Let’s face it. The future that was envisioned some years back is now taking its baby steps to being accomplished in real life. Although we don’t have flying cars and people in silver jumpsuits yet, scientists, big corporations, entrepreneurs and even hobbyists are playing their part in making devices smart.
Now, what exactly is a smart device, you might ask? The gadget which inevitably comes first to mind is a smartphone – but the definitions have been long changed. Earlier, a ‘smart’ phone could help you organize your daily routine in the form of calendars, synchronize with your email on the go and help you obtain information within seconds.
In today’s day and age, these activities do not define ‘smart’. No, according to me, smart devices are those which will keep track of your activities over a period of time, arrive at a suitable conclusion and accordingly, aid the users. In a nutshell, as of today, smart devices are those which truly understand and assist the users. And that’s where contextual technology comes into the picture.
CONTEXTUAL TECH IS THE NEW ‘IN’ THING
Contextual technology has been around us for quite a bit of time in the form of website algorithms. Take for example YouTube. Based on your viewing patterns, YouTube suggests channels which you might find interesting. Likewise, the recommendation engines of Amazon and Netflix, and the valuation systems of Facebook and Twitter work on data generated due to a particular user’s activities and generate relevant content which would be engaging to the user.
It is only in recent times that contextual technology is stepping outside the world of web content and becoming a part of hardware devices as well. Although we’ve seen the virtual assistants Siri, Google Now and Cortana get massive popularity as being intelligent extensions to their respective devices, we yet have to see dedicated hardware for contextual technology.
A recent device launched by Amazon came quite close to be heralded as one of the true pioneer devices in contextual computing. The Amazon Echo has an active listening mode, which will recognize a particular keyword (‘Alexa’), and will then listen to your command and deliver the result accordingly. Be it a particular song, the news or simple setting an alarm, the Amazon Echo can handle all of them because of its contextual nature.
Now, although these features (or their variants) are available in the virtual assistants I mentioned before, it is extremely interesting to note that the same features were transplanted into a simple speaker. A device which nobody would guess as a ‘smart’ one, now has these features.
So imagine, if other tech companies started taking cues from this trend, every device around us would be connected to the Internet and have the power to deliver according to the context. And ultimately, doesn’t that form the backbone structure of the Internet of Things?
KEY ELEMENTS THAT WILL BE NEEDED
Bringing in the contextual element to various devices is the first step in achieving the Internet of Things, but it isn’t the last. A lot of research needs to be carried out in the field of sensor technology and associated data analysis.
We need more compact sensors – which can pave the way for smaller devices being able to understand your every requirement – and more efficient search algorithms. Focus on keywords should now make way for focus on words similar to the keywords, a language processing structure which does not limit the user to commands in a particular language. This would in turn give rise to a system wherein all devices are unified via the Internet and constantly take inputs from the user to simplify matters.
Devices or user interfaces which sport contextual technology (The Z Launcher from Nokia is an example for the latter) come with a similar statement in their promotional literature: “Give it time to understand you. Use it as many times to make the experience better.” This can be heralded as the basic motto behind the foundation of the Internet of Things. Devices which observe your activities, gather the data, crunch and analyze the data to come to suitable conclusions and accordingly generate outputs which would be conducive to the user’s overall efficiency.
• According to a prediction by Accenture, 53% of organizations worldwide are planning on introducing solutions and devices supporting the Internet of Things in the near future.
• Back in CES 2013, a consortium was announced to support the growth of Internet enabled devices for users.
• There’s also the Internet.org initiative which is actively supported by Mark Zuckerberg to bring Internet to remote areas of the world – free of cost.
• Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) are now being made to integrate to provide a unified network for gathering data and keeping track of it.
• Finally, worthy of mention are ambitious plans announced by SpaceX and Google, of providing Internet to entire continents via satellites.
Here’s an interesting depiction and forecast of how the prospects are in the field.
All in all, constituting factors which will be favourable for the Internet of Things are now being developed or researched upon. It does hold a lot of scope for the future in this field.
Amazon might just have set a trend by bringing a ‘smart’ technology to a ‘non-smart’ (for lack of a more fitting term) device. It is now up to OEMs and big corporations to take the hint and design their products accordingly. We might not see a Jarvis soon, but the future does hold good prospects as far as contextual technology and the Internet of Things is concerned.