Big Data: Where's the Sense in That?


Sensory data has been collected for many years by some organisations – the MET Office, for example – and now the rest of the world is not only catching up, but making this big data accessible. There are a mass of products that can be used by everyone from large corporations down to the humblest of individuals.

All of these products have one goal: make life easier.

Let’s start with the biggest of the big. I mentioned in a previous blog that sensory data can be used in insurance, specifically medical insurance. While there may be privacy issues surrounding the collection and use of this data, there is little doubt as to its usefulness, at least when used for good; I struggle to think of many people who would want to have targeted advertising based on fitness levels as many are happy with exactly the way they look and feel. But as the technology behind the data collection becomes significantly more advanced, who’s to say that within the next few years we won’t need to visit a doctor, instead receiving a personalised alert from an app discreetly telling you that your blood flow is decreased and it is time to seek help?

It may be just a hypothetical, but there would be many social and economic benefits to such advancement. Waiting times at your local GP or Physicians would drop, insurance companies would be better equipped to handle claims relating to health, possibly even including the mental effects of traumatic events, and on a personal level it would be easier to keep track of how your body is functioning. Until such a day, there are many ways in which sensory big data is making our lives a touch easier. Below are a select few that have caught the eye of either myself or my colleagues at Consolidata.

The Lights Are On, And They Know Who’s Home

This first one is a little old (if you consider 2014 to be old), but shows that some incredible tech is already in existence and helping to ease some stress as well as keep us safe. In February 2014 the New York Times ran a piece by Diane Cardwell on the new lighting systems at Newark Airport. On the face of it, quite a mundane sounding article, until Cardwell explained what was happening behind the bright lights.

“Using an array of sensors and eight video cameras around the terminal, the light fixtures are part of a new wireless network that collects and feeds data into software that can spot long lines, recognize license plates and even identify suspicious activity, sending alerts to the appropriate staff.”

Initially this news was met with some cynicism. However, at least in the western world, we are becoming more welcoming to a culture of surveillance, with apparent threats of terrorism being reported on a daily basis, so such technology is causing less of a stir. Many cities already employ such technology in street lights and CCTV, often not just for the safety benefits, but the environmental ones, too. Just because you are being watched does not mean you are being targeted, unless your profile and preferences based on the data collected are being illegally sold to third parties.

What We Can’t See Won’t Hurt Us

It’s not just about the visual sensors. Technology is helping us in ways we can’t even smell. Take C2Sense for example: a start-up in the USA that stemmed from research at MIT. The end product was an ‘artificial nose’ capable of sensing when food is about to spoil based on the chemical expulsions. Although such a feat is impressive on its own, the team has expanded the range of uses beyond just decomposition. The current prototype is able to sense up to four separate gases, all of which will help to save money, and possibly lives.

Carbon Monoxide and smoke detectors have been around for years, but they have been known give false alarms, or possibly fail altogether. As research into the technology behind such sensory chips becomes more advanced, as well as being able to cover a wider spectrum of possible chemicals and gases, they will become more durable, flexible, tougher, and be able to detect such minute traces that ‘possible’ issues won’t be possible.

It’s becoming so easy to know what’s around you that your eye’s cannot perceive. SCiO is a ConsumerPhysics Molecular Sensor linked with an app downloadable to a Smartphone or Tablet that will tell you the molecular make-up of objects around you. The database behind this tech is still incomplete, but that is all part of the attraction; you will be helping SCiO to learn, and build on its knowledge of what the world is made of. Machine Learning is a growing aspect of the Internet of Things (IoT), and products like SCiO will make you a direct part of it.

The IoT is what has been driving a lot of data collection in recent years; the more data collected, the more can be done. This mind set coupled with the right technology has lead to some truly innovative work, such as Augury, a device built to hear when a machine is about to malfunction or break. A Wired article from April 2015 went into great detail as to why such a device was created in the first place, and also where it could go. The premise was to save money for a machine manufacturing company on sending engineers out (sometimes overseas) to fix minor problems. A small gadget that could be affixed to said machinery to hear sounds and sense vibrations was a perfect solution, especially when coupled with a machine learning database of which the volume of information on aural and vibration-sensitive data is ever increasing as new problems arise in the physical machinery in which sensors are placed.

Watch It Grow

I will admit that the above subtitle is a terrible attempt at a pun on the last of my examples, as well as on the state of the IoT and machine learning, and for that I apologise.

This final piece of tech is available to anyone, and is one of the most wide reaching in terms of demographics. Edyn is changing gardening for the better, making it simpler for anyone to keep better care of their plants and vegetables, whether that’s corporate farms looking to keep their soil to industry standards, or a home gardener using the device to know when they have watered their beds to optimum level.

It is these kinds of technologies and gadgets that will not only make our lives easier, but will continue to help us develop and get the best out of whatever it is we are trying to accomplish.


This is not a trend. This is not a viral video that will be forgotten in a few months. This is a new(ish) way of making human lives easier on a personal level, all the way through to mass production on a global scale. It is something many have already embraced, and others will follow – I don’t mean follow as in ‘blindly follow the trend’, but rather continue the flow, to innovate, and grow.