Taste of Informatics

IoT: Exploring the potential of the Internet of Things

July 08, 2021 Informatics+, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University Season 1 Episode 5
Taste of Informatics
IoT: Exploring the potential of the Internet of Things
Show Notes Transcript

Find out how you can dip your toe into the world of IoT with $4 and a smidgen of curiosity, and then go further with formal instruction. Duke Energy's Director of Emerging Technology Steve Hinkel shares his experience outfitting his house with homemade IoT devices, and discusses how the spread of low-cost network connected computers is literally changing the world.

Mike Nitardy:

Welcome back to the Informatics Cafe. My name is Mike Nitardy and I'm pleased and proud to be your host today back here in the cafe and in with me in the cafe today I have our guest, Steve Hinkle. He is the Director of Emerging Technologies at Duke Energy. But not only that, he's also on the adjunct faculty here at NKU, in the College of Informatics and teaching robotics. And Steve, it's great to have you.

Steve Hinkel:

Thanks, Mike. Really appreciate being here.

Mike Nitardy:

Well Steve, before we jump into our topic today, we're gonna be talking about the Internet of Things. Why don't you tell us a little bit about how you got involved here at the university?

Steve Hinkel:

Absolutely. So, as mentioned, I am an employee of Duke Energy and Duke Energy encourages all their employees to give back to their local communities. And I do that by volunteer teaching here.

Mike Nitardy:

So what do you I said that you teach robotics but why don't you give us a little bit about what that means.

Steve Hinkel:

Sure, it was actually pretty exciting. It was the first class that combined informatics with engineering technology. So what we had was we had designed a robot, and but we needed very custom parts, you know, you can go to Walmart for just about everything, but they don't carry well, robot parts. So we have to have those manufactured. So we turned to NKU to manufacture these very custom parts. The students get great experience building parts. And the best part is, instead of just saying they built something and scrapped it now they can put on their resume, they actually helped build a real live robot.

Mike Nitardy:

That is awesome. That is awesome. Now, how long have you been doing that?

Steve Hinkel:

The robotics piece probably for maybe two or three years, but I've been teaching on and off here at NKU since the mid 90s.

Mike Nitardy:

Awesome, awesome. Well, it's great to have you here in the cafe today. And we're going to be talking about the the IoT or the Internet of Things. And I guess that that really leads into the big question, what is the Internet of Things?

Steve Hinkel:

Well, admittedly, that the description itself is not, you know, self descriptive, at least at first. And the reason is it all it is it's simply a network of physical objects or things.

Mike Nitardy:

Okay.

Steve Hinkel:

You know, it often means to add an internet

Mike Nitardy:

Right. Right. connection to just about every conceivable object, a phone, a laptop, garage door opener, you know, that that interconnect, that internet connection, in turn, can provide just unfathomable amounts of information. So you know, if you've ever heard the term smart thermostats, smart door lock, that probably means that it has an internet connection that enables new features. You know, remotely unlocking your door, closing your garage door, or even an alert when the door s unlocked as an example. So y u know, even maybe a mo

Steve Hinkel:

So you know, we want to think about that this e relatable analogy would be a laptop, you know, if you thi k about a laptop, by itself, t has phenomenal computing powe , you can store just, you kno , beaucoup pictures on it. B t when you enable Wi Fi, it ope s a whole new category, right? Y u can check weather, news, sport , etc. You can also sha e resources with your laptop whe e you can now share maybe print kind of the Internet of Things is kind of confusing. So maybe rs or cameras within your home s an example. So the whole idea s, once you have that conne tivity, it opens up just a whole nother category. to be illustrative this is what I always use when I was teaching IoT here which is, you know, if you've ever been driving down the road, and you've seen an irrigation system watering the lawn while it's raining, you might if you're like me think to yourself, oh, gee, that's kind of wasteful. If I just tell that irrigation valve, you don't need to do that Mother Nature's got you covered. That's the perfect example for IoT.

Mike Nitardy:

That's good. That's good.

Steve Hinkel:

So if you think about it, you know, if I just enable an internet connection to that irrigation valve, what are some of the things I can get? Well, I can get historic rainfall you know, let's say I wanted to water a half inch and Mother Nature gave me half of that I just need to top off so conservation strategy.

Mike Nitardy:

Very good.

Steve Hinkel:

But I can also do things like check the forecast it might not be raining now but it's going to be raining in the next three hours or so maybe I hold off and wait and see if it rains you know, so you're playing this game to to figure out do you need to expend that resource or not? I can also check wind speeds you know, here at NKU irrigation that blows onto the sidewalk is problematic for me and you walk in on the sidewalk.

Mike Nitardy:

Right. Right.

Steve Hinkel:

Solar irradiance is something that expedites evaporation, wastewater, you know, all this is readily available free on the internet that I can have an irrigation system go check. One other aspect is, which is you know, during drought the water company typically will post that: "Hey, please don't water". Well, again, I've got access to all that. And for what it's worth all these features that we mentioned about literally about a couple dozen more I actually built using a $4. controller.

Mike Nitardy:

Wow.

Steve Hinkel:

So I built it here and it NKU. When I was teaching, I required the students to have a end of semester project. And I usually did one or two with them. And that was one of the ones that I did and kind of evolved through the years.

Mike Nitardy:

That is, that is fascinating. That is amazing. And I'm sitting here looking at it. I wish our listeners could see it. That is amazing.

Steve Hinkel:

Yeah, it's about a half the size of your thumb real tiny. But really, that's what caused this whole thing about IoT, to just literally explode. You know, if you think about kind of like that laptop analogy, you have a human involved. Although a laptop can go out and check for updates and update itself, it would be by definition, an Internet of Things device, but the sprinkler valve this irrigation valve has no human involved, right? It's just machine to machine. And that's significant because think about all the devices in your home, and how many of those could possibly be connected. That number is staggering, right? But what's really neat is when you have all these kind of come together and work as a team, that's where it takes off. But let's talk for just a second. If I wanted to have a smart thermostat in my home, I could you know, basically buy a laptop, make it laptop smart, but you're taking $100 thermostat, and you're making it cost now $1,000.

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Steve Hinkel:

It's not too practical. But something did happen, which was you know, that's where the stars aligned, in this convergence of technology. So this processor that we have here in the studio today I paid $4 for it.

Mike Nitardy:

Wow.

Steve Hinkel:

It has all the processing that I mentioned of checking the forecast, etc.

Mike Nitardy:

Goodness sakes.

Steve Hinkel:

Yeah, all for four bucks. So it's that's where in all the connectivity to the internet as well. So when you start thinking about, you know, you can throw technology at anything, but at what point does it make economic sense. That's where the stars align because what happened in the market is, you know, traditional computers had these things called a motherboard, and there's big as a dinner plate, they had all these chips on them. Were now this is called a system on a chip. The whole thing is literally about the size of your thumbnail.

Mike Nitardy:

Goodness sakes. And so what we're talking about here, and what we've already kind of gotten into with your prior responses is, is ways that that this is obviously changing the world and why it matters. Gives gives us a lot of options, a lot of abilities to do things with pieces of not just regular irrigation but other pieces of equipment that we didn't have before.

Steve Hinkel:

Absolutely. So it does matter. Because if you start thinking about, just like we talked about reducing waste in the irrigation system of reducing water, but there's other categories. You know, the USDA estimates that about a third of our entire food supply, goes to waste.

Mike Nitardy:

My goodness.

Steve Hinkel:

For various reasons, but one of the top reasons is refrigeration. So you know, one of the things we would hopefully challenge some of the listeners at the end of this is, let's just build one of these things with a simple temperature sensor that can maybe not only tell you when it's broke, okay, that's when the food's going to be damaged. But if we can do predictive analysis, it's fairly trivial to do. Hopefully, we can predict failure long before it happens, we get it fixed. And we keep that food from being wasted as an example. There's a whole nother category of why it matters, which is this environmental play. You know, I'm here, my house is vacant, and my house is pretty much asleep. You know, if you're here and your house is going full blast, which most of houses are, that is an opportunity for serious reduction of wasted energy.

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Steve Hinkel:

We can also enhance our quality of life, you know, you think about, you know, we're very blessed, but you think about folks that are maybe blind or or hearing impaired and stuff, this can open a whole new category to enable them to interact with the physical environment. Healthcare monitoring, that's a huge one, right, which, you know, again, just like the food analogy, that we don't want to wait until the problem occurs, we want early warning signs. And maybe IoT devices that are wearable would make a great deal of sense that could report in a trend that's going on. And then you've got all these real custom categories. I'll just give one to be illustrative but sports. Sports is big business, right? If I could use IoT devices on someone an athlete that could tell them that they're they're headed for injury, or maybe even I put a sensor in a baseball bat or a golf club, that you know, when you start talking about a competitive advantage in sports that are highly competitive, this stuff can make a difference and it's big money.

Mike Nitardy:

Yeah, get is. The one thing that jumps out to me on that and I don't want to take a big aside here or go down a rabbit hole but but it's interesting that you brought that up because I became a big soccer fan back in 2009. And just that long ago, it used to be they'd all take off their shirts and show their in shape bodies. Now, when they take off their shirts, they show this thing that's over their chest that's monitoring their heart, and their blood pressure and everything, I guess, to show everybody how in shape they are, how they're doing. And it seems to me that that's not good for the athletes, because, you know, now they're going to have their coaches asking them all the time, why aren't you running as hard? You know, we can see your blood pressure's up, we can see that you're out of breath. You know, that's just one way that it's going to be it's going to be beneficial. But it also might be intrusive, I guess, in some aspects,

Steve Hinkel:

Absolutely. No argument, anything can be good, used for good or it could be used for evil. So the whole idea of this secure this whole security topic, maybe introducing biometrics, maybe that, you know, wearables that can only sense what your body has, that is absolutely going to be key. And it's you know, I don't want to downplay it, it is an issue. And it's an issue that you need to when you're designing these systems, you need to design it in from the beginning. You can't really build a system and bolt that on at the end it doesn't work.

Mike Nitardy:

You know, and that brings up a really good point that, that I know that in my sphere of work that that it's come up and having to do with security, with IoT is the ability to update to do for patches to to items that may be might be connected to the internet that maybe don't get routine updates. Is that something that you think that we're going to be looking into and trying to get better as we become even more of an IoT world?

Steve Hinkel:

Yeah, absolutely. In fact, the the device that I brought in here today, you could just update it remotely if you wanted to. But if you could do that, chances are someone else could do that. So to actually force it to actually update itself, you have to hold a button. Now that's by choice. That's the choice I made because I don't want just anybody updating it, hijacking and taking control of it. So from that perspective, yeah, those are things you absolutely have to build into your system. And I can also say there's some really trivial things that have little to do with IoT that you know, every household should do, which is, you know, firewalls within your home. So my irrigation system, all the systems that I have in my home, you know, I just sold my home a couple months ago, we had about 70 IoT device, that did everything from checking pool temperature, pool levels, to the efficiency of my air conditioner, all that kind of stuff. So moving into a new house, I only have about a dozen so far, I'm just getting started. But I'm sure I'll end up back at that number, but not a single one of those devices is allowed to hit the internet itself. And it sounds kind of contradictory, but it can actually hit another device and send an alert out to me. But typically, I keep all that information within my home, I never let it leave. You know, those are architectures that you can design around your system to not even expose it to begin with.

Mike Nitardy:

That is amazing. And that is really good advice. Really good information. That candidly, I wasn't even aware of. That is something else. So we've kind of gotten into this a little bit more, but there's there anything else that our listeners should know about how IoT can be used? We've talked a lot about that. But are there some other areas that maybe our listeners should know about?

Steve Hinkel:

Yeah, I think so I think you know, it's so profound, we can only really hit a few topics. But you know, when you think about maybe a door lock that I mentioned at the very beginning. For me and you that's a convenience, you know, maybe we don't want the doors not locked, you know, my house will just automatically lock itself at 10pm. But you'd grab your phone, and so you don't have to get out of bed, it's a convenience. But think about certain scenarios where maybe there's an elderly person involved living by themselves, and they've just called 911. But they can't make it to the door. What's the likely scenario? First responders are probably gonna have to beat the door down, right? Unfortunately, now you've got that mess to deal with. Well, could you imagine if there was an IoT device that maybe when you call 911, maybe that it automatically unlocked the door? And I can tell you decades ago, I was actually a first responder I drove an amulet. Oh, wow. And there was many times that all you get is a street name. You don't get perfect information of you know where it is what the problem is, you just start rolling in that direction. Could you imagine you have you know, intelligent lighting within the homes very, very popular these days. But can you imagine not only when this elderly person dials 911 maybe unlocks the front door but maybe starts flashing the porch light. Wow, it helps first responders get there. The point there that I was really want to stress is it's the same exact physical switch but we're using it in multiple ways. That's where the real power of IoT comes in is when it's can be used as a team or it can be used in multiple ways. So that's just you know, one example Apple, of how you can have that light switch, maybe double is, or even a door lock double, to provide additional benefits. There's a, you know, when we think about health care, we have an aging population, this is going to be really big. And I went to CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, and I saw an IoT toothbrush. And I thought to myself, well, that's silly, you know. So I went over and talked to him. And as it turned out, it wasn't silly at all it was my ignorance did not realize my specific situation, I didn't need it. But in this whole health care category, there's, you know, that what they describe to me is, certain people don't have enough enamel on their teeth, and they need to apply it and has to be applied properly for it to work. And this toothbrush will tell you tooth by tooth, if you've done it properly or not. It's kind of like sunscreen for your skin. Right? So. But my point there is that things that I would just discount and say, Ah, that's there's no IoT candidate. Well, maybe for me, but if I think of others needs, then maybe it's back on the table. Right? So this whole idea of health care. I mean, certainly a lot of things come to mind, which is my blood pressure monitoring, heartbeat, honoring oxygen levels, all that stuff, absolutely can't argue. But there's this whole other category that can really help people that are maybe not as fortunate as us. And so when we think differently about how to apply it, the floodgates open.

Mike Nitardy:

That is that is amazing. And you're exactly right. And what a great way to think about our community in our helping individuals that that need the help how everyday items can somehow help them that we don't even know about today. That is absolutely fantastic. Now, let me ask you, how can our listeners learn more about the internet of things?

Steve Hinkel:

That's a great question. So there are some formal options. So NKU has had classes in the past I've personally taught. There's a new class coming out, it's CIT 381. It's taught by a very good friend of mine. And so if you want to go down this formal route, you know, I'm intimately familiar with the instructor there and it will not disappoint.

Mike Nitardy:

Very good.

Steve Hinkel:

Rest assured, however, you can say, Well, I just want to dip my toe in the water, I'm not really willing to commit to that just yet. There are a plethora of options out there. And honestly, it's so many options that might lead to some confusion.

Mike Nitardy:

Sure.

Steve Hinkel:

So, you know, could we possibly use this podcast, I've just kind of point people in the in a direction, knowing full well, I'm not gonna lie, there's 100 other ones that are just as valid. But, you know, if I were to recommend to someone, you know, how would I get started? Well, I would start with this, and it's a cryptic term, but it's called an ESP 32 Echo, Sierra, Papa 32. It's this $4 processor. And you know, if you want the convenience of next next day shipping, you can pay, you know, 11 bucks for it, or whatever.

Mike Nitardy:

[laughter]

Steve Hinkel:

I would start with that. And you know, there's all these tutorials out there. And if I were to recommend one, and today, it might be different than tomorrow, but it's a Random Nerd Tutorials sounds kind of funny. But if a listener were just to search, Random Nerd Tutorials ESP 32, you're going to see just all kinds of things.

Mike Nitardy:

Wow.

Steve Hinkel:

Now, my irrigation example, I'm probably about $300 into it, that might be a little bit expensive for a starter one. But you know, if you want to just monitor the health of your air conditioner, because we're in we're in cooling season now that you could actually buy the ESP 32. Like I said, I paid four bucks for the one I have in here, a temperature sensor or air quality sensor, whatever you want to measure, their average? About $2. You know, so what what's really neat about that is, you know, having the experience of teaching here, if you're going to buy a couple $100 device, many people are paralyzed by fear of damaging it. So you don't really jump in. This, I'm telling you, you know, you're out, you know, I don't want to, you know, you're out of 12 bucks, so its... Right.

Mike Nitardy:

...a lot less risky. Let's just put it that way. So that's something that you know, using Random Nerd Tutorials, using the ESP 32 can really get you started into you know, read some of those tutorials and just find out what makes sense for you. You know, we've all been taught that, you know, electric can kill so anything that's dealing with the lights of your home, let's leave that for UL listed devices. But you know, as a good starting point, but you know, things like temperature monitoring, those are just dynamite and extremely valuable ways of, of, of learning how to get into this. That is great. That is great advice. I'm going to look into that myself. It really appeals to me, like you said about not wanting to waste you know, hundreds of dollars, but you're exactly right. I'm okay with messing up $12 worth of machinery.

Steve Hinkel:

[laughter]

Mike Nitardy:

Well, Steve, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to be with us here in the in the cafe today. I know that it's been very instructive, very educational and informative for our listeners. And I really would love to have you back some time to talk even more because of this world just going to continue to grow. So thank you very much for being here with us today. Thank you Mike, I really appreciate it. Informatics Cafe is a production of Informatics+, the outreach arm of Northern Kentucky University's College of Informatics. Hosted by Mike Nitardy, produced by Chris Brewer, music and engineering by Aaron Zlatkin. Recorded at the Informatics Audio Studio in Griffin Hall.