Forget keeping up with the Joneses. Who has time for that? We’re busy enough trying to keep tabs on ourselves. As consumers we continually build our IoT islands of connectivity augmenting our own internal home functionality. Thanks to new innovations in connected lighting, security and temperature control, coupled with our smart appliances, we’re doggedly focused on sensing activities and situations within our individual property, yet do very little to react to our adjacent neighbors with whom we share our street or building.
Imagine, for a moment, the focus of IoT shifting from individual sensing to communal connection with our neighbors. As device signals become more standardized, our homes could start looking outward and become more reactive and supportive to external-domestic stimuli. This will allow us to use IoT technology to create stronger local communities by sharing resources and information more seamlessly.
Closer communities that address peoples’ needs in ways they truly desire sounds good, right? Then what’s the hurdle to achieving this level of scalar change? Interoperability. To create a truly connected community on a large (at least town-sized) scale, we need to solve the challenge of interlinking our widely distributed smart devices to monitor neighborhood environments in real time. IoT infrastructure isn’t there yet, but in time, local governments will be able to invest in a network of intelligent sensor nodes as well as data centers, where information can be stored and shared. Despite the excitement about smart cities, enormous barriers are likely to slow or stall these initiatives. As I dream about the promise and possibilities, the likelihood that these initiatives could be decades from achieving city- or town-linked services is the reality of our current civic infrastructure.
Smart homes of the future will be infinitely more intelligent than they currently are. Soon, biometric data, such as fingerprints, body temperature and even heartbeats, will enable our homes to distinguish between family members and other home-dwellers to personalize the home based on the needs of each individual. We can pool local sensor data with neighbors to make our immediate community more safe, secure and sustainable. We can start to interlink our resources, energy conservation, homecare, interpersonal communications, social activities and entertainment — not just for peace of mind, but for communal harmony. This is starting to happen in newer construction communities and residential buildings. We see services like i-Neighbour already pulling together resources for building management companies. Development plans, like Sidewalk Labs in Toronto, are building a smart neighborhood from the ground up as a model for future smart cities. Let’s dream about how developing connected communities can help alleviate daily challenges with solutions to improve citizen engagement and better neighborhood integration.
Can home climate, security, lighting and power monitoring be heightened depending on what is happening outside of our home? As our homes become more aware, they’ll begin taking pulse of our larger environmental context, adjusting indoor temperature and air moisture levels according to external factors such as natural solar gain imparted by afternoon sunshine or humidity loss brought about by a winter blizzard. Using this externalization to help bring our neighborhoods closer together, adjacent homes can react to upcoming weather events or police activity in the area through a heightened level of security, warning or internal environment change. Also, for the safety of people living alone or when neighbors are traveling, our homes could become more digitally transparent, broadcasting internal activities, when homeowners wish, to alert their neighbors. Apps like Nextdoor are already pioneering this direction, creating a neighborhood watch network that not only raises the security, but also the emotional and financial value of our neighborhoods.
As we rely more and more on IoT devices to run our daily lives, we need assurance that we have the power required to drive each device flawlessly. The need to share power and backup energy will be important to a community to give piece of mind if a primary power source fails. Continuity of power is obviously critical for home security and fire protection, but it’s also important for emerging home applications such as patient monitoring and senior care. Communities can solve this by having a collective battery backup that can be charged with renewable energy generated. This energy can be generated by neighbors or the collective community by, for example, harnessing the energy from a shared workout facility. Sensors can be deployed to show details of unseen infrastructure resources as well, such as sewage flow, water quality, gas leaks and so forth. This information can be used by local city councils and townships to help residents gain insights about local traffic patterns, power outages, trash collection, power peak hours, etc.
What’s the IoT equivalent in the future of borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor? Portable items that can be shared by the community, such as bikes, home-maintenance equipment and even vehicles, have become a key element in the drive toward smart cities. Scale down this city model to a local neighborhood scale and a single community garage provides access to communal tools, vehicles and other outdoor equipment, and shifts focus from siloed ownership to a conversation between neighbors. There are many neighborhood sharing sites out there, like Streetbank, that promote this model of sharing the physical things in our lives and getting to know our neighbors in the process.
Linking up with the Joneses
A community is not smart because it’s technologically advanced. A community is smart because it uses technology to improve convenience, promote resident engagement and increase general desire to live in that community. IoT and smart sensors can and should help neighborhoods achieve a more connected relationship among residents. To enable better lifestyle experiences and stronger communities, we need to break down our IoT silos and discover the societal benefit of interlinking shared resources and devices. Yes, it will cost local governments a lot to deploy an open civic platform to connect a vast number of IoT devices across cities and towns. This must be an opt-in that is carefully constructed and monitored to understand peoples’ comfort zone and their mental concept of home before designing this civic network. This system should serve all communities and not cater to certain tech-enabled neighborhoods. Hopefully examples of communal sharing on a small scale can be the harbinger for the sophisticated connected cities of the future as we uncover peoples’ need within our local buildings and neighborhoods to test the benefits of connecting beyond our own personal domestic property.
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