Edge computing: Bringing the cloud to you

Right now, it can seem as though all that’s on everyone’s minds is AI and the cloud. And while it might appear that they are taking over the internet, something very interesting is happening on the fringes of current technological development. Or on the edge, some might say.

That something is edge computing. Edge computing is becoming increasingly important in today’s technological landscape, not least for its crucial role in the Internet of Things (IoT). It involves everything that’s done at or near the source of the data, rather than needing the cloud or a data center to do all the work from the back end.

Edge computing is a distributed IT network architecture that decentralizes processing power from a central cloud or data center to eliminate latency and reduce bandwidth and network storage requirements. Yet, it doesn’t mean the end of the cloud. Rather, it means the cloud is coming to us.

Let’s take a look into some impressive use cases of where edge computing is driving technological innovation in both our homes and our cities.

Home help in the 4IR

The smart homes of today are increasingly full of IoT devices, with the most popular of all being digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home: In fact, approximately one quarter of the U.S. population already own a smart speaker. However, it’s not just these digital assistants that require edge computing to be able to process data without referring back to the cloud. For example, robot vacuum cleaners gather a lot of data while moving around a room. In order to know which data to act on, the device filters it without having to send it to the back end (the cloud). This is edge computing in action. The same kind of decentralized computing can be seen in smart lawn mowers and their wealth of safety features. For example, a robot lawn mower will only cut blades of grass, so its sensors activate when the device is lifted or tilted and stop the blades from turning. Some smart mowers even have features to prevent theft, such as a PIN code requirement to operate the mower or built-in GPS that allows it to be tracked.

Cities are getting smarter

The emergence of smart cities, endowed with thousands of connected devices and systems, is also a perfect demonstration of how edge computing is driving forward practical, hands-on technology that delivers immediately actionable data insights.

Smart cities boast many impressive features that have a whole host of purposes related to sustainability, security, efficiency, and citizen convenience. Without edge computing, these IoT-driven metropolises would not be able to monitor the urban landscape in order to keep the smart infrastructure connected and functioning.

As well as more well-known examples like driverless vehicles and smart thermostats, we are also beginning to see edge computing in less likely locations. For example, Singapore has introduced solar-panelled smart trash bins that have an internal compactor that crushes trash, allowing it to hold five times more than another normal bin. The bin is connected wirelessly for easy monitoring and management, and its sensors detect once it is full and send an email or text message to the mobile phones of cleaners.

Other cities are retrofitting sensors into existing structures in order to detect an array of environmental factors such as air pollution levels and hyperlocal temperature changes. Chicago’s city-wide “Array of Things” network of lamppost-mounted sensors measure important air quality components like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.

In addition, the sensors monitor light, air and surface temperature, vibration, sound intensity, and pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The data from these devices translates into actionable insights for local government, including ensuring cost savings and higher levels of safety and efficiency by anticipating events such as floods and traffic safety incidents. Edge computing ensures that this data is processed and analyzed on the device, and not sent to the back end which could result in latency and a need for increased bandwidth. We are exponentially creating more and more data and connectivity each day, that it is becoming impossible to control all of the devices giving us this data using a centralized system alone. Edge computing is here to allow us to decentralize the processing power needed for all of this data that’s crucial to keep the momentum of today’s technological innovation.

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