Smart object

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A smart object is an object that enhances the interaction with not only people but also with other smart objects. Also known as smart connected products or Smart Connected Things (SCoT), they are products, assets and other things embedded with processors, sensors, software and connectivity that allow data to be exchanged between the product and its environment, manufacturer, operator/user, and other products and systems. Connectivity also enables some capabilities of the product to exist outside the physical device, in what is known as the product cloud. The data collected from these products can be then analyzed to inform decision-making, enable operational efficiencies and continuously improve the performance of the product.

It can not only refer to interaction with physical world objects but also to interaction with virtual (computing environment) objects. A smart physical object may be created either as an artifact or manufactured product or by embedding electronic tags such as RFID tags or sensors into non-smart physical objects. Smart virtual objects are created as software objects that are intrinsic when creating and operating a virtual or cyber world simulation or game. The concept of a smart object has several origins and uses, see History. There are also several overlapping terms, see also smart device, tangible object or tangible user interface and Thing as in the Internet of things.


In the early 1990s, Mark Weiser, from whom the term ubiquitous computing originated, referred to a vision "When almost every object either contains a computer or can have a tab attached to it, obtaining information will be trivial",[1][2] Although Weiser did not specifically refer to an object as being smart, his early work did imply that smart physical objects are smart in the sense that they act as digital information sources. Hiroshi Ishii and Brygg Ullmer[3] refer to tangible objects in terms of tangibles bits or tangible user interfaces that enable users to "grasp & manipulate" bits in the center of users' attention by coupling the bits with everyday physical objects and architectural surfaces.

The smart object concept was introduced by Marcelo Kallman and Daniel Thalmann[4] as an object that can describe its own possible interactions. The main focus here is to model interactions of smart virtual objects with virtual humans, agents, in virtual worlds. The opposite approach to smart objects is 'plain' objects that do not provide this information. The additional information provided by this concept enables far more general interaction schemes, and can greatly simplify the planner of an artificial intelligence agent.[4]

In contrast to smart virtual objects used in virtual worlds, Lev Manovich focuses on physical space filled with electronic and visual information. Here, "smart objects" are described as "objects connected to the Net; objects that can sense their users and display smart behaviour".[5]

More recently in the early 2010s, smart objects are being proposed as a key enabler for the vision of the Internet of things.[6] The combination of the Internet and emerging technologies such as near field communications, real-time localization, and embedded sensors enables everyday objects to be transformed into smart objects that can understand and react to their environment. Such objects are building blocks for the Internet of things and enable novel computing applications.[6]


Although we can view interaction with physical smart object in the physical world as distinct from interaction with virtual smart objects in a virtual simulated world, these can be related. Poslad[2] considers the progression of: how

  • humans use models of smart objects situated in the physical world to enhance human to physical world interaction; versus how
  • smart physical objects situated in the physical world can model human interaction in order to lessen the need for human to physical world interaction; versus how
  • virtual smart objects by modelling both physical world objects and modelling humans as objects and their subsequent interactions can form a predominantly smart virtual object environment.

Smart physical objects[edit]

The concept smart for a smart physical object simply means that it is active, digital, networked, can operate to some extent autonomously, is reconfigurable and has local control of the resources it needs such as energy, data storage, etc.[2] Note, a smart object does not necessarily need to be intelligent as in exhibiting a strong essence of artificial intelligence—although it can be designed to also be intelligent.

Physical world smart objects can be described in terms of three properties:[6]

  • Awareness: is a smart object's ability to understand (that is, sense, interpret, and react to) events and human activities occurring in the physical world.
  • Representation: refers to a smart object's application and programming model—in particular, programming abstractions.
  • Interaction: denotes the object’s ability to converse with the user in terms of input, output, control, and feedback.

Based upon these properties, these have been classified into three types:[6]

  • Activity-Aware Smart Objects: Are objects that can record information about work activities and its own use.
  • Policy-Aware Smart Objects: Are objects that are activity-aware Objects can interpret events and activities with respect to predefined organizational policies.
  • Process-Aware Smart Objects: Processes play a fundamental role in industrial work management and operation. A process is a collection of related activities or tasks that are ordered according to their position in time and space.

Smart virtual objects[edit]

For the virtual object in a virtual world case, an object is called smart when it has the ability to describe its possible interactions.[4] This focuses on constructing a virtual world using only virtual objects that contain their own interaction information. There are four basic elements to constructing such a smart virtual object framework.[4]

  • Object properties: physical properties and a text description
  • Interaction information: position of handles, buttons, grips, and the like
  • Object behavior: different behaviors based on state variables
  • Agent behaviors: description of the behavior an agent should follow when using the object

Some versions of smart objects also include animation information in the object information, but this is not considered to be an efficient approach, since this can make objects inappropriately oversized.[7]


Smart, connected products have three primary components:[8]:67

  • Physical – made up of the product's mechanical and electrical parts.
  • Smart – made up of sensors, microprocessors, data storage, controls, software, and an embedded operating system with enhanced user interface.
  • Connectivity – made up of ports, antennae, and protocols enabling wired/wireless connections that serve two purposes, it allows data to be exchanged with the product and enables some functions of the product to exist outside the physical device.

Each component expands the capabilities of one another resulting in "a virtuous cycle of value improvement".[8] First, the smart components of a product amplify the value and capabilities of the physical components. Then, connectivity amplifies the value and capabilities of the smart components. These improvements include:

  • Monitoring of the product's conditions, its external environment, and its operations and usage.
  • Control of various product functions to better respond to changes in its environment, as well as to personalize the user experience.
  • Optimization of the product's overall operations based on actual performance data, and reduction of downtimes through predictive maintenance and remote service.
  • Autonomous product operation, including learning from their environment, adapting to users' preferences and self-diagnosing and service.[9]

The Internet of things (IoT)[edit]

The Internet of things is the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.[10] The phrase "Internet of things" reflects the growing number of smart, connected products and highlights the new opportunities they can represent. The Internet, whether involving people or things, is a mechanism for transmitting information. What makes smart, connected products fundamentally different is not the Internet, but the changing nature of the 'things'.[8]:66 Once a product is smart and connected to the cloud, the products and services will become part of an interconnected management solution. Companies can evolve from making products to offering more complex, higher-value offerings within a "system of systems".[11][12]


Examples of smart, connected products include:

  • Tesla Motors Automobiles – a smart product with an intelligent maintenance system that periodically monitors itself and can autonomously alert Tesla, to issues so that they can be resolved quickly and easily. Many issues can be resolved remotely with a corrective software download.[13]
  • Medtronic's Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) – a smart device with wearable technology. The digital blood-glucose meter uses a glucose sensor inserted under the skin that measures glucose levels. A transmitter sends the glucose information from the sensor to a monitor that displays glucose levels on a screen and notifies the user if it detects that glucose is reaching a high or low limit. People with diabetes get a more complete picture of their glucose levels, which can lead to better treatment decisions and better glucose control.[14]
  • Philips Lightning Hue Light Bulbs and Bridge – provides users with a connected device for home automation. Users have the ability to customize their interaction though a smartphone, as well as connects their system to the wider world. With it, a user can control their lights remotely or link them up to the rest of the web, newsfeeds, or even their inbox.[15]
  • iRobot Roomba – a smart product vacuum cleaner with iAdapt Technology (an advanced system of software and sensors) that enables Roomba to find its way around any shape or size of home, covering every area of floor multiple times for a complete clean.[16]
  • Joy Global's Longwall Mining System – able to operate autonomously far underground, overseen by a mine control center on the surface. Equipment is monitored continuously for performance and faults, and technicians are dispatched underground to deal with issues requiring human interaction.[17]
  • Ralph Lauren's Polo Tech Shirt – this example of wearable technology has conductive threads woven into the shirt, and a small snap-on module that weighs less than 1.5 ounces and relays information to a Bluetooth-connected iPhone or iPad. The "smart" part of the shirt is a stretchy band, under the pectorals, that contains conductive threads that contact the skin. A module Ralph Lauren calls the "Black Box" or "Tech Box" snaps into the shirt around the left rib cage; it receives heart-rate and breathing data from those threads via metal snaps built into the shirt. The iOS app gives users a real-time display of heart and respiration rates, and a daily view of calories burned and steps taken.[18]
  • Petcube Camera – an interactive pet monitor with real time video and built-in laser pointer. It allows pet owners to watch, talk to, and play with their pet from their smartphone, no matter where they are.
  • Renault R-Line – a connected car solution developed by Worldline. The idea is to provide a continuous access to any online app. The driver can then customize the car digital environment.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weiser, Mark (1991). "The Computer for the Twenty-First Century". Scientific American. 265 (3): 94–104. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0991-94. 
  2. ^ a b c Poslad, Stefan (2009). Ubiquitous Computing Smart Devices, Smart Environments and Smart Interaction. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-470-03560-3. Archived from the original on 2014-12-10. 
  3. ^ Ishii, Hiroshi; Brygg Ullmer (1997). Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between People, Bits and Atoms (PDF). Proceedings of Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, (CHI '97). ACM Press. pp. 234–241. 
  4. ^ a b c d Kallman, Marcelo; Daniel Thalmann (1998). "Modeling Objects for Interaction Tasks". Springer: 73–86. 
  5. ^ Manovich, Lev (2006). "The poetics of urban media surfaces". First Monday (Special Issue #4: Urban Screens: Discovering the potential of outdoor screens for urban society). 
  6. ^ a b c d Kortuem, Gerd; Fahim Kawsar; Daniel Fitton; Vasughi Sundramoor (2010). "Smart Objects as Building Blocks for the Internet of Things". IEEE Internet Computing. 14 (1): 44–51. doi:10.1109/mic.2009.143. 
  7. ^ Jorissen, Pieter; Maarten Wijnants; Wim Lamotte (2005). "Dynamic Interactions in Physically Realistic Collaborative Virtual Environments". IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics. 11 (6): 649–660. doi:10.1109/tvcg.2005.100. 
  8. ^ a b c Porter, M. E.; Heppelmann, J. E. (November 2014). "How Smart, Connected Products are Transforming Competition". Harvard Business Review. 
  9. ^ "The New Era of Smart, Connected Products Is Changing How Businesses Compete". Wall Street Journal. November 28, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Gartner Says the Internet of Things Installed Base Will Grow to 26 Billion Units by 2020". Gartner. December 12, 2013. 
  11. ^ Dan Ostrower (November 2014). "Smart Connected Products: Killing Industries, Boosting Innovation". Wired Magazine. 
  12. ^ Z. Jenipher Wang (July 2016). "The Smart IoT Brings Us the Greatest Value". 
  13. ^ "Service - Tesla". 
  14. ^ "Continuous Glucose Monitoring – Insulin Pumps – Medtronic Diabetes". 
  15. ^ "Phillips Hue". Archived from the original on 2015-01-12. 
  16. ^ "iRobot Roomba Vacuum Cleaning Robot". 
  17. ^ How Smart, Connected Products are Transforming Competition Harvard Business Review. pp 71
  18. ^ Your Next Polo Shirt Could Have an Activity Tracker Built Right In Wired Magazine
  19. ^ "Unlock the power of Internet of Things through engaging Connected Services" (PDF). Worldline. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 December 2016. 

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