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Jansen states, “IoT is the future, we are convinced of that. And yet the majority of today’s projects see the technology as a be-all and end-all. That makes sense. In the case of the tracking and tracing of machines for example, technology makes having a clearly delineated goal possible. From there, it’s just a small step to fitting all kinds of other machines with sensors and linking them to the Internet. But we have to ask ourselves whether that’s actually always the best solution.”
Huyghe notes, “For instance, lots of people still associate IoT with the traditional example of the intelligent fridge. A sensor in the fridge would be able to determine that there’s barely any milk left, and then place an order automatically online. But is that a useful application? What if there are still bottles in the cellar or if I don’t need any extra milk?”
Jansen explains, “Nowadays we can connect everything. It’s technologically possible and affordable. But first we have to ask ourselves what real need there is, and then decide whether IoT offers the answer with the right added value. Possibly a link to a digital shopping list would be a better idea. The smart fridge could then, for example, make suggestions when the user is making a shopping list.”
Huyghe notes, “What we find today in practice in terms of IoT solutions are often existing applications, with a dollop of IoT sauce, without real use or meaning. An application for home automation for example, is often just one remote control for heating and lighting. The added value appears when we make that sort of application really intelligent. And that’s not always easy. Imagine: you have intelligent lighting in your home that comes on automatically when you enter a room. Then it’s impossible for your partner to organize a surprise party because the application detects people in the room and keeps the light on. In short, you can never put everything into an algorithm.”
Huyghe adds, “In terms of matters like traffic management and healthcare, you can think of a myriad of practical and useful applications, such as information about the number of parking spaces currently available in town or optimization of certain processes in the town’s hospital. There are always two important conditions involved. There is a need for embedded privacy by design. Protection of the user’s privacy must be assured from the first development stage in the design, so that data about the use – and the users – of connected devices always remain anonymous.”
Jansen comments, “Moreover, the application must offer the necessary agency: the final decision must lie with the user, not only with the application. IoT permits the enrichment or improvement of human behaviour, for example by automating the heating according to the user’s daily rhythm. Yet that user must be able to adjust the temperature at any time. That’s what smart thermostats offer. It can never be the intention that an application makes all the decisions independently. In other words, the user must know and understand what’s happening and be able to intervene whenever (s)he chooses.”
Arne Jansen and Jonathan Huyghe are researchers at the Centre for User Experience Research of the KU Leuven and iMinds. This center conducts applied research into the way people experience technology. Research fields include interactive TV, serious games and healthcare.
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