can data can flow securely in a data mining system.
Standardization will be critical to the future of IoT.
What is the future of Zigbee?
Our EcoSmart platform currently relies on ZigBee as its communication platform. ZigBee is the standard for low powered devices communicating across long distances.
Recently, ZigBee changed their communication protocol so it can now run on top of other wireless network protocols like WiFi. They call it Dotdot. They split their physical layer from the application layer. WiFi is already becoming ubiquitous in hospitality. The switch from ZigBee to WiFi has not happened yet because WiFi still draws too much battery power. It’s in the works but it just does not yet exist today. Once that happens it is likely that WiFi wills surpass ZigBee as the standard. As a company, it is ZigBee’s hope that devices will run Dotdot on top of whatever form of communication will be used, be it WiFi, Thread, or ZigBee; Dotdot will run on top of that. It’s likely that in the future, Telkonet will abandon the ZigBee mesh platform in favor of low powered WiFi.
What major technology initiatives is Telkonet pursuing these days?
At Telkonet we are setting ourselves up for future success by designing a brand new platform. Our focus is on data storage and data analytics. Yes, technology is going to change (e.g. ZigBee and WiFi). What’s NOT going to change is that Telkonet will continue to have a solid back end system that can perform data analytics no matter how the data gets there. Our focus is on ensuring a really solid back end that can process data, analyze data, generate high quality informational reports and send those instantaneous alerts when it recognizes things aren’t right. So being a lot more AI driven: actually looking at data, processing it, looking at anomalies, and then generating reports. That to me is the really big piece, no matter what we do.
Tons of companies will be making sensors and their data will be ubiquitous. What’s important is how systems can respond to that data and how it can be used.
We want to be the ones who can consume that data the best and present it the best for our markets. That will be the differentiator for us.