Our world is becoming smarter and smarter every day. This process is being accelerated not only by the progress in AI but also IoT, Digital Twins, Industry 4.0 and digital transformation efforts - all coming together in this new Smart World. The impact of this has been seen not just for consumers but also for industries like manufacturing, retail, healthcare, utilities, automotive and many other with smart buildings or in general Smart Spaces. In this post, we are covering the bigger picture of Smart Spaces which make organizations more efficient by leveraging heterogeneous data sources for better analytics and utilization, also in relation with the Metaverse, robotics and frontline workers.

Figure 1: The Physical and Digital World come closer together with Smart Spaces. (Photo by NASA on Unsplash)

Smart Spaces are a trend to watch closely for this year according to market analysts, but what is it? Smart Spaces are digital and physical environments in which devices and sensors give companies, managers and also visitors better insights about how a system is leveraged and a look into the near future with predictive analytics. One rather well-known implementation is Smart Cities where urban areas provide a more resource sensitive usage by leveraging IoT sensors and AI models, for example, to reduce energy consumption or simply for automated toll and billing systems. Also COVID-19 boosted the adoption as it allows to implement complex logic with dynamic adaptivity for worker safety, social distancing or health passes. Smart spaces provide a novel way across various industries for efficient management including traffic, people, robots, and other analytics systems.

IoT and Digital TwinsSmart spaces need data, lots of data and these days this often comes from Internet of Things (IoT) devices with on-site processing via intelligent edge devices. In combination with digital replications of physical entities, so called Digital Twins, IoT promises exceptional benefits for organizations in cost saving and streamlining operations. IoT, Digital Twins and Edge computing are technologies that build the basis for smart cities and smart building. We at Reply are looking into these topics since many years and have covered them in various articles like here, here and here.
We have also developed the Digital Twin Experience which you can find in many Microsoft Technology Centers (MTC) and Executive Briefing Centers (EBC) around the globe. Our IoT Digital Twin Experience lets you experience  the possibilities through remote monitoring and equipment repair using Spatial Computing with Mixed Reality (MR), Digital Twin and IoT technologies.

Combining various IoT devices with intelligent edge analytics is already a precursor of smart spaces. For example, think about a retail store that has various cameras to monitor traffic flow and create visitor heatmaps covering the time and locations, but also other sensors like thermal, humidity, occupancy and more provide meaningful insights into the customer and employee experience. Combining all the sensor data with smart and predictive analytics leveraging AI, Machine Learning enables store managers to make better decisions about the store layout, product placement and employee allocations.  

A car is also becoming more and more of a software platform with attached hardware (the car). Automobiles drive in smart spaces like smart cities but also a car itself is their own smart space. We at Valorem Reply are working in this field together with our automotive customers for a cloud-powered new User Experience (UX) with connected cars but also for racing where real-time monitoring of vehicle data is crucial for better insights and faster adaptability in highly dynamic conditions. All of these are smart spaces on their own, but even more so in a combination of all, for smarter car fleet managing, fuel, carbon savings and alike.

Frontline workers and manufacturing plant maintenance also profit from modern smart building infrastructure. It can help to plan a shift better and remove uncertainty with better planning based on insightful data analytics. In tandem with automation tools and wearables, smart infrastructure can improve the workplace safety as well.

All the above smart spaces use cases are enabled by modern networking protocols and technology like 5G and others that allow fast broadband data transfer and edge computing for smarter edge analytics. A lot of companies are heavily investing into smart buildings and spaces as per Forrester, who recently published in a report: “In 2022, we expect smart infrastructure investments to increase by 40%, powered by large government spending windfalls in smart infrastructure in China, the EU, and the US. To facilitate pandemic recovery, city planners will prioritize initiatives that provide citizens with internet connectivity, address public health, and manage critical resources (e.g., water, power, and lighting) by using smart meters and predictive grid monitoring. Stakeholders will also harness insights captured from edge devices and IoT-enabled infrastructure to modify traffic patterns to reduce congestion; evaluate multimedia data to deliver insight for security applications; and combine 5G, V2X, and edge technologies to enable autonomous vehicles (e.g., container trucks and automated guided vehicles) in ports and airports.

Also, our own in-house research found out that the global Industrial IoT (IIoT) market is forecasted to have a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 7.4%, reaching $110.6 billion by 2025. You can learn more about our IIoT market research with vendor analysis, key trends and more industry data in our on-demand content here.

Figure 2: Global IIoT market growth according to our own market research data analysis

Real-World Metaverse The Metaverse is gaining a lot of momentum these days, and this is also driven by COVID-19 and the boom of hybrid work models where Virtual Metaverse spaces allow for more immersive collaborative online meetings. It’s no wonder that market analysts are recommending CIOs to start their Metaverse initiatives also in relation to IoT and Digital Twins. Smart Spaces also have a relation into the Real-World Metaverse which provides a digital layer with smart enhancements on top of our physical world. We covered the Metaverse with all its flavors in a post here and in relation to Virtual Presence and Digital Humans here. The Real-World Metaverse and AR Cloud establish the link between the digital smart spaces with its physical counterpart providing the location / position of the digital data assets in the physical world. For example, spatial anchoring for IoT sensors with virtual dashboards can be precisely located at the physical equipment and provide real-time information from the smart spaces infrastructure system.
If you want to learn more about the Real-World Metaverse and see some examples of existing implementations, you can also watch my Global XR Conference keynote with lots of examples 

Hybrid work models 

Robotics also play an important role in tandem with smart spaces and the Real-World Metaverse. Autonomous mobile robots are essentially IoT edge devices with Spatial Computing on the move and therefore also have a spatial understanding of their environment fueled by their localization and mapping systems (SLAM). Modern technology like the Azure Spatial Anchors ROS SDK allow to connect the Real-World Metaverse together with a mobile phone or HoloLens and a capable robot allowing to share the same spatial map between each other. This enables novel use cases where smart spaces can work in conjunction with robots for things like autonomous inspection, control, and predictive maintenance. We will cover this topic more in-depth in an upcoming blog post but for now you can also read this article from 2021 where we already touched upon our early Reply Robotics work.

Smart Spaces are built on a solid IoT and cloud computing foundation which we, at Valorem Reply and our broader Reply family, are experts at. If you are interested to hear more, please reach out to marketing@valorem.com to schedule dedicated time with our industry experts. We cannot wait to hear about what you have in mind and the goals you want to achieve to drive the future of your business!