Internet of things made simple: One sensor package does work of many

Internet of things made simple: One sensor package does work of many
A sensor package developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute uses nine different types of sensors that can monitor dozens of potential activities of interest, such as whether a cooking stove is in use. Credit: Future Interfaces Group

Ubiquitous sensors seem almost synonymous with the internet of things (IoT), but some Carnegie Mellon University researchers say ubiquitous sensing—with a single, general purpose sensor for each room—may be better.

The plug-in sensor package they've developed monitors multiple phenomena in a room, including things such as sounds, vibration, light, heat, electromagnetic noise and temperature. With help from machine learning techniques, this suite of can determine whether a faucet's left or right spigot is running, if the microwave door is open, or how many paper towels have been dispensed.

"The idea is you can plug this in and immediately turn a room into a smart environment," said Gierad Laput, a Ph.D. student in CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII). "You don't have to go out and buy expensive smart appliances, which probably can't talk to each other anyway, or attach sensors to everything you want to monitor, which can be both hard to maintain and ugly. You just plug it in to an outlet."

It's an approach that Laput and his co-investigators in HCII's Future Interfaces Group call "Synthetic Sensors," because the raw feeds from the unit's nine sensors can be combined and interpreted in ways that can sense dozens of phenomena of interest. They will present their findings on Wednesday, May 10, at CHI 2017, the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, in Denver.

Laput, along with HCII Assistant Professor Chris Harrison and Ph.D. student Yang Zhang, built their platforms with sensors used in other commonly available smart home devices—with the exception of a camera, which raises privacy concerns.

Machine learning algorithms can combine these raw feeds into powerful synthetic sensors that can identify a wide range of events and objects—for instance, distinguishing between a blender, coffee grinder and mixer based on sounds and vibrations. Even soft, more subtle sounds, such as writing or erasing on a whiteboard, can be detected.

Beyond recording whether a device is in use or not, synthetic sensors can track the state of a device: whether a microwave door is open or closed, if cooking is interrupted, and whether the microwave has completed its cooking cycle.

"It can not only tell you if a towel dispenser is working, but it can also keep track of how many towels have been dispensed and even order a replacement roll when necessary," Laput said. A faucet left running when a room is unoccupied for a long time might prompt a warning message to the user's smartphone.

Even more advanced sensing can infer human activity, such as when someone is sleeping, showering, watching streaming video or has left home for work. Most of this processing occurs on the sensor itself, so detailed and sensitive data need not be transmitted or recorded, he added.

The sensor platform can be manually trained to recognize various phenomena, such as the cycling of water heaters or heating and air conditioning units. It also would be possible to pretrain the sensors to detect many popular devices and brands of home or office products, allowing the sensor platform to begin functioning as soon as it is plugged in, Laput said.

Plugging the units into a regular electric socket eliminates the need for batteries or special wiring. As a practical matter, each room likely will need its own sensor platform, though it would be possible to have each sensor platform communicate with other nearby sensors to create a home-wide sensing environment with just a few sensors, not hundreds.


Explore further

Researchers create touchpads with a can of spray paint

Provided by Carnegie Mellon University
Citation: Internet of things made simple: One sensor package does work of many (2017, May 10) retrieved 11 December 2018 from https://techxplore.com/news/2017-05-internet-simple-sensor-package.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
15 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

May 10, 2017
"this suite of sensors can determine whether a faucet's left or right spigot is running, if the microwave door is open, or how many paper towels have been dispensed."

Is any of this relevant information for...anyone? I have yet to find anyone who can name a sensible use for an IoT (and if somone finds one: one that isn't a security nightmare as all this information is sent unencrypted from/to non-updateable devices)

"It can not only tell you if a towel dispenser is working, but it can also keep track of how many towels have been dispensed"

Funnily enough all towel dispenser have a clear plastic part that lets you keep track of this yourself...and the only time this is information is of interest is when you're taking one.

Jul 09, 2017
This kind of "nanny IOT" isn't as important as building IOT that manages HVAC systems. Those can save 15-30% of energy consumption (and so its pollution and other costs), provide a cap on expenses and staff load, and make the building operations transparent for management.

But even nanny IOT is useful. Residents are not that good at managing their devices by on-device indicators and actuators. Once nanny IOT is cheap enough, its incremental value will justify installing it. Probably as extensions to core IOT systems managing HVAC, security and media that already pay for themselves.

The security problem is real. A bigger problem is people losing habits of minding their property, and becoming lazier and more entitled in general. But that's never stopped us yet - we'll do it anyway. Which means we need to at least think through these downsides so they're not as surprising.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more