You could argue that AV professionals were there at the dawn of the Internet of Things (IoT). To hear it told, the phrase used to describe a bunch of networked objects, devices and sensors was first coined around 1999. But it was about two years earlier, just as one example, that Crestron used Ethernet to connect control systems to AV equipment and enable a new level of systems management and insight. Think of all the projectors, displays, touchpanels, DSPs and other gear that came with LAN ports. What were they if not things that could connect over the internet?
So you might be forgiven if you weren’t caught up in today’s IoT hype, but you’d be missing an opportunity if you didn’t grasp how IoT technologies stand to impact future solutions you deliver.
Let’s say, for the sake of sensationalism, that the AV industry was doing IoT before IoT was cool. Then came a tidal wave of connected devices: RFID tags in marathoners’ shoes, smart toll transponders in our cars, cellphones you can track when you lose them. Depending on whom you ask, there will be more than 50 billion objects connected via the IoT by 2020. And much of the recent explosion in connected devices has had little to do with commercial AV. So, if you snoozed on the IoT for the past decade, you might also be forgiven. However, now’s the time to wake up.
We’re entering a phase in the IoT’s development that is right up the AV industry’s alley. Much of the IoT’s recent evolution has been unseen. Technology has digitized interaction among devices, machines and systems. In the coming phase of the IoT, we’ll bring people into the mix, and no industry understands the interface between humans and technology the way the AV industry does.
Maybe you’ve already envisioned the next-generation collaboration space that adapts to the people using it, rather than making people adapt to the space. One morning you enter the conference room, which is expecting you because you scheduled it. The room knows it’s you because it detects the smartphone you’re carrying and starts preparing for your meeting. It senses how bright the sun is out the east window, and because the meeting’s invite includes participants who are located overseas and need to patch in via videoconference, it adjusts the shades to maximize visibility on the large-screen display. (It’s also wicked hot this morning, so the room begins to make itself comfortable.) You’ve uploaded your presentation to the cloud, so the room queues it up, senses the aspect ratio and the fact that it includes audio and video, fires up the required AV systems, and requests adequate bandwidth to support the right number of remote participants in a seamless, productive, collaboration experience.
Or maybe you’ve experienced a digital sign that senses who‘s looking at it and delivers appropriate content. In my car, the audio system can tell I’ve rolled down the window based on the noise and automatically boosts the stereo volume. You get the idea.
Creating these interactions between people and things through information—digitizing processes and experiences—is a mission for AV integrators and designers. Cisco Systems sees a $19 trillion opportunity in the IoT. Cisco’s Chief Technology Officer for Federal Defense and President-Elect of InfoComm Gary Hall, CTS-D, CTS-I, has been evangelizing for the AV industry to embrace IoT technologies. InfoComm itself has launched a series of IoT events to help AV pros understand the issues. Your next chance to take part would be at the InfoComm 2016 show in Las Vegas. There will be a day-long IoT Insights session the Tuesday before the exhibit floor opens.
Of course, tackling the next wave of IoT deployments will require fresh thought and attention to new considerations. For example, 50 billion smart, connected devices generate lots of data. As revolutionary as cloud computing has been for collecting and processing terabytes of data, it’s not ideal for real-time human experiences out at the edge of the internet, where IoT-enabled AV solutions live. So devices have to become smarter: They need to process IoT data where it’s generated and make decisions about what’s important, what’s not, and what actions to take to create the desired experience.
And devices must be more secure, both themselves and in the way they integrate with other systems. The IoT has sparked the public’s imagination through smart thermostats, cars and remote cameras, but experts are quick to say that many of the IoT devices sold today are installed without any consideration of security. Depending on circumstance, it may be no big deal that a hacker can commandeer your thermostat, but when one can take over and crash a car, it’s clear that securing the IoT is a big deal.
You may not explicitly sell a client an IoT solution (how the AV industry does or doesn’t talk about the IoT will affect users’ understanding of new systems and capabilities; we need to communicate what the system does, not how it does it), but when you build an AV solution that incorporates IoT technology, security has to be factored in at every stage.
And we’re just getting started. The IoT will require analytics, network standards and interoperable communication frameworks. As adept as the AV industry is at integrating disparate systems, for an IoT-enabled AV application to work well, devices have to speak a common language…and that doesn’t always happen.
But with a firm grasp on everything that goes into the IoT, AV professionals are poised to humanize this increasingly pervasive technology. Whether it’s in a smart building or a smart city, the AV industry will play an important role in determining how people experience the IoT. Now is the time to grasp the opportunity. Start by reading Pro AV and the Internet of Things: An InfoComm International White Paper. It’s free and available at www.infocomm.org/iotwhitepaper.