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Delivering User Assistance for IoT-Based Applications

By, Akhil Harikrishnan and Suresh Srinivasan

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the latest buzz word in today’s market and deals with connecting devices to the Internet. A Gartner study suggests that more than 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020. The introduction of IPv6 has helped connect more devices to the Internet, and with the cost of sensors going down each day, it’s now easier than ever to IoT-ize devices and applications.

Challenges

This network of smart, connected devices requires minimal human intervention and results in minimal errors or downtime. It is also important to consider that some IoT scenarios are time-critical. For example, Smart Railways. Downtime in such time-critical IoT scenarios could result in huge loss in terms of cost, or in some cases could threaten human lives. Because of these and many other challenges, it is important that the help content (troubleshooting, or application help, and so on) for IoT-based applications be crisp and precise, easily accessible even in remote locations, and – for some specific scenarios – available based on the location of the end user.

Solutions

The approaches that can be used to solve the above challenges are discussed here:

Tag Technologies

The smartphone revolution has led to a drastic increase in the number of mobile devices. This, in combination with tag technologies, such as NFCs, beacons and QR code strips has made it easier to deliver quick help information for IoT-based applications at minimum cost. The tag technologies also help deliver information for IoT applications based on context and location.

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR headsets have made it possible to access and consume 3D information easily. Help information for some IoT scenarios, such as Smart Retail or Smart Homes, adds more value to the end user if it is delivered in 3D. At the STC India Chapter conference in 2016, we presented different IoT scenarios, which require delivering help content in 3D, and explained how VR headsets could be used to handle such scenarios.

Augmented Reality (AR)

AR content can be used to deliver the help information for many devices in the IoT landscape, such as sensors, routers, machine components. There are different ways to create and trigger AR content for different IoT devices on the IoT landscape.

Interactive Media

IoT landscape is a combination of hardware and software components (IT and OT), and each of these components are interconnected. There is a constant flow of signals between these interconnected components. Interactive media, such interactive graphics, helps visualize the connected objects and flow of signals.

Example

Consider an office landscape with multiple IoT-based smart vending machines. The landscape could include multiple smart coffee vending machines, smart cola or soda vending machines and smart chocolate vending machines. These machines are connected to the Internet and can communicate with their manufacturers on the status of products vended to the employees (for example, current stock information and sales).

Each of these machines has its own operational and troubleshooting mechanisms. Any fault in the machines triggers automatic notifications and requests to the technician to fix the issue.

For such scenarios, it is possible to make use of tag technologies (beacons, NFCs, or QR code strips) to deliver the help content to the technician responsible for troubleshooting.

Delivering User Assistance with Beacons and NFCs

Now, when the technician arrives at the faulty smart vending machine, a beacon placed near the vending machine sends signals to the beacon-based mobile application with the technician. The signal from the beacon helps the technician identify the machine, its type, date of manufacture, and so on. Along with this information, it is also possible to deliver the help content or user assistance content on the mobile application itself to assist the technician in troubleshooting the faulty machine.

In case of NFC, the NFC tags on the smart vending machine are loaded with the help content required to troubleshoot that machine. The technician can use the NFC reader on their phone to read the help content. The help content delivered with the NFC tag could be static information, URL to the help portal, or could automatically trigger the relevant help content application on a mobile phone. There could be multiple such ways, and more, for delivering the help content.

About the Authors

If you are looking for more information on how to use any of the above solutions to deliver help content for your IoT use cases, reach out to:

  • Akhil Harikrishnan works as a Senior User Assistance Developer at SAP Labs India Pvt Ltd, Bangalore. He has an overall experience of more than 11 years in the IT industry. Akhil is a frequent participant in various architectural forums within the organization and continuously follows and up skills himself on the emerging technologies in technical communication. He can be reached at akhil.harikrishnan@sap.com. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn.
  • Suresh Srinivasan works as User Assistance Developer at SAP Labs India Pvt Ltd, Bangalore. He has an overall experience of more than 7 years in the IT industry. Suresh is a frequent participant in various architectural forums within the organization and continuously follows and up skills himself on the emerging technologies in technical communication. He can be reached at suresh.srinivasan02@sap.com. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn.
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