The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is set to generate between $3.9 trillion and $11.1 trillion a year in 2025 [McKinsey]. That’s huge. To put that into context, the entire UK’s 2014 GDP was $3 trillion and that of the USA was $14.5 trillion. A trillion seconds ago, neanderthals were still alive. A trillion hours ago, the dinosaurs ruled the world. If you placed a trillion one dollar bills end to end, they would circle the earth 4,000 times and even go to Mars and back.
“If you think that the internet has changed your life, think again. The IoT is about to change it all over again!” — Brendan O’Brien, Chief Architect & Co-Founder, Aria Systems
What is the Internet of Things?
The IoT has more hype than Avatar, The Godfather III, McBusted, John Snow’s resurrection or even the iPhone ever had. But what exactly is it? The IoT refers to the process of adding internet connection to “dumb” devices, allowing them to connect with each other and certain programs, making them smarter, automated, and capable of identifying user behaviour. This leads to the creation of ‘smart’ devices. For example, wearables such as the smart watch, smart light bulbs from companies like Philips, and even smart whiskey bottle labels: Diageo has created whiskey bottles that will have the technology to sense whether the bottle has been opened and send messages via their labels when interacted with a smartphone. The IoT forms an interconnected network of sensors, processors, motors, switches, and other devices.
We as humans do not have the time or resources to capture all the data available around us (without it driving us crazy). The Internet of Things injects our everyday devices with “intelligence” so that they can act in union to paint a picture of the whole situation at hand. By collecting great volumes of data, according to Kevin Ashton, “we would be able to track and count everything and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost.” This leads to the concept of ambient intelligence.
What is driving its growth?
The IoT is spreading due a number of factors, such as the decreasing cost of internet connection (as broadband is more widely available), the rising number of wifi-enabled devices, and the increasing number of devices containing sensors. Other factors include plummeting technology costs and rising smartphone penetration. The cumulative effect of all these concurrent factors is to create the perfect environment for the IoT to grow.
What can it do?
We identified 5 key areas where the IoT could make a real difference:
In case you thought you couldn’t increase the number of tech devices mounted on the human body, think again. Wearable tech, namely smartwatches (for increasing productivity) and wristbands have entered the market in droves, offering users all sorts of personalised data about their health and fitness activities. Besides wearables, health applications could also take the form of implants or even ingestibles that can provide potentially life saving data.
A “smart house” is one of the first things people think of when you bring up IoT, and we are already far along the path to creating one. Imagine being able to open an app on your iPad and turn on the automated hoover, preheat the oven or change the ambient room temperature. That’s the sort of thing IoT can bring you. Most importantly, IoT technologies already allow people to keep track of children or pets left at home. You can even set up sensors that will notify you when certain doors in your house have been opened. Looks like our household objects will soon be smarter than the average human.
Continuous monitoring of equipment condition, production, supply chain and worker safety can provide a wealth of data that, when processed, can help make productivity boosting decisions. Sensors can preemptively react to hazards (when workers are too near moving parts) or monitor machine health. Compare this to the cost of permanently employing an expert – it’s time to let the data do all the work.
At work, the IoT can be used to monitor and minimise energy costs. Security systems can have facial and pattern recognition software to make them more effective at identifying intruders.
“And just like any company that blissfully ignored the Internet at the turn of the century, the ones that dismiss the Internet of Things risk getting left behind.” — Jared Newman, writing in Fast Company
Devices can also be used to monitor employees. Data can be collected about the amount of time spent at the desk, on leisure websites and about work patterns and preferences. Soon it’s going to be a lot harder to slack off at work, damn you IoT…
4. Retail Environments
Its 2025. You walk into a shopping mall. By tracking your movements, the mall knows what you’re looking to buy and sends you relevant offers, deals and other information via text. Still, you need help so you call a member of staff using the store’s app.
You have the shirt you were after and simply walk out of the store. The automated cashier senses which clothes you have picked out and automatically charges your account.
All in all, you’re in and out over twice as fast as in 2016.
“Smart city” is a term we are going to be hearing a lot more of in the coming years. IoT can improve the quality of life in cities by improving resource management, transport and public safety.
For example, “smart” cables and pipes will be able to warn resource managers about leaks and breaks. Algorithms can be run to best manage the traffic and public transport flow. Safety and health can be improved by constant monitoring of air quality, water purity, and crime. The business model adopted thus far has been to use public money for such incentives. For example in Glasgow, Scotland, the government has offered £24 million ($37 million) for technology which will make the city “smarter, safer and more sustainable”.
What are the challenges?
With large volumes of sensitive data being sent around, there are three major threats.
1. Security: Could someone hack into your toaster and gain access to your entire network? Sensitive information could be vulnerable – automatic checkout in a shopping mall means that a customer’s bank account details are on the network and so could be hacked.
2. Privacy and data sharing: We have finally begun to get comfortable with sharing data in the virtual world (Facebook, twitter) but doing so in the physical world is a whole new story. Would we be okay with making the ins and outs of our daily routine public?
3. Management of massive amounts of data: With IoT sensors everywhere, we would be bombarded with huge datasets containing large amounts of redundant information. It isn’t easy to manage and process such large amounts of data (See: ‘Big Data – Letting the Data speak for itself.’)
The IoT will inject inanimate objects with intelligence, so that in the future our houses will take care of our kids, save us from floods, and prepare tea and a snack for when we get home from work. Would you trade your smart phone in for the large device you had fifteen years ago? Probably not. In the same way, soon we won’t be able to imagine going back to a world without smart cars, smart roads and smart infrastructure.
In the coming years, the number of Internet of Things devices is expected to grow drastically making it the next large frontier in technology.
Writing an essay or want to learn more?
Interesting articles on the Internet of Things
- 7 facts about the internet of things by The Guardian. October 2014.
- McKinsey Research on the potential of the internet of things by McKinsey & Co. June 2015.