internet of things

The Internet of Things – Why It Matters

The Internet of Things – Why It Matters 150 150 Kerry Butters

And, what is it?

Well, in the Internet of Things (IoT), objects, animals or people are able to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. The IoT evolves from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the Internet.

In the IoT, a “thing” could be animal, vegetable, or mineral – so long as it can be assigned an IP address, and given the ability to transfer data over a network. “Smart” devices built with machine-to-machine (M2M) communication capabilities are the most common.


The Programmable World

It’s a future where we’re surrounded by tiny, intelligent devices, co-ordinating our activities. Some technologists describe it as Internet of Everything or the Industrial Internet – despite the fact that most devices aren’t actually on the Internet directly, communicating instead through simple wireless protocols. Others, paying homage to embedded tech, are calling it the Sensor Revolution.

But the remarkable thing isn’t the sensors – or the fact that objects, sensors, and devices can be linked. Rather, it’s the potential for the system to become a coherent whole. For things to be choreographed and co-ordinated like a single giant machine.


It’s Going to be Huge

Estimates for the IoT market are massive: 1.9 billion devices today; 9 billion by 2018 – roughly equal to the current number of smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, wearable computers, and PCs combined.

The IoT will be a continuum of devices, sensors, and computing power that overlays entire consumer, business-to-business, and government industries.

At government and corporate levels, top applications will include:


  • Connected advertising and marketing: Think Internet-connected billboards, together with smart factories, and telecommuting support systems.

  • Intelligent traffic management: In a paper for the GSM Association, Machina projects $100 billion in revenue by 2020 for applications like toll-taking and congestion penalties. Smart management of parking-space is expected to earn $30 billion.

  • Waste management: In Cincinnati, USA, residential waste volume fell in 2013 by 17%, and recycling volumes grew 49% through a “pay as you throw” scheme that used IoT technology to monitor people who exceed waste limits.

  • Smart electricity grids: These adjust rates for peak energy usage, generating savings of $200 billion to $500 billion per year by 2025, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

  • Smart water systems and meters: The cities of Doha, Sao Paulo, and Beijing have reduced leaks by 40 to 50% using sensors on pumps and other water infrastructure.

  • Industrial uses: Internet-managed assembly lines, connected factories, and warehouses, etc.

Production Methods Will Change

By allowing sensors, machines, production equipment, and people to communicate, manufacturing processes can be made more efficient, and less problematic. This could allow more manufacturing to be done autonomously and without supervision, leading to an increased use of robotics.

A seemingly inevitable progression. But what about the workers? Increased automation could be a labour-relations nightmare.

A study from the University of Oxford (“The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?”; 2013) ranks 702 jobs that could be replaced by technology in the next 10 to 20 years. This assumes that Artificial Intelligence (AI) won’t advance dramatically in the next 20 years – which it’s projected to.


New Jobs, Nonetheless

Several large tech firms (including Microsoft, Cisco and Texas Instruments) already have a Head of IoT, or Internet of Things. The position is becoming more common, as organisations recognise the need to have someone guide their clients through the changes and benefits brought by the massive growth in networked devices and items.

Suppliers will have to respond to new business demands, as the dynamics of the market change. With IoT concepts like ‘live marketing’ (where customers can base their purchases on real-time data on availability and freshness of items, fed back from shops), they’ll need to step up their game.


An Economic Revolution

Many products and services have already crossed over into the IoT, including kitchen and home appliances, lighting and heating products, and car monitoring devices that allow motorists to pay insurance only for the amount of driving they do.

Innovation designer Vito Di Bari sees the addition of online intelligence to everyday objects as a catalyst for the next industrial revolution. According to Di Bari:

“Almost every product, every service will have to be redesigned, re-engineered and resold… because when we embed microchips into objects and make them intelligent, no one will want to have the dumb ones. Only idiots want idiot machines.”


And a Challenge

For the Programmable World of the IoT to reach its full potential, we’ll need to pass through three stages:

1. Getting more devices onto the network: More sensors, and more processors in everyday objects. More wireless links to extract data from the processors that already exist.

2. Making those devices rely on each another: Co-ordinating their actions to carry out simple tasks without human intervention.

3. Understanding the IoT as a system to be programmed: Treating it as a platform that can run software, in much the same way as a computer or smartphone.

But, more than just a playground for coders and engineers, the Internet of Things must be about us; people. As Vito Di Bari puts it:

“The only reason these things are worth something in the first place is because of the people [they ultimately engage with].”

Everyday Objects, Updated for The Internet of Things

Everyday Objects, Updated for The Internet of Things 150 150 Kerry Butters

Picture a world where tiny, intelligent devices capture information about how we live, and what we do. And communicate with each other. In our houses, cars, and factories.

Coffee-pots talk to alarm clocks. Thermostats speak with motion sensors. All choreographed to respond to our needs, solve problems – even save our lives.

Sound like Sci-Fi? It isn’t.

Welcome, to the Internet of Things (IoT) – a computerised world of elements, connected to the Internet, and aggregating data in real time. It’s happening, now.

“Things” (in this sense, everyday objects) have already begun to act differently.


Someone’s at The Door…

A logical conclusion, if your doorbell rings. The Thing is..

With the addition of a camera, and some facial recognition software, the doorbell becomes “smart”. Able to show or tell you who it is, at the door – even give you the option to speak to them, without opening it. You could pick your favourite pop tune, as a ringtone.

Doorbot is already with us, and start-up company Chui has created a connected doorbell  that ships with facial detection technology.


Sprinklers, and such

With new products from and Rainmachine, you can monitor, control and conserve water by scheduling the sprinkler system to water your lawn – all from your smartphone. An extension of this technology lets you open the garage door from your desk at work.

Given time, and a little application, it won’t be unusual for your fridge to call you, when you’re running low on milk, or for your house lights to come on as you drive home from the office.


Slow Burn

Belkin have announced an app-controlled slow cooker developed with Crock-Pot. Users can turn the cooker on or off, set timers, and adjust temperatures from their smartphones with Wi-Fi or 3G/4G networks. It’s available in the US for US$99. Belkin hopes to launch other connected products, like air purifiers.

Meanwhile, British Gas customers can remotely control their heating and hot water with Hive, a £199 thermostat .


The Nanny’s State

French start-up has unveiled a home network led by Sense Mother, a hub that looks like a white Russian doll. It’s equipped with small adhesive sensors called Motion Cookies, which can be stuck on anything: a child’s rucksack, a baby crib, a pill container.

Cookies feed back data such as whether objects have been moved or used, and local temperatures.


In Your Cups?

In June, a new product called Vessyl appeared, as the world’s first smart cup. The vessel (get it?) tells you what ingredients are in your drink, how much of each type it contains, and how much you have drunk, in a given time period.


A Brush, with…

Kolibree, a Net-enabled electric toothbrush from France, has a gyrometer and accelerometer to measure how effectively users brush their teeth. Data it gathers can be uploaded to a smartphone, via Bluetooth. An associated app tells you whether you’ve brushed for long enough, or hit the hard-to-reach areas of your mouth. It even gives you a score which you can share online – or not.

It’s anticipated that brushes could soon provide consumers with information such as the best time to change the head of a toothbrush.


The Shirt, off your back

Wearables are no longer limited to smartwatches and Google Glass.

Intel is working on sensor-laden smart shirts that let you track your vital statistics: heart rate, perspiration, etc. Beyond the obvious applications for sportswear, the technology has medical potential, as well – e.g. for cardiac patients.


Powering it All

Most of us only have a limited number of power outlets (also, time and patience) to spend recharging Things. So the Internet of Things will have to rely on battery-free devices. These get their power by harvesting small amounts of energy from radio frequency sources like TV and wireless signals.

But the amount of power necessary to use a regular Wi-Fi network can be up to four times as much as most devices have been able to harvest from the air.

University of Washington engineers have designed a system using radio frequency signals as a power source – one which also reuses existing Wi-Fi infrastructure to provide Internet connectivity. The researchers developed an ultra-low power prototype with an antenna and circuitry that can talk to Wi-Fi-enabled laptops or smartphones, using negligible power.

Dubbed “Wi-Fi backscatter”, the technology employs tags that can communicate with a Wi-Fi device at rates of 1 kilobit per second, with about 2 metres between devices. The plan is to extend the range to about 20m – and to have patents filed on the technology.


Be Prepared

Not surprisingly, the University of Washington team also plans to start a company based on the Wi-Fi backscatter.

This landmark technology is just one in a rising tide of what at first seem to be very small steps, and small changes. As our objects, homes, and cities become increasingly “smart” (and interconnected), a new world of possibilities is opening up.

The coming Internet of Things will have implications for our methods of manufacturing, our data security, and of course, the way we live. So, we’ll need to keep abreast of these developments.

That’s the intelligent thing to do.


Future Gazing: Where Will The Internet of Things Take Us

Future Gazing: Where Will The Internet of Things Take Us 150 150 Kerry Butters

Buzzwords are synonymous with the technology world and it seems that the list is ever growing. From growth hacking to responsive design, technology and its applications are constantly adapting. In this transient online world it can be hard to keep abreast of all the emerging technologies.

One such buzzword (or perhaps buzz-phrase) is the Internet of Things (IoT). This is something that vendors are arguing has arrived and is important to the future of internet networking. However, other industry thought leaders and analysts suggest that the IoT may not be quite so prevalent or influential as some thought.

So, then, lets consider the Internet of Things and look at its applications. Perhaps a point of warning here: there are difficult to remedy complications that come along with the Internet of Things.

What is the Internet of Things

Perhaps a definition will help to get us started, or at least ensure that we’re all on the same page. The IoT is a scenario in which objects including animals and people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to automatically transfer data over a network, without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

IoT exists thanks to the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the internet.

In the Internet of Things ‘things’ can be any natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and given the ability to transfer data over a network. So far, the Internet of Things has mostly been associated with machine-to-machine communication in fields such as manufacturing, power infrastructures and utilities. Products with built in M2M communication capabilities are often dubbed ‘smart.’

Connected humans, smart devices

In this world of smart devices and potentially digitally connected humans, it seems that the internet is becoming ever more saturated. However, it’s good to bear in mind that although this technology exists, its application isn’t straightforward.

Currently many home devices that could exchange information can’t because they’re inoperable with other devices. This incompatibility slows down the adoption of this technology and really hampers its application.

In terms of industry or business application for the Internet of Things there are a number of logistical and hardware considerations to make. If you’re installing an automation system you’ll likely be required to invest in bridges. These are separate pieces of hardware that connect with routers; however, as time progresses this purchase may become an unnecessary expense.

The vendors market for automation systems is increasingly saturated and this presents perhaps the third problem. There’s likely to be lots of disruption as protocols are sorted out and settled and until it all evens out (there’s an industry standard) it’s likely to be a lot of hassle to implement any technologies related to the Internet of Things.

Machine-to-machine communication protocols

Groups and vendor are working to promote a range of machine-to-machine communication protocols to alleviate some of the conflict. This list includes Z-Wave, ZigBee, Insteon, Bluetooth Low Energy and the sophomoric team Weightless standard. The companies mentioned are all trying to devise protocols that enable devices such as light bulbs, thermostats, door locks, wireless speakers, security systems, and sensors of all kinds to communicate with one another.

The wireless protocols being discussed all share low energy and low bandwidth requirements. The goal in this instance is to extend battery life for as long as possible, in some cases years. Most of this technology uses mesh networks that enable devices to pass signals to one another.

This extends network range, reliability and redundancy. Wi-Fi is a big influence on this development process and so are 3G/4G networks. The key thing is connecting things and allowing them to communicate and existing infrastructures are being used, alongside new technologies, to make this possible.

The Internet of Things is young

It’s a good idea to remember that the Internet of Things is in its infancy and the technology is currently being utilised in an immature environment. Time, it seems, will tell whether or not the Internet of Things, and its huge increase in technology, is a technology that users want.

The bridge technology that we mentioned earlier is an area that is seeing growth and experimentation. For example, there is the Nexia Home Intelligence software that can connect over 200 home-based products and the Nexia Bridge allows them to be controlled and influenced.

The products rely on wireless communications protocols and the bridge functions as a hub to connect to a home network router. Smartphones and PCs allow users to control those devices either from home or on the move. Users can get this technology for less than £100.

Bluetooth Low Energy

However the communication technology and protocol that will receive the most attention over the next few years is Bluetooth Low Energy or Bluetooth Smart. This technology is one to keep an eye out for. This technology only consumes a fraction of the power of Classic Bluetooth and its applications. Bluetooth low energy technology extends the use of Bluetooth wireless technology to devices that are powered by small coin-cell batteries such as watches and toys.

This will also extend to the traditional computer mouse and really shows the application of much of the IoT technologies is about extending existing life spans and increasing the connectivity and longevity of a given product.

Technology is never flawless, but its potential can always be exciting even if its application isn’t. Currently the Internet of Things is budding but yet to blossom, the problems of device compatibility and data exchange being a prime problem. It won’t be for several more years until homes and businesses are connected internally through bridges.

However with companies making communication technologies that only communicate with its own products, the Internet of Things can’t grow and become universally adopted.

Image: Hans Petter

5 Top Tech Trends for 2014

5 Top Tech Trends for 2014 150 150 Simon Randall

Yup, it’s that time of year again when we all speculate on what’s going to be hot this coming year in the world of technology and what’s on the way out. As the majority of our readers already know, technology moves at an increasingly fast pace, so let’s have a look at what we can expect to be hearing more about in 2014.

#1: Mobile

OK, so this isn’t a trend on its own, mobile has been evolving rapidly over the past few years and is now well integrated into working practices and the enterprise. We’ve seen BYOD rise in popularity and with it, this has caused concerns and issues around security. This means that this year, we can expect to see movement in:

·         Mobile Device Management (MDM) Solutions

·         Mobile Apps

According to Gartner these will continue to be important through to 2018 as: “the growing variety of devices, computing styles, user contexts and interaction paradigms will make “everything everywhere” strategies unachievable.”

The use of MDM solutions are critical to managing BYOD and it will be vital for organisations to develop strong user policies and ensure employees are fully aware of how they can use their device for work and when on the company network. To this end, Gartner recommend that firms “[b] alance flexibility with confidentiality and privacy requirements”.

With regard to apps, HTML5 will enable better usability and it’s necessary for firms to start thinking in terms of device development when it comes to any redesign.

#2: Embracing the Cloud

As PC sales continue to plummet, not only does it add to the above trend, but it will mean that many consumers will really begin to connect with cloud technology. Of course this relates to storage for the average consumer and perhaps more use of SaaS services.

Saying that, the growing use of IaaS in the enterprise is something that is also likely to take off even more in 2014, as server sales slow and more companies turn to the data centre in order to supply many of their IT needs. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the company intranet will cease to exist, but some of it will be hosted in the cloud, especially when it comes to smaller businesses.

#3: The Internet of Things (IoT)

This is already becoming a big buzzword for 2014 and basically refers to how the internet will begin to power everyday devices that can be found in the home and whilst ‘about town’. According to a Business Insider  report published in January, the IoT market is going to be “massive”. It’s thought that at the moment, there are around 1.9bn devices in use today and this is expected to rise to 9bn by 2018. This “will be roughly equal to the number of smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, wearable computers, and PCs combined”.

#4: 3D Printing

Gartner predict that global shipments of 3D printers will grow by a huge 75% in 2014 and will double again in 2015. The market is growing quickly and whilst 3D printers were out of the price range of many businesses, they now retail for anywhere between £500 – £50K. The use of 3D printers is likely to be seen in organisations that develop any kind of prototype, architecture and more. This allows for reduced costs when conducting research and development projects and the ROI has the potential to be significant when it comes to streamlining manufacturing processes.

#5: Wearable Technology

It could be argued that this was something that is ‘last year’s news’ what with the introduction of the Samsung Galaxy Gear and similar devices. Apple are also expected to join the fray and there’s talk of wearable video coming soon, not to mention Google Glass, which can be controlled with a wink.

It’s also thought that these devices will talk to each other and existing tech, such as your PC and tablet and, of course, some of the health-related devices that measure your heart rates, steps and fitness levels are already doing well on what is set to become a very lucrative market.

The great thing about technology is that it’s never dull. There’s always some exiting new innovative ideas and products appearing and it makes business increasingly easier to manage. This means that companies have the ability to become more agile and increase revenue, whilst maintaining excellent customer relationships through CRMs, CMSs and other intranet resources.