Smart Cities: Changes in remote monitoring
Remote monitoring, as a concept, has been present for a very long time. There are conflicting reports of the earliest applications of some form of remote system, some dating back to as early as 1912 in the United States. However, one thing remains consistent, the fact that this remote monitoring system was applied in some sort of industrial setting. In the early days, remote monitoring was not known by this name however, it was known as a Supervisory system. Here is a little history lesson.
SCADA stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition and as a system, it is usually broken down into a few key components: field devices such as sensors or actuators; Processing Logic Controllers (PLCs) and Remote Terminal Units (RTUs); some form of communications infrastructure such as radio or serial infrastructure; and a Host or Supervisory computer.
SCADA system breakdown
Instrumentation is key. The field devices deployed represent the boots on the ground in this systems army. “You can’t control what you don’t measure”, an old saying that stands true to this day, and with a vast array of sensor technologies, it is not only what you monitor and measure, but also how. These sensors would be directly connected to the PLCs and/or RTUs on site and would send data to these units. RTUs would simply relay this sensor data to the Host computer over some sort of communication infrastructure. In its initial stages, this infrastructure was typically via serial connections or telephone lines. PLCs were originally designed with machinery control and some level of automation in mind. What they lacked however was any data logging capabilities. So why the RTUs collected and relayed the data, the PLCs were more responsible for controlling the field devices to a certain degree.
With the advent of mobile computing and the ever minimizing form factor, remote monitoring looks remarkably different when compared to its industrial birth. Many individual devices act as their own data relaying mechanism, controller and data logging unit. Devices like the Ambience Data Sparrow epitomise this approach to remote monitoring. These network and sensor hub devices as they are known, combine the field device and sensor units with the RTUs of old. They also add a level of versatility and specificity not granted by its technological forefathers. With a variety of sensor probes and devices, it is possible to use the same base technologies for different applications.
Another progression has in the communications department. Protocols and new technologies have enabled users in different industries to create customized solutions for their unique use cases. Many users have changed from costly wired solutions, to wireless solutions of various flavors featuring LoRaWan, GSM and even long range Bluetooth. These technologies have enabled manufacturers to deploy these devices further out into the field than before.
Some quite remote areas would benefit from remote monitoring systems.
Big Data, stream analytics and smart cities; terms that have gained immense popularity in the recent years. This is the future of remote monitoring. The next step after collection all this sensor data, is to map it and use it for some advantage. Automation to save on electricity, gas, water and other precious resources seems to be the main concern, with good reason. With the depleting of some resources, the business and environmental costs will only continue to increase and without some way to monitor and regulate the usage of these resources, we will be up the proverbial stream without a paddle. Running parallel to this is also preventative maintenance; another use for analytics. Definitely from a business perspective, big data will have large benefits in reducing repair times and diagnostic times for failed machinery.
Remote monitoring now stretches to more than just industrial use cases. Similar to the weather network, businesses and municipalities can create their own systems with customized devices deployed in strategic points. Following weather patterns for their own micro-climates and setting up building automation to maintain indoor conditions is now easily possible. Opening and closing of windows and blinds, heating and cooling automation with HVAC systems, automatic watering of plants, auto on and off functionality with lights in offices, the list goes on and on.