Smart devices play a fundamental role in today’s Industry 4.0. They are at the center of the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities. And yet, when I looked for a definition for smart device a few years ago, I couldn’t find much. So I resorted to creating a new methodological approach for developing a scalable concept of smart devices.

What Is a Smart Device?

A smart device is a wired or wireless context-aware electronic device capable of performing autonomous computing and connecting to other devices for data exchange.

A smart device has three main features: (1) context-awareness, (2) autonomous computing and (3) connectivity.

This definition aligns with the main idea of the Internet of Things. In other words, any one thing can become part of the IoT. A chair can become a smart chair if we add a sensor, a tiny bit of computing capabilities and network connectivity.

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What Is a Smart Device?

Smart Devices Have Context Awareness

Context-awareness is a system or system component’s ability to gather information about its environment at any given time and adapt behaviors accordingly. Cameras, microphones and Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receivers, radar and LIDAR sensors are all potential sources of data for context-aware computing. A context-aware system may gather data through these and other sources and respond according to pre-established rules or through computational intelligence.


Smart Devices Have Autonomous Computing

The key aspect of autonomous computing is a device or multiple devices performing tasks autonomously without the direct command of the user. For example, our smartphones make suggestions based on our geolocation or the weather. To accomplish this (seemingly) simple task, a smartphone needs to be autonomous and use context data to make decisions.


Smart Devices Have Connectivity

Connectivity refers to the ability of a smart device to connect to a data network. Without connectivity, there is no point in a smart device being autonomous and having context-awareness. Network connectivity, whether wired or wireless, is a crucial feature that enables a device to be a part of the IoT.


Do Smart Devices Need Humans?

Don’t make the mistake of assuming all smart devices are designed for interacting with humans. If you think that way then youre only thinking of the most common smart devices, such as smartphones, smart TVs or smartwatches. There are so many more possibilities. A smart device can have direct or indirect interaction with humans. A weather probe, for example, might collect weather data and transmit it to the IoT. Humans will end up using that data of course, but the weather probe did not require any direct interaction with humans.


Do Smart Devices Need to Be Portable?

Does a smart surveillance camera need to be mobile? Remember the three rules: context-awareness (it’s a camera, which means it passes the test), autonomous computing (it uses computer vision to recognize particular objects), and network connectivity (it sends a report of the objects it recognizes to a server). In this example, portability is not required.

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smart device

Are Autonomous Vehicles Smart Devices?

Yes! Autonomous vehicles comply with the three key criteria needed to make a device smart. It has network connectivity, context-awareness (sensors such as GPS, LIDAR and Radar), and autonomous computing.

In the end, a smartphone might be a lot simpler than an autonomous vehicle, but theyre both smart devices.

A few years ago, when I developed the definition of a smart device, I reviewed all the literature and found a major lack of agreement in terminology. I saw everything from smart mobile device, to mobile smart device, to smart green IT device — the list goes on. It doesn’t really matter what we call these devices because, in the end,  what’s important is we understand what makes a smart device smart.

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