Is the World Really Becoming Smarter?
“Smart” seems to be the ‘buzz word’ for strategic industries operating in Energy, Utilities, and Transportation. We are also starting to see this “Smart” nomenclature used by local authorities, defence agencies and public services sector. The list below gives some of the more common terms being thrown around, but it is far from extensive: Smart Grid, Smart Lighting, Smart Energy, Smart Cities, Smart Highways, Smart Airports, Smart Retail, Smart Buildings, Smart Manufacturing, Smart Metering, Smart Policing, Smart Health, Smart Battlefield
In fact any systems used for generation, distribution or measurement, or any system involving remote autonomous control, or any systems that can be improved with increased information flow are being associated with the word “smart”.
But what is Smart?
Smart is synonymous with the Internet of Things (IoT). A ‘thing’ in the internet of things can be a sensor collecting information, information output from a system or even a person with a heart monitor implant. This information is then fed back over a network (the internet) to a control and/or information gathering system. The whole system becomes smart when something useful is done with the data generated from the devices (things) embedded in the network.
In its simplest, raw form, the data can be used directly to control whether street lights are turned on/off or to monitor and display the position of a vehicle with a GPS locator. However, the use of analytical tools and knowledge management systems can convert this raw data into information and knowledge that can then be acted upon, traffic information systems are good examples of this. This can be further enhanced with workflow management and bespoke algorithms to make autonomous or semi-autonomous decisions. An example would be a traffic management system that dynamically controls the traffic flow based on data received from sensors monitoring traffic flow, speeds, road conditions, video etc. and uses this to modify traffic light sequencing, speed limits, lane allocation and route alternatives. This could be further enhanced by adding intelligent systems able to learn from previous experiences, allowing lane sequencing on a smart highway (i.e. how lanes in each direction at a given time of day).
|From Data to Wisdom – Russell Ackoff|
As we move from information and control based systems to knowledge and learning based systems, we will see distinct systems sharing knowledge and understanding with each other. The smart city is a great example of this and we already see projects around Smart Tourism and use of integrated public/private transport and parking to attract consumers to shops in town centres.
Why is Smart so popular and relevant in Strategic Industries?
SCADA systems (supervisory control and data acquisition) are and have been used by strategic industries for over 50 years now. SCADA is used to gather data in real time from remote locations and then feed this data back to a control systems which then uses this data to control equipment and conditions.
Sounds very similar to the IOT/Smart systems we discussed earlier – right?
The “things” in the SCADA system are typically actuators, sensors and IEDs (Intelligent Electronic Devices not to be confused with improvised explosive devices!!). Remote terminal units (RTUs) and PLCs Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) provide the “network” to feed the data generated from the actuators, sensors and IEDs back to the supervisory computer system with provides the control. In fact, it can be argued that late-generation SCADA systems developed into the first IoT systems.
The difference between a SCADA control system and a Smart system is:
- More sensors - provide a more complete picture of what is happening in the network
- More systems - instead of just simple control of speeds and feeds, sensors are used to monitor access control environmental conditions or new sub-systems added into the smart system e.g. lighting
- More control – provide more granular control of the systems being monitored
- More intelligence - knowledge based systems are used to the systems instead of the simple control systems of the past
We have an intersection of challenges and solutions which make now the perfect time for the evolution to Smart systems.
Challenges: Strategic industries are being challenged to provide better security, safety and customer services whilst becoming more environmentally friendly. Everything has moved to packet, but the existing communications networks used to transport SCADA are not optimized for packet transport and also in many cases are well past end-of-life.
Solutions: The internet of things provides a framework allowing data to be gathered to allow the systems to be enhanced to address the challenges they face. Next generation telecommunications technologies like 5G, deterministic packet transport and high capacity, long range optical transport provide an efficient framework to connect this IoT network to the knowledge management systems that drive the improvement
Without the doubt the strategic industry networks are becoming smarter, and this already having an impact on the way in which we live our lives. This impact will only grow as “Smart” becomes implemented in more and more systems. If these separate systems are allowed to freely share information and knowledge with each other, the impact could be huge, changing the way we live our lives.
But becoming smarter is not without its problems, and as the number of connected devices increases the security risks and the impact of these risks increases. In addition, tighter and tighter coupling between separate systems means a small failure in one system has the potential to bring down the other systems it is coupled with.
I will discuss these issues in my next blog “Making everything smart, might not be so smart”.