Though some sceptics may dismiss it as futuristic, the Internet of Things (IoT) has already arrived. It has been the crux of many discussions at conferences and forums around the world. And for good reason: IoT will affect everyone – individuals, industries, and countries. Every field, be it finance, agriculture or development, will feel its impact. In short, IoT will revolutionize our lives.
What the heck is IoT?
Non-techies sometimes find themselves confounded by the term Internet of Things. They aren’t to be blamed – the Internet evolves so quickly that it can be hard to keep pace.
Here’s a primer: Think of IoT as a more sophisticated Internet. Right now, your go-to gadgets like laptop and smartphone are independently connected to the Internet. What if these products are connected to each other as part of a network? That’s IoT.
Imagine your car being connected to the Internet. In such a world, your car’s system could access the latest weather information and prepare itself for the ride ahead based on that. What if your sneakers were plugged in to the Internet? Wouldn’t it be easy for you to log your workout information – calories burned, steps taken, distance run – into your weight loss app on the smartphone? An IoT-enabled washing machine could regulate its temperature and speed based on its “interaction” with the clothes.
IoT is basically things talking to each other via the Internet.
The term Internet of Things was first coined by a British technologist named Kavin Ashton in 1999. Some experts have speculated that there will be 100 billion IoT connections after a decade. The overall global impact of IoT could be up to $11 trillion by this time.
The Internet Society lists several areas where IoT is being implemented. To simplify things, we can broadly classify IoT utilities into three categories: personal (wearables, gadgets, etc.); home environment (security, lighting, and appliances, etc.); industry (offices, restaurant, factories, transport, etc.)
What are some examples of Internet of Things?
Many companies have already created products in the IoT realm. Germany-based Intelligence on Wheels has developed a GPS-based technology that will enable trains to “talk” to each other while on their way. When trains are within a 5-km range of each other, they can exchange crucial information about their position and direction. This technology could help prevent collisions, and may especially be helpful in developing countries like India where railway accidents are a norm. The USP of this technology: you don’t have to revamp the infrastructure.
Philips Hue, an innovative lighting system, lets you tinker with your house’s light settings on whim. In the mood for some quiet time after a hard day’s work? Simply dim the lights using your smartphone. Invited friends over for a party? Turn on the multi-coloured laser lightning. You can even control your home’s lighting system from other locations.
Ralph Lauren’s Polotech shirt is an example of an IOT wearable. It tracks your fitness information – heart rate, breathing depth – and relays the information to your iPhone or iWatch. A fitness tracker in the form of a shirt – you can’t get a better deal than this.
Everyone is talking about smart cities these days. It’s one area where IoT is coming in handy, too. The British town Milton Keynes has already started working on a smart city concept in collaboration with a Cambridge-based start-up Neul and BT. Once in full force, the IoT network will be able to direct lost drivers to their destination or the nearest parking lot and alert the trash collectors to collect garbage when the dustbins are full.
Issues related to IoT
There’s no doubt that IoT is a disruptive technology. According to a report by the Internet Society, here are some concerns it might raise in the future:
Security: Just like computers can get infected with virus and attacked by hackers, so can other connected objects like television and coffeemakers. What if a hacker finds her way into your refrigerator and infects all the other devices in your house, rendering them useless? She might also be able to steal your bank information and medical records.
Privacy: Privacy is a huge concern already in a world where government surveillance is only getting tighter. IoT might make matters worse. Let’s say your television is connected to the Internet. The television’s manufacturer can figure out a way to keep tabs on the channels you watch and sell that information to cable operators.
Interoperability: In an ideal IoT world, you would be able to connect different household appliances to each other. However, making all IoT objects compatible presents challenges that manufacturers will have to address.
Law: Legal concerns could also arise. What if a car that is self-driven meets with an accident? Who is responsible in such a situation – the weather app that may not have given accurate information or the traffic system that may have malfunctioned?
Development: According to data from McKinsey Global Institute, developing countries will contribute to around 38% of economic impact of IoT annually. But whether developing countries can develop the kind of infrastructure and Internet penetration that is required to benefit from IoT remains to be seen. If countries can achieve that, IoT could play a pivotal role in eliminating problems such as poverty.
So, gear up for another revolution. IoT is already here!