Described as the ‘next generation in the Internet’ and the ‘language of the future’, the seemingly illustrious ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is now upon us. Although the term is becoming increasingly used, confusion surrounds it; what exactly is this computing revolution and what might it mean for you?
The Internet of Things, in its simplest form, refers to digital connectivity between devices, systems and services. Advances in wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical sensor systems (MEMS) and the Internet have enabled what once seemed a futuristic, aspirational technology to be here today. So, as opposed to connectivity being between what can be viewed as traditionally ‘digital devices’ – namely computers, tablets and smartphones – the technology behind the IoT has enabled once-inert objects to become sensor laden intelligent devices that can communicate amongst themselves and make our lives easier. Basically, IoT technology has enabled physical objects with an on/off switch to be connected to the Internet and one and other.
It is estimated that 1.9 billion devices are connected today with 9 billion set to be connected by 2018.
So, what will this giant network of connected ‘things’ mean for you?
According to Forbes, the new rule for the future under the IoT is going to be, ‘anything that can be connected, will be connected’.
Home automation and the ‘smart home’ are frequently associated with IoT. Through the IoT, technologies are being connected to make life more automated, and ultimately easier, for ourselves. Alarm clocks, for example, are beginning to talk to coffee machines so once your alarm goes off, the coffee machine starts brewing and thermostats talk to motion sensors so once you’re home, the heating powers up. Smart meters, central to the smart home, read and send electronic meter readings to your energy supplier automatically and also have in-home displays which give you real time feedback on your energy usage. Data from smart meters can also be sent to your smart phone. Smart meters are more convenient and enable better oversights and management of energy use.
In terms of health and care, IoT connectivity will help to enable the elderly and those with long term conditions to live independently in their own home. For example, fall detection software will alert assistance for elderly or disabled people living independently. In relation to those with long term conditions, IoT technology will allow some to monitor their health from home. Equipment can be used to monitor, for example, blood glucose levels and blood pressure. Measurements are automatically sent to your doctor or nurse – without you having to leave the house – who will alert you if they have any concerns. In relation to health, IoT technology is not solely for those with long term health conditions. UV monitors with IoT technology, for example, can monitor UV sun rays to warn people not to be exposed in certain hours.
On a community level, IoT technology is increasing being utilised in innovative ‘smart city’ projects which will potentially see everything in a city – from the electricity grid to the sewer pipes to roads, buildings and cars – being connected. IoT technology, for instance, will enable ‘smart parking’ which will monitor parking space availability; energy efficient weather adaptive street lighting; and waste management systems which detect rubbish levels in containers to optimise waste collection routes.
The IoT presents a myriad of opportunities. However, alongside these opportunities, concerns with IoT are apparent. In relation to connectivity, 30% of homes in the UK are currently not connected to the Internet and without a connection, IoT applications will be rendered obsolete. As with every device connected to the Internet, there are security concerns; as such, it is important to ensure appropriate measures are taken to mitigate the risk. There are also concerns with regard to consumer confusion whereby, faced with an increasing set of choices, consumers could struggle to keep pace and benefit from the vast amount of choices available. Consumers could also struggle to operate the devices on offer.
At this relatively early stage in its development, it is difficult to think and fully understand the connectivity and opportunities that IoT can and will enable. However, it is an exciting phase in technology which we will be sure to monitor and act on.