The emergence and accessibility of wireless technologies, broadband Internet, smart products and complete software solutions is slashing connectivity costs. More devices are being equipped with WiFi, Blue Tooth and integrated sensors as smartphone penetration skyrockets. All of these factors are brewing a “perfect storm” for the Internet of Things (IoT), which will play a central role in the way we’ll live over the next decade.
For the layman, IoT means connecting any device to the Internet via a switch or control. This includes everything from cell phones, headphones, washing machines, coffee makers and lamps – to wearable devices and more. IoT can also applies to components of machines like the jet engine of an airplane or the drill of an oil rig. IoT’s giant network of connected “things” also includes people and it’s creating new relationships: people-to-people, people-to-things, and things-to-things.
In 2008, Internet-connected devices outnumbered the human population. Over the last decade this population explosion has eclipsed our own and according to Cisco, there were 13 billion Internet-connected devices by 2013. By 2020, it’s projected that there will be 50 billion. As we move into an increasingly connected world, devices will be enabled on every “thing” Including:
Bodies: People will wear devices that connect to the Internet for feedback on activities, health and fitness. Devices will also monitor others – children or employees, for example – who are wearing sensors or moving in and out of sensor-equipped spaces. Typically, this kind of information will be used for safety and security reasons.
Homes: People will control nearly everything remotely – from how their residences are heated or cooled, to how often their gardens are watered. Homes will also have sensors that alert home-owners to everything from prowlers to broken water pipes.
Communities: Embedded devices and smartphone apps will provide pollution-level readouts and make transportation more efficient. “Smart systems” might better deliver electricity and water, as well as alert infrastructure problems before they happen.
Goods and services: Factories and supply chains will have sensors and readers that precisely track materials to speed up and smooth their manufacture and distribution, perfecting the “just in time” supply chain.
Environment: Real-time readings from fields, forests, oceans, and cities detailing pollution levels, soil moisture, and resource extraction will allow for closer monitoring of potential problems and sustenance of our resources.
A Day In The Life – Connected
The mandate for the future seems to be: “anything that can be connected will be.” But why on earth would you, an individual, want so many connected devices talking to each other? The answer is that connected devices can potentially make your day so much better.
Your alarm clock wakes up you at 6 am as it notifies your coffee maker to start brewing coffee for you. You head out for a meeting and your connected car accesses your calendar to pro-actively identify the best route. Traffic’s heavy unfortunately, so your car sends a text to the other party notifying them that you’ll be late.
At the office, you’re running to another meeting so you breeze off some copies. (There’s never, ever a line of disgruntled employees storming out of the copy room around because the machine senses when its running low on supplies and automatically re-orders more. Once more, the wearable device you use in the workplace tells you when and where you’re most active and productive, and shares that information with other devices you use while working.
On a broader scale, IoT will be applied to transportation networks to create “smart cities” that help us reduce waste and improve energy efficiency. IoT will also improve safety in cities, as cars that are networked to eachother and their environments, will coordinate speed, avoid collisions and create safer roads.
We’ll all be able to bring much more situational intelligence to planning our days, avoiding delays (or unfortunate encounters), and meeting our personal goals. The reality is that the IoT allows for virtually endless opportunities and connections, many of which we can’t even think of, or fully understand the impact of, today. It’s not hard to see why it’s a sizzling topic – one that opens the door to a lot of opportunities and challenges.
The issue of security comes up frequently. We’re in a telemetric age, a time when we generate information with almost every action. With billions of devices connected what can people do to make their information secure? Will someone be able to hack into your toaster and access to your entire network?
How will IoT potentially expose companies and organizations to security threats? As computation costs decrease, companies are left wrestling with the storage, tracking and analysis of vast amounts of information. How can they use and protect it?
Privacy and data sharing concerns will escalate when we’re talking about many billions of devices being connected. Standards, encryption, and new data laws are being put into place to allow this expanding world to grow, safely and securely.
As we enter a connected future, the potentials for amazing innovative deployments and concerning hazards increase almost as fast as the connected devices themselves. Whether it’s for a better or scarier world is frequently a matter of opinion. No matter which you hold, IoT is certain to change our future in ways we cannot imagine now.