What is cloud feedback?

Whenever we use a machine, we measure something to get feedback about how it is performing. When I drive my car the speedometer gives me instant feedback on how fast I am going. I get slower feedback when I refill the car and find out how much gas I’ve used. If I run a store, my cash register will tell me what is selling and what I need to restock. When I use an exercise machine, it may measure how long I’ve exercised, and when I step on scales I get a measurement of how effective the exercise has been been.

The more things I measure and the more frequently I measure them the better the feedback; and the better the feedback, the better the results of whatever it is I’m trying to do. Naturally it makes sense to put a computer in the loop.  A computer can keep track of the feedback automatically, it can compare feedback with the past, and it can even tell other machines (“actuators”) to take action based on the feedback.

Conventional feedback diagram

As recently as five or ten years ago, it was very costly to computerize feedback systems. It involved placing a computer at the same location as the thing being measured, usually with a wire installed to connect to the sensor, and with a custom-designed user interface to deliver the feedback to a human being.  If off-site access to the feedback data was needed, an additional remote access network had to be employed.  Now things are different. Internet access is ubiquitous, thanks to wired, wireless and cell phone networks, so the computer can be located almost anywhere.  Today, the feedback interface is easy to to build, since any Internet-capable device with a browser will do.

When a computer is in the feedback loop, and it runs in a data center located on the Internet, I call that “cloud feedback”.  The computer is “in the cloud” and its program will deliver feedback about any machine or process in the real world. Cloud feedback computer applications are growing rapidly, primarily due to reduced costs.  The cost of computing in the cloud has dropped dramatically (between 10X and 100X) in the last ten years. Meanwhile sensors that can detect things in the world have also gotten much cheaper and smaller.

Diagram of cloud feedback with sensor, actuator, and user

Cloud feedback diagram

The purpose of this blog will be to identify a number of examples of cloud feedback systems, and to look for common patterns in their purposes, design, and implementation.

January 26, 2010 · knovak · No Comments
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