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The Internet of My Refrigerator

IoT Refrigerator | FEA Consulting
June 28, 2016 By: Nick Veikos

It’s summertime and there is a crisis at our house. The state of the ice cream in the freezer alternates between mushy and frozen. My wife sees this as an opportunity to get a new refrigerator, but, as an engineer, I need to understand why this is happening and see if I can fix it-inexpensively.

First, I need to get a handle on what the temperature in the freezer looks like over a period of 24 hours – opening the door and checking every half hour is a) not practical and b) will affect the very thing I’m trying to measure. I need to go wireless. A quick internet search comes up with a wireless sensor that will download the temperature and humidity history to my cell phone for less than 30 bucks! Much less than the price of a service call. Without realizing it, I have just made my first conscious foray into “the Internet of Things”, or “IoT” to the cognoscenti.

Since my professional world pretty much revolves around engineering, this experience got me thinking about how IoT is going to change how industry and academia consider the traditional engineering disciplines. Typically, we think about engineering in a siloed manner – there are electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, civil engineers, etc. Each discipline pretty much stays within their own physics, dabbling in the other disciplines when required, but not really playing an active role. The trend towards a holistic, system-level, multi-physics approach to design is slowly changing this thinking, and I believe IoT is going to help blur the boundaries even more.

From a competitive perspective, those that measure and can effectively use those measurements as a predictive tool will have the advantage. An organization that can reliably predict via actual data when a component must be replaced is going to be in a much better position than one that simply provides a standard service interval. Companies traditionally working in the traditional “nut and bolts” world will need to transition to including software and electronics in their products, or risk being left behind.

Engineers of all disciplines are going to have to learn a lot more about sensors and wireless transmitters. Which ones to use, what to measure, where to place them, how to create designs which can use them effectively, how to keep them working properly under different environmental conditions, how to make sure they don’t interfere with one another or other wireless devices, complying with FCC emissions regulations, and the list goes on!

In addition, engineers must be familiar with how to make sense of all of the data that is collected. This ranges from handling the data, statistically analyzing the data, and being able to relate the data to physical processes in order to draw accurate predictive conclusions.

Over the past several years, engineering schools have been trending to a more multi-physics approach towards educating engineers in response to industry requirements.

Hopefully, they are also making the required changes to prepare young engineers to meet the challenges and opportunities of IoT.

What do you think about the Internet of Things? What is the IoT strategy at your organization? It would be great to hear from others on this topic.

For those who want to learn more about IoT, here's some helpful information to help get you started.

I’ll let you know how the freezer problem turns out – hopefully I can just replace the start relay. Otherwise, I may end up with one of those refrigerators that senses what I need to shop for at the grocery store!