What is Automation?

Automation is an old word that we apply to making machinery or processes go by themselves. Decades ago, it would apply to simple things like automatic (self-cocking) rifles. Then along came automatic gearboxes in cars. Robotic equipment in manufacturing plants is another example. Now in the 21st century we use automation in all kinds of buildings to control environmental functions such as air conditioning, ventilation, lighting, safety, security, fire and flood alarms, etc. It is for the safety, comfort and convenience of the building's occupants. Other advantages are cost saving, reducing energy and resource consumption, built in alarms and performance monitors. and extending the life of equipment.

The latest development of automation is networking of devices to work together and is called the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Automation plus IoT makes for a 'smart building', 'smart business' or 'smart home', etc. The difference is mainly in scale. We connect various combinations of automated machines, software and electronics together by wires and/or wirelessly in a flexible, adaptable network. The purpose is for that network to sense, interact and respond intelligently to changes according to human wishes. Electrical things which formerly had no way to communicate, now can interact with each other and us. We can now even connect devices made by different manufacturers (with different operating systems) so they can 'talk' to each other. Internet of Things is being called “the next industrial revolution” because it will change everything about the way we live, work, administer, produce, trade, travel and entertain. The major areas directly relevant to us in which automation and IoT are used are:

Automation and Internet of Things components

Automation is possible for many different processes, devices and vehicles. However Internet of Things automation requires them to be networked together. There is a wide range of components to connect and ways of connecting them (known as topology).

At the basic level you have input/output devices. They are:

At the control level you have:

In big business and industry the next levels are:

Connecting things

Connecting things has become simpler and more flexible with a system called Actuator-Sensor Interface (AS-i). A messy network of cables has been replaced by one cable that carries power and the data between 5 basic components:

Things can be connected across the world, eg. a security breach turns a camera to film the action and notifies the right people (eg. owner overseas, security company). A fire alarm likewise notifies you and the fire department.

The information travels along this track:

Environmental information goes into the sensors (eg sensor detects extreme heat) -> to the master or gateway -> to information processing in computer, server, cloud or smartphone -> decision sent back to gateway -> commands sent to actuators -> they action the necessary changes, ie. turn on sprinkler which puts out flame.

It's like a human nervous system, with senses, nerves and brain, telling cells and muscles what to do!