Examples of Smart vs. Connected Devices
To illustrate the difference between smart and connected devices, think about the example of a light switch—perhaps the most basic electrical device possible. Now imagine what you could do with a light switch if it were connected to the Internet via a sensor: you could see whether it was on or off, and toggle it remotely from anywhere in the world.
While you could certainly call this light switch a connected device, there’s not very much that’s “smart” about it. For example, if you forget to turn off the lights in your apartment when you leave for work, you still have the mental load of realizing your mistake and manually turning them off.
A “smart” light switch would go beyond simple connectivity, with features designed to make the user’s life easier. Motion-activated light switches can be seen as a type of basic smart device: they turn on and off whenever you enter or leave a room.
Advanced smart devices are able to go even further and adapt to the circumstances of individual users. They can even “learn” from experience, understanding your behavior and preferences in order to make your life easier and more efficient.
For example, you might usually not want to turn on the light in the middle of the night because you have a pet dog that might trigger the motion detector. Sometimes, however, you might want to be awake at night, such as if you have an early morning flight. In these cases, if the light detects a large amount of motion it might decide to turn itself on anyway.
This is the major point of distinction between devices that are “smart” and those that are merely “connected.” Smart devices need to be intelligent enough to assume some of your responsibilities as a human being, or reduce your cognitive load in some way.
Modern-Day Applications of Smart Products
There are countless possibilities for how smart products might have real-world utility, well beyond our simple light switch example.
- Manufacturing: When manufacturing equipment unexpectedly breaks down, it can be tremendously costly in terms of repair and lost productivity. Sensors attached to mechanical parts can detect issues before any human employee, allowing the machine to fail gracefully and the problem to be fixed in advance.
- Vehicles: Modern vehicles often include some kind of intelligent diagnostics system that can automatically detect dangerous operating conditions and prevent catastrophic failures. Of course, self-driving cars are the ultimate “smart” vehicle, but they haven’t yet hit the streets in large numbers.
- Home: While the dream of a “smart home” with devices and appliances all working completely in unison isn’t yet available to consumers, certain products can make your home a little bit smarter individually. “Smart” home products include thermostats that automatically adjust the temperature based on your preferences and refrigerators that send you reminders to go shopping when you’re running low on a particular ingredient.
While the terms “smart” and “connected” are often used synonymously, they're not quite the same thing. Connected devices are connected to the Internet in order to exchange information, while smart devices aim to make users’ lives easier in some way.
Although the market is flooded with so-called “smart” devices, most of them are simply connected devices with clever branding. However, now and in the near future we expect to see more and more truly smart devices, as cutting-edge artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are making their way into consumer products.
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