The Internet of Things is becoming an increasingly popular and buzzing term that isn’t reserved just for techy geeks. Only the other day, I stumbled upon it while flicking through a lifestyle magazine. And at a glance, we all know what IoT means and what it involves. I mean, we all have a smartphone, right?
But do we truly understand what is the Internet of Things and what is it capable of?
If you Google IoT, you will see that most definitions tell you the complex technicalities of it. However, before you jump into understanding the nitty-gritty of IoT, try to get your head around the concept of it and see how is it going to affect your everyday life.
There are currently more devices connected to the internet than humans and it’s estimated that by 2020, 26 billion things will be connected to the internet. This on its own should give you an indication of how important is IoT.
What Is the Internet of Things
If you think about how you’re reading this post, it may be on a desktop, mobile, tablet or you could have even printed it out.
Regardless of how you got here, you had to be connected to the Internet one way or another. The internet is a wonderful connection that opened up a new world of possibilities for us and gave us benefits we’ve never thought of before.
Yet, we still think about the internet as a one-way connection. It’s your mobile, watch, laptop etc. that are connected. Try to imagine that all these devices, and everything else around you, being connected to each other.
And guess what – it already exists. And it’s called the Internet of Things.
Otherwise known as IoT, the concept means gathering all things around the world together and connecting them to the Internet.
Once the devices are connected, they could talk to each other, they could talk to us and other applications. One of the best examples is the smart fridge: what if your fridge could tell you it was out of milk, or it could order a new one from a supermarket? Or it could notify you that certain products are past their use-by date? Your life would be so much easier if you didn’t have to worry about any of those mundane things.
This is only a tiny fraction of what IoT can do. Think of smart cities that have connected traffic lights, with industries that have connected sensors for everything from bins that have to be emptied to monitoring crops.
These inbuilt sensors are what makes IoT special. Because it’s not just about machines speaking to each other. Most importantly, it’s about them collecting data, storing it on a cloud and making it available for analysis.
Sensors could be built into anything, from roads to bridges and cars. Your car could be notified about the changing weather conditions and alert you to a possible danger.
In the unfortunate accident in Minnesota in 2007, a bridge collapsed because steel plates were not able to handle the bridge’s load. But if we were going to rebuild that bridge, we could use smart cement, equipped with sensors that could monitor cracks, weight etc. The cement’s sensors would notify us about the changes and we could prevent the possible tragedy.
IoT is a giant network of connected ‘things’, including people. In the future, we will look at different relationship dynamics: people-people, people-things and things-things.
Why IoT Matter
By now you should already have a broader understanding of why IoT is important. It’s the ability to send and receive information that makes things smart. Without the constant flow of information, IoT couldn’t exist.
To be smart, a certain device doesn’t have to have a super powerful computer inside or enormous memory. All it needs is a working connection to a computer like that.
Since IoT is all about things being connected to each other, we can split them into three categories:
- Things that collect information and can send it.
- Things that receive information and act upon it.
- Things that do both.
Collecting and Sending Information
Mentioned before sensors are the ones responsible for all data collection. It’s not a new concept as we already work with temperature sensors, motion sensors or light sensors.
Just like human senses of smell, taste etc, these sensors can help machines to make sense of the world. Along with the connection, they can automatically collect information and allow us to make more intelligent decisions. Moreover, we could insert them or include them in almost everything around us.
Receiving and Acting on Information
This area is perhaps easier for us to understand as we are more familiar with things that receive an information from us and act upon it, e.g. a printer or a car.
These instructions can be as simple as turning something on or sending information to another thing with a command.
These two areas are familiar to us – we’ve been surrounded by things and devices that can do that for years. The real power of IoT starts when one thing can do both of them – collect information, send it, receive it and act on it.
One sensor can be responsible for all the actions. Calum McClleland from the leading IoT platform, iotforall.com, gave an excellent example of IoT and watering the crops.
Let’s say a farmer has to water his crops. To avoid over-watering or not giving it enough water, the crops could be equipped with sensors.
The sensors could collect the information about how much water they need, how much it has been given and could turn on the water as soon as they feel the need for it.
The farmer wouldn’t have to worry about watering the crops anymore, as the sensors could even receive information from its internet connection about the weather. This way, they would know when is it going to rain or when is it going to be extremely hot, thus they know when the crops should be watered and in what quantity.
This doesn’t have to end there. All the information collected by the crops’ sensors could be then sent to a database where they could be later analysed by computers. Those could change all the data into an algorithm and make sense out of it.
Eventually, IoT could be implemented into almost every aspect of our lives, increasing not only efficiency but also helping the world.
The Security of IoT
If we consider all devices around the world being connected to each other and carrying sensitive data, this gives an exposure of sensitive data.
At the moment, there aren’t enough people who are connected to the IoT, hence it’s not worth for hackers to attempt attacks on individuals. But looking forward, there is a strong need for an improved cyber security.
The reality is that IoT allows for virtually endless opportunities and connections. With billions of devices being connected together, how can we make sure that the information is secured and protected?
An individual will be less exposed to any malicious attacks, as the information isn’t simply worth the effort. But if you look at big companies, then you can imagine how big of a risk they’re exposing themselves to.
One of the solutions could be the recently launch ICO – IOTA. The new cryptocurrency aims to create a new version of blockchain technology, with an improved security, specifically engineered for IoT.
How IoT Is Going to Affect Our Lives
While the scope of IoT has been explored only to a small extent and we still don’t know how far it can go, we do have a rough idea of which areas of our lives will be affected the most:
This area is perhaps the most advanced in terms of IoT. From previously mentioned crops to highly programmable machines.
IoT can significantly boost the production and efficiency, cutting down the unnecessary communication barriers. The machines can also work with a minimal supervision, which leads to an increased profitability.
Your fit lifestyle is probably the most connected side to IoT. If you’re using Fitbit, Apple Watch or a bottle that tells you how many glasses of water you should drink a day, then well done. You’re officially IoT literate.
The next step for the IoT wellness is to be connected with tangible devices, in between each other and being able to give a valid prediction.
These devices could be gathering all information about your health, from what you eat to bodily function. Afterwards, they can analyse the data and tell you if your health is at risk.
This can also help elderly who struggle with hearing or need medical assistance – thanks to being connected to IoT devices, they can signal their problems straight away.
Let’s be honest – as much as IoT is a great advancement in our lives, the real deal comes when they increase our leisure time. New streaming services, Virtual Reality, smart TVs are only a few amongst the new entertainment trends.
Smart platforms like Amazon Echo or wink hub are responsive to your voice and have a pattern recognition. They can work like virtual assistants, knowing when to remind you about certain things and remembering your habits.
Similarly to manufacturing, this once boring industry has been turned into one of the hottest. Technology has totally transformed the infrastructure deployment.
One of the most innovative companies in this area, ComEd, combines energy resources with modular electricity generation and storage capabilities. The entire process leads to lowering down utility bills. And if you imagine it being connected to other IoT devices at your home, you could save more money and stop worrying about domestic issues.
The relationship between energy and IoT is also seen in car manufacturing. Tesla is a worldwide leader in the electric car production and is also looking into home-energy saving solutions. The announcement of Tesla powerwall can be used for a home energy storage and backup power.
Even though the public has been quite slow in understanding cryptocurrency, not to mention accepting it, but the Internet of Things has been much more welcoming.
Apart from replacing fiat currency with crypto and connecting all your devices to the digital currency, there’s also another relationship that can be built between IoT and cryptocurrency.
IOTA helps with creating the Internet of Everything – improving the communication level between machines themselves. It has a specifically engineered cryptocurrency for IoT, with real time micro-transactions.
The Future of IoT
The big step in our evolution is hidden in technology, indeed. We have already embarked the 4th industrial revolution, where technology takes a lead more than ever. Soon, it’s us who will be learning from technology and the data it comes with.
It may feel like the Internet of Things is already an integrated part of our life. However, it still has to overcome many obstacles before it becomes a fully functioning background of our lives that we don’t even notice.
Using a smartwatch that collects data from a morning run is what we experienced today, but in a near future that watch could be connected to every single device you possess and they could communicate to each other. Without your input.
We can imagine the world with multiple devices, machines and humans connecting with each other. Working together and constantly exchanging information. But we are also facing a huge infrastructure and software problems.
Security is one of the biggest worries of IoT. Exposing such an extensive amount of data means that if a hacker gets to our smart TV set, he or she could possibly hack all of our devices.
Until the security issue is overcome, we cannot fully adopt the Internet of Things to the extent they’re capable of reaching. Especially, if we consider IoT being widely implemented with the government and healthcare institutions.
All of us, early adopters, should also remember that with the growing number of smart devices, there will be a growing number of data and information. And that means more money and power.
But, we are moving forward. New solutions, such as IOTA, are being invented. Aiming specifically to solve the security and communication problem between machines and humans. It also aims to solve the issue of a secure data system, keeping it in an encrypted environment.
When we start making things intelligent, it’s going to be a major engine for creating new products and services. The Internet of Things is perhaps the biggest technological disruption since the internet itself, which will impact not only the tech sphere but every single industry and human being worldwide.
With the prediction that by 2020 there will be four devices per human being, it’s only a matter of time as we stop asking ourselves what is Internet of Things (IoT) and treat it as a buzzword. Eventually, it will mean as much as a smartphone and it will become natural to us.
What are your thoughts on the Internet of Things? Is it an unfamiliar concept to you? Let us know in the comments below!