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].”

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