The Future of Communications
I remember when I started at Ener-Tel back in 2005. Smartphones weren’t yet a “thing,” and Bluetooth was what happened when you slurped a purple Popsicle. In our industry, communications plays a key role in our ability to provide the solutions we offer – not just some of them, but all of them. Industrial controllers had only proprietary communication methods, but a little orange wire strung all over a college campus was all it took to manage heating, cooling, and energy for hundreds of buildings. However vast that control may seem, it was still limited.
Over the years, I’ve seen more and more devices, however simple, include Ethernet ports. We no longer need to string thousands of feet of cable when a network switch is within a few hundred feet. Wi-Fi has rapidly become more than just a nifty trick to get Internet across the living room. Anyone can find “intelligent” thermostats at their local hardware store, complete with color displays, Internet accessibility, and the ability to “learn” your routine so it can condition your home accordingly. With more and more gadgets having network capabilities, manufacturers are evermore adopting standards that enable seamless integration with devices and services of all kinds.
Wireless communications is one of the world’s most rapidly evolving technologies. This is excellent for a company like ours because we can use it to send live video miles away with surprisingly affordable, yet highly reliable equipment. We can even have your doors lock in your home automatically when you arm your security system.
With this trend in mind, our future suddenly becomes more than just a futuristic fiction novel. And, with the IPv6 finally being embraced by Internet providers, nearly every object in your home, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant, will have unique addresses that will enable it to communicate seamlessly with other devices — at home and over the Internet — without any intervention on your part.
Remember when you saw the first greeting card that played music? If you were a nerd like me, you were concerned about the technology inside going to waste when the card was inevitably disposed of. Now, tiny playback modules cost next to nothing to produce. The same will happen to wireless communications, and that means we’ll find them in almost everything.
I envision light bulbs having tiny, wireless receivers that will enable you to turn lights on and off from your smartphone with no other equipment needed – just screw in the bulb, install an app, and you’re ready to rock n’ roll. Wall switches will become a thing of the past. Your in-laws will be able to turn on the ceiling fan and kill the lamps in the guest room. And then my tangential mind wanders… Your TV will be able to automatically dim the living room when put into movie mode. Ovens will be able to notify you on your TV screen that it’s been preheated, or that baking is complete, while you were waiting in the living room. Shoes will be able to show you your weight, distance walked, when the soles have worn out and become stiff, and even tell you if you have a gait or stance problem. Medicine bottles will send you a notification when you’ve missed your dose, and submit a refill order automatically when the contents become low. Even a typical plastic lawn sprinkler will be able to tell you how much water was dispensed and how long it’s been running.
We will soon have the ability to interact with objects in ways we never thought possible, or where expensive add-ons would be necessary. For instance, what if there were a homeowner’s app that would automatically inventory your home’s vital components the day you moved in, such as water heater, heating and cooling, electrical, and plumbing systems? Wouldn’t it be nice to receive a push notification that your water heater was aging before it burst and flooded your bedroom carpet? Or that the air filter needed changing only when it was actually dirty? Or that a particular outlet in your home was seeing too much current draw before it could cause a fire?
Wireless communications is the singular element of technology that will drive manufacturers from all industries to embrace standards that allow interoperability. To all who resist smartphones and apps, you’ll be left in the dust like those who believed the Internet was just a fad. At Ener-Tel, wireless communications isn’t just a nifty concept – we’re using it in many forms already and are actively seeking new ways to use it for the benefit of all.