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Intelligent Spaces


This weekend I visited the excellent “You Say You Want a Resolution…” exhibition in London’s Victoria and Albert museum, an exhibition about the “Records and Rebels from 1966 to 1970”.

As you enter, you are handed an audio device and set of headphones. Depending on where you are in the exhibition, the audio changes. So, standing in front of the display of the original song lyrics and the clothes the Beetles wore on the cover of Sergeant Pepper, you get to hear Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. While this probably isn’t the most technologically advanced experience, it is a very compelling example of an Intelligent Space, and something that we at Hewlett Packard Enterprise believe we will see a lot more of.

What do we mean by Intelligent Spaces? What “spaces” are we talking about? In what way are they “intelligent”? And why now - why couldn’t we have had Intelligent Spaces 10 years ago?

Why Intelligent Spaces now?
Let’s start with the last question - why now? Intelligent Spaces are predominantly made possible by three technologies. Firstly, the smart phone. Secondly, beacons - small devices that talk to our phones using bluetooth. And thirdly, ubiquitous (i.e. blanket coverage), hi-speed wifi.

What Spaces?
And the “spaces”? We can turn hospitals into Intelligent Spaces. And Universities and Colleges. Stores and shopping areas. Airports, large bus terminuses and railway stations. Art galleries and museums. Hotels. Conference Centers. Sports stadia.

intelspaces_1.pngWhat spaces can become Intelligent SpacesAnd very importantly, our workplaces. While intelligent workplaces are a part of the more general Intelligent Spaces, they are a large topic in their own right, and so I’ll leave them to a separate article.

What Intelligence?
Intelligent Spaces are, of course, a sub-set of the more general Internet of Things (IoT) and if there is one thing we can say about IoT, it’s that the limit on what can be done with the technology is probably only limited by our imaginations and our willingness to experiment. But right now, there are a number of common themes when it comes to the “Intelligence” of Intelligent Spaces.

Automatic Login
The first is automatic login. As you approach the hospital, beacons pick up your approach and you are automatically logged in - the hospital has you registered as a patient and your attendance at the hospital is noted.

Or, you order some goods online, and being a fan of “omni-channel retail”, you opt to pickup on store. As you approach the store, your presence is noted and the pickers start collecting together your order. A UK retailer found that this auto-login allowed them to reduce the average wait for collection from 18 minutes to under 5 minutes. And as we’ll see later, shoppers could buy more things in store and have then added to their collection.

Or, as you enter the hotel, you are automatically checked in and your key is issued, thus cutting out any wait to check in.

With beacons throughout our spaces, we can offer directions to our customers.

In a large sport stadium, you can get directions to your seat, to food (to food outlets with the smallest lines) and to the nearest exit.

Have you ever got lost in a large hospital? I suspect I get lost more times than I don’t! Knowing where you want to go, because you have been auto-checked in for your appointment(s), the hospital can guide you to the right department.

intelspaces_2.pngWhat can an Intelligent Space do?

Directed Travel
Many hospital visits are “multi-step” - 1/ get an ultra-sound 2/ see the consultant 3/ get your meds. The hospital’s position-aware app can guide your thru your multi-step journey.

Or, you might have a shopping list that the grocery store can guide you thru. Many grocery stores are looking at providing the customers with “smart shopping list” functionality, giving suggestions regarding extra purchases along the way (more on this later).

Or, an art gallery may have created different tours thru their collections. Imagine you are visiting a science museum. You might elect to have the “medical science” tour or the “evolution of robotics” tour. You could have customer-contributed tours too. As a keen walker, I use the UK’s Ordnance Survey walking app onto which keen walkers have contributed suggested routes.

Positionally-aware and context-related information

We’re already talked about a “directed travel” thru a grocery store, with the store’s app giving suggestions as to extra purchases you might want to make.

And earlier, we talked about the Victoria and Albert museum giving me music and sound scapes depending on where I am in the exhibition. This audio could also be augmented by additional information about the exhibits and about related exhibits that the museum didn’t have space for.

In sports stadia, customers are given instant replays of the action and are sent personalised information about snacks and drinks.

I believe that we will also see artificial intelligence-based bots combined with positional information.

“You are in the orthopaedic department”
“What does this department do?”
“Orthopaedics is to do with bones and muscles”
“I’m here for an X-ray. Are X-rays harmful?”

Asset tracking and geo-fencing

We can put beacons onto valuable items like portable medical equipment in a hospital. This them allows to know where the items are. It also allows us to implement geo-fencing where we allow the equipment to move about in a defined area, but once it moves out of that area, we get alerted.

A UK hospital is trialing geo-fencing for the trolleys in its accident and emergency (A&E) department. The A&E department's trolleys were "wandering" into other departments. But now, the A&E department gets alerted when such "wandering" occurs.

Optimizing Space Design using Digital Footprints

Once we know where people go in our “spaces” (known as “digital footprints”) we can start to optimise our spaces to make life easier for our customers. MIT has used digital footprints to redesign workplaces and local communities, for example.

The Technological Basis for Intelligent Spaces

“Proper”, ubiquitous wifi

“Free wifi (in the majority of this space, and provided not too many other people are using it)” How often do we get excited about the prospect of free wifi in a space, only to find that it’s not available everywhere and that it crawls to a painful halt when a number of people start using it in earnest?

If we don’t have ubiquitous wifi coverage, then we can’t sense position, you can’t offer directions throughout the whole of your space, and you can’t deliver content throughout your space (“don’t stand too close to this exhibit because the wifi is a bit patchy here”).

And as the richness of the content you deliver increases, you’ll need to consider the speed of the wifi. For example, sports stadia increase the quality of the fans’ experience of a game by providing replay of the action from a number of different angles on smartphones. You need good wifi speed to do that.

The days of customers being fooled by wifi that works in certain places and only at four o’clock in the morning are gone.


intelspaces_3.pngArchitecture of an Intelligent Space

Beacons use the Bluetooth protocol to talk to your smartphone. They are powered by batteries that last three or four years. They are connected to servers via wifi.

Lots of experimental steps by non-expert developers

The intelligence in Intelligent Spaces is, of course, provided by applications. In common with so many other “digitally transforming” applications, Intelligent Spaces are developed differently to more traditional applications.

Because the technology involved is evolving all the time, and because we can’t know how our customers will react to the way we present functionality, we have to take a series of largely experimental steps. For example, we might implement self-checkin to a hotel in a certain way only to discover that this frustrates customers or makes our hotels seem to impersonal. We would then adjust and try again (and probably - again, and again, and again).

And the development of our intelligent spaces functionality is most likely to be developed by people from the business or from the office of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) rather than by 20 year app dev veterans from Enterprise IT. And even more likely, it will be modified by the business or CDO’s office. HPE’s own research of over 800 customers found that 74% Digital Transformation projects were developed either by the business or by the CDO’s office, with only 26% of projects lead by Enterprise IT.

Consider using an IoT Orchestration tool
Because of the need for small, experimental steps and because of the democratisation of development, you might want to consider using one of the new breed of IoT-aware orchestration tools.

They allow you to graphically define the logic flow of the application. Not only does this make application creation easier for non-programming experts, but it also makes subsequent modification easier too.

Intelligent Spaces allow you to improve customer experience today
HPE’s own research into customers’ motivation for pursuing IoT projects puts “improving customer experience” as the number one reason.

Intelligent Spaces is a fast, and relatively simple way of improving customer experience where you own a “space”.

Intelligent Spaces are something you can start working on now - there is no need to wait for the emergence of unified standards or for the maturing of component technologies.

The reason I mention this is that I’ve seen Intelligent Spaces projects caught up in grand IoT planning cycles. The argument is that Intelligent Spaces are a type of IoT and thus, they should be part of IoT planning. True, but Intelligent Spaces are “here now”, whereas IoT will continue to develop over many years.

(Actually, I’m not a fan of doing IoT planning unless you’ve actually tried an IoT project or two or three. I remember doing decision making training. We were set a problem .. “you wake up in a field. You have no idea where you are. There is fog all around. What are your options - which direction should you go in?” Of course, the answer is, “just do something - set off in any direction”. I think that IoT is a lot like this - it’s very difficult to create a corporate IoT plan when you have no idea what IoT entails.)


Mike Shaw
Director Strategic Marketing

linkedin.gifMike Shaw

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About the Author


Mike has been with HPE for 30 years. Half of that time was in research and development, mainly as an architect. The other 15 years has been spent in product management, product marketing, and now, strategic marketing. .

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