technology

What’s the Internet of Things and Why Should I Care?

Hi, I’m Lori Bush and I’m a techie.  (Sounds like I’m in a 12-step program, doesn’t it?)

And, being a techie, I sometimes assume that folks “get it” when I start espousing the virtues of some new technology.   Thankfully, I have great friends and neighbors that remind me that these high tech concepts and ideas aren’t self-evident, and that often, concepts like Open Data or the Internet of Things, are harder to understand. So, let me try. ☺

As an example, let’s talk about the Internet of Things, or the Internet of Everything. What does it mean, and why should we care?

Well, let me try to explain.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept that says that any electronic device can be connected to the Internet, and (potentially) to each other. With the increasing reach of the Internet, and with more and more devices having wifi and radio frequency ID (RFID) connectivity capability, as well as the decreasing costs of these devices – more and more of what we use everyday connects to the Internet, and shares information with it. In fact, according to a variety of sources (Gartner, Cisco and others), more than 5 Billion devices are connected to the internet today – some say it will be 25 billion by this year, with 75 billion by 2020.

Internet of Things Infographic - Cisco

Internet of Things Infographic – Cisco

Number of IoT - Cisco

Number of IoT – Cisco

Yes, this is happening now.  You know it is, because you probably have a smartphone that is connected right now.  But what you might not realize is that there are a slew of other devices connected, as well.  From a toothbrush that can watch to make sure your children are really brushing their teeth well, to a voice-activated smart outdoor grill that will notify the user when their food is ready, to even a sensor loaded and connected tennis racquet (promoted by Rafael Nadal) that is said to improve your game by providing information on power, strokes, and more.  This is just the beginning.

From Toothbrushes to Racquets

From Toothbrushes to Racquets

What you may NOT know, is that companies of all types are using it to improve their services – from UPS who is using sensor data from their 80,000 vehicles to provide information on the speed, miles per gallon, number of stops, etc – to save money and improve delivery routes.  By using this data effectively, they have saved more than 39 million gallons of fuel through route optimization and reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of miles and idling time.

From UPS Press Room

From UPS Press Room

Just think about Disney, the mecca of great customer service (and Mickey Mouse.) Disney World  is now using the MagicBand, which I would say is the new height of IoT. The MagicBand is a wristband that is not only a key into your hotel room, but also provides you access into the park(s), as well as allowing you to buy food and merchandise. On the back end of this system, Disney is using this data to track visitors throughout the park, knowing proactively where visitors are, and thereby able to support more visitors, and to better staff rides and restaurants.  Not only that, but kids and adults can personalize their wristbands to make them their own.

Photo by Erik

Photo by Erik

intopark

Photo by Kevin Baird

Why do we care?

So, this is all great information – but really, why should we care?  Well, for lots of reasons.

FIRSTit can mean big life changes are in store.

fitbit3

My FitBit

How? Well, just take my little FitBit, for example. A few years ago, in order to improve my commitment to my health I made a decision to wear this little guy everyday.  The FitBit counts my steps, my activity, and even the number of stairs I climb. The information is automatically sent to an app on my phone, as well as the “cloud” (just a word that means the Internet repository for this data) and it tracks my trending data. I can even set it up to track my sleep patterns. More importantly for me though, is that I’ve set it up to send this information to my company’s health and wellness program.

Why would I do that? Because for every 30 min of exercise I track per day, my healthcare incentive plan PAYS ME $5/day to my Healthcare Savings Account (up to $800/year.) The device costs less than $100. So, that’s a win of $700/year, just for me! It’s also a win for my company, because studies have shown that even 30 min of activity a day reduces healthcare costs. That’s a personal decision, for sure, and the connection to my device isn’t a requirement – but it saves me the time from going into the tool and self-reporting my exercise everyday.

redbrick

Healthcare is just one industry looking at this phenomenon– from wearable fitness devices like mine, to special GlowCaps that fit prescription bottles – reminding people to take their medication; to wearable alarms for aging family members, this is just one industry poised to take the IoT to a new level.

SECOND, it can improve productivity, while also reducing costs. For real.

Solar Trash CanHere’s another example. You may have read about our new Solar Trash Cans made by Big Belly. This trash compactor, powered by solar energy, uses the internet to let our Public Works department know when it’s full, reducing the need for our trucks to drive around and waste time, gas and people to empty partially filled trash cans. The power of the Internet is saving us money, reducing our carbon footprint. And, keeping analytics on these activities will continue to allow public works to improve their services, over time.

At home, you can use all types of IoT tools to help defray costs and improve your own productivity. You might have heard of NEST – the smart thermostat that monitors the actual activity in your home during the day, while also watching real-time weather forecasts – to reduce your energy usage (saving you money), and to moderate the temperature in your home.

And have you ever wanted to better manage your irrigation water usage?  I have a friend who uses the Rachio smart sprinkler, to be able to control his water irrigation system, from anywhere. The system knows about the changes in weather, adjusts the watering to the seasons, and manages his irrigation dependent on his own lawn’s needs, rather than being on a “set schedule.”

From Home Depot

From Home Depot

Don’t forget, Town of Cary water customers also have a tool at their disposal today. Aquastar will allow you to use data to manage your own water usage. (Read my blog post here.)  By reviewing your water usage data, as well as setting up alerts in Aquastar, you can tell if you have a leak, a toilet running, or see your trending water usage, even when you aren’t there.

Water Usage

And THIRD, this is just the beginning.

More and more of our world and devices are being connected. Sure, there are refrigerators that will send you an email when you are low on milk, (yeah, that’s an old example), but there are also scenarios that can really change your life, such as the air quality sensors that are located all around Boston.  Just think of the opportunities for folks that have asthma – with the Internet of Things sensors, folks with severe asthma and other respiratory issues can connect their smartphones to this network, and then proactively receive messages when the air quality is bad, and be able to track how often they use their inhaler. These kinds of IoT advances can absolutely improve their quality of life.

In fact, just doing a search online at Thingful.net ( a search database of Internet of Things, across the globe)  I found that there are a number of sensors by my house, from weather stations, to air quality stations.

Air quality station in Cary

Air quality station in Cary

 

In Cary – a Connected Bench?

Recently, the Information Services Advisory Board (ISAB) took a look at a new bench-type IoT product recently installed in Boston. It’s called the Soofa – is a place to sit, but so much more. It’s a public space styled bench, solar powered that charges smartphones, while also collecting real-time data about its surrounding environment. The data collected can be air quality related, or noise, and that data can be provided back to the cloud for analytics. There are already 6 of this installed in various locations around the Boston area.  At this point, it’s very new technology but is making waves, and something to consider over time.

 soofa

What else do I need to know?

The key word is knowledge. Now that we know that more and more of our devices will be on the internet, and communicating information about us, we need to be aware and make a conscious decision whether this is data you want to share, or not.

I share this with the kids in my Internet Safety classes – YOU choose what data you make publically available. If you don’t want people to know where you are, don’t turn on “location services” on your smart phone applications, or disable geotagging on your iphone, to remove location information from your pictures.  Always be aware of your data and who has access to it.

Yes, it’s true that this is an extra step you have to take, but it’s up to us to ensure that the privacy settings that are on our devices reflect our respective privacy priorities. Just like you should be putting anti-virus software on your computer – the best defense is a good offense. Know what data the device collects, and what it shares is key. This is still an emerging technology, and as such, be aware, and always  proceed with your eyes wide open.

For me, my first set of experiences using these technologies has been life changing. Using the FitBit has provided me with a tool that reminds me of my commitment to my health. The capability to “compete” against friends and family online in FitBit challenges and steps keeps it fun and engaging for me, while the extra monetary incentive provided by my employer keeps it relevant. Sometimes, money does talk.

I’d love to know what Internet of Things experiences and tools you have and use, and what you see on the horizon!

_________________________________

Feature photo from IBM, and www.comsoc.org/blog 

Open Government and You

It’s nice to write about “Sunshine Week” when the sun is actually shining outside. I’m still waiting for that, right now.

Sunshine Week (March 10-16, 2013) is a national initiative with the goal to both celebrate and focus on government transparency, open government and improving your access to government information. The term “sunshine” comes from a quote from Justice Louis Brandeis (of Brandeis University fame) who, in 1913 wrote,

…sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.

At that time, we only had print media as a reliable way to reach large masses of people on a regular basis, and Justice Brandeis saw the press as potentially “the greatest agency of good government”–but only “if the people are sufficiently interested to desire it.”

By Mark Goodson Streeter

By Mark Goodson Streeter in support of Sunshine Week

Read More…

Our Cary Budget

“Tell me what you want…. what you really really want… “

Ok, I’m not gonna break into a the Spice Girls’ song (although I now have that song in my head.)  But, it is the theme of this post.

I’ve said it before. Democracy is not a spectator sport. In order for me, your At-Large representative, to know what you want, you have to tell me. And I’m not talking about winning the lottery – but rather what you want the Town of Cary to do.

Sure, we ask for you opninion all the time – using tools like our biannual Survey, Public Speaks Out options at our Town Council Meetings, individual meetings and of course, we certainly ask you during election time. But we also look for your feedback on our Town Twitter feeds, ask for it through CaryTV and the YouTube channel, BUD, Facebook pages, and in our email. But sometimes, we are looking for your direct feedback about a particular issue or strategic plan – and that’s true now.

It’s budget season
From Town of Cary

From Town of Cary

Unlike the Federal Government – our Town budget MUST be balanced. This is a lengthy process – and generally starts many many months before it’s actually accepted by Council.

Our 2014 (yes, 2014) budget year identifies services and infrastructure projects to be undertaken by the Town from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014. And we are currently at the end of the MONTH LONG comment period, which ends on February 28th.

It’s important we hear from you

This is absolutely the time for you to make yourself heard.   Read More…

Open Data coming to Cary

Yes, it’s time for another Technology Blog post.

(This is the moment when I know my mom is rolling her eyes – I can feel it.)  But, there is a “method to my madness,” because, as Nicholas Negroponte says:

Collage by Will Lion

Collage by Will Lion

So, with this post I hope to give you an idea, even if it’s a glimpse, into what Open Data IS, and why it is so important for Cary.  First, what is it?

What is Open Data?

Open Data is the act of making information that is collected during the course of normal Town operations (that doesn’t identify individuals or breach commercial sensitivity) available in a standardized way.  The data that we are talking about here includes geographic information (greenways, roads, parks), public event schedules, and basic crime statistics.  This is already public information, the act of making it OPEN and easily accessible in a standardized format allows users, developers, the Town itself, and the technology community to leverage and use this data in new and innovative ways. That can mean applications that increase citizen engagement, provide vital information to our citizens, and improve their quality of life. It can also mean ways to leverage the data to help us become a “smarter town”, by looking at ways to improve our processes and become more efficient.  Without consistent streams of this data, few people will invest the time it takes to unlock the immense value hidden in the information that is collected every day by the Town.

What does that really mean to me?

It means that by making this information more easily accessible, cool people (and companies) can create awesome apps.

RGreenwayLet me give you an example.   Check out RGreenway. (You can download the app for free from iTunes.

RGreenway is an iPhone app that came out of the CityCamp Raleigh event last year. (I was honored to participate in CityCamp with all of the fantastic citizen hackers out there.)   Read More…

Apps for your Phone (FREE)

It’s a common question you hear… “So, what are your latest, favorite apps for your __________?” (Fill in the blank – iPhone, Android phone, iPad, Tablet…whatever.)

In fact, now that many of my fellow Councilmembers have tablets, I hear this question more and more.  During our drive to the Cary Town Council retreat, Councilmember Jennifer Robinson and Mayor Pro Tem Gale Adcock and I started talking about this very subject.  I offered to send them a “tip” or “App of the Week” as they get used to their new devices – and then realized I could do better than that,  I have a blog!

As a “gadget girl” I tend to get the “What’s your favorite app?” question all the time. But more importantly, I ask it. Think about it. It’s probably why the “most popular” buttons (TOP APPS) on the iTunes store or Amazon (Customers who viewed THIS item also viewed…) are so prevalent. But I think it’s not that we want to know what other people HAVE, it’s that we want to find what might work for US. Make our lives a bit easier (if that’s possible), or help save us time, money or be more productive.

So, having said all that I thought I would highlight a few apps that I have, and use frequently. I will try to do this every month. (Gulp!) But, more importantly, I’d love to know what you use and love and can’t do without. (So please comment, or contact me!) I’ll start with my phone apps.

CardStar
From iTunes

From iTunes

I can remember the day I found this application. It was like a day of freedom.

Oh, wait, I have to tell you about it.

CardStar is a FREE application (for the iPhone and Android) that literally FREES YOU  from those little key chain and wallet membership cards. You know the ones, they are hanging from your key chain and making your wallet bulge. You can put all of your loyalty cards (Harris Teeter, A.C. Moore, CVS, Panera Bread, etc.) into the application, and voila, they are gone from your keychain.

Read More…

Deep Dive into Aquastar

One of the truly innovative and cost-saving projects that I’ve been privileged to learn about since I joined Town Council is Aquastar.

Aquastar is the name we use in Cary to refer to the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system for our water. The Aquastar program replaces what WAS the monthly manual reads of your water meter, with a wireless system that collects multiple remote meter reads every day. The technology used is often referred to as part of a Smart Grid infrastructure. The vendor of the system, Sensus (in Raleigh), worked closely with the town to find the right solution, while Johnson Controls developed and managed the project.  (In what the Town Staff refers to as “The Cary Way.”  I like that!)

(Here is the video that the Town used to share the process with all of us.)

Read More…

A visit to the Hospital

Yesterday, At-Large Councilman Ed Yerha and I were treated to a unique experience — a behind-the-scenes tour of WakeMed Cary located at the corner of Tryon and Kildaire Farm Road. (Take a Virtual Tour!)

I’ve had the opportunity to visit WakeMed before, as both a patient and visitor when my kids needed to check out the Emergency Room. I’ve always been impressed with their quality of service and the care that each and every employee shows the patients and visitors. And I’ve seen the hospital grow from a relatively small facility 20 years ago to one that is now expanded out and UP, and serving so much of our Cary community.   Read More…

Don’t Get Tricked

As I write this up, it is the last day of “National Cyber Security Awareness Month” as well as Halloween, so I thought it would be the perfect time to do one last pitch for being Cyber Security Aware.

As you get ready to put on your (or help your child put on their) costume – remember, you aren’t the only one out there pretending to be someone else.  There are many hackers, pretenders and “bad actors” pretending to be someone or something else.  The act of pretending to be someone or something you are not is a tactic many cyber criminals have used since the Internet began.  This can be called “spoofing” or sometimes called a “phishing attack” – with the with real and scary intention to get access to your personal information, or to do harm to a computer network.

What is it, and Why do I care?

Phishing and Spoofing are very similar, in that they are trying to get you to do something based on fake or forged documents or information.  “Spoofing is the dissemination of the email from a “spoofed” (or FAKE) email address, and phishing is often used in conjunction with a spoofed email. Phishing is the act of sending an email falsely claiming to be from an established legitimate business to trick the recipient into divulging personal, sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers, and bank account numbers.” (This description from the Department of Homeland Security, and you can learn more from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3))

These types of attacks can be hard to detect – and in many cases, a “spoofed” email can look very real  So, how do you tell?

Read More…

Cary’s Technology Task Force Begins

I promise, there WILL be a time when I DON’T blog about technology. (Ok, maybe that isn’t a promise I can keep.)

Our very own Cary “Geek Squad” aka the “Technology Task Force” met Wednesday for the first time at Town Hall. I was impressed with the breadth and depth of their experience, their passion for making Cary a better place, and their willingness to take valuable time out of their lives to help in this important endeavor.

First things First

The Technology Task Force is a “special committee” sanctioned by the Town Council to determine how the Town’s use of technology services can better serve its citizens.  As volunteers for the town, these folks were treated to an overview of the Town’s ethics policy, North Carolina Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law by the Deputy Town Clerk and Town Attorney’s office.

Read More…

Calling all nerds

So, if you didn’t know it before hand, it’s got to be abundantly clear by now.

I’m a nerd. Or a geek. Maybe the right term is technology obsessed.  Whatever the right term is, you get the picture.

Which is why this is a great and fun week for me!  Not only is the proposal that Councilman Don Frantz and I submitted for the Town of Cary Technology Task Force starting to take shape, but this weekend is CityCamp Raleigh.

Oh, I’m getting ahead of myself. Read More…

1 2  Scroll to top