Let’s Talk Tech: The Internet of Things (IoT)
It’s been a little while since I wrote about tech – last time I had a look at the fast-moving world of wearable tech. So, having felt a little bit tech-deprived, I decided to take this a step further by looking at the Internet of Things (IoT).
Imagine waking up as your bed alerts you of your optimal sleep level, the lights in your house turn on automatically and the thermostat gets set to just the right temperature by itself. Then you turn on your kettle from your smartphone and improve your toothbrushing skills from the data your toothbrush sends to your phone. Welcome to the average smart-home connected by IoT.
With a great amount of hype and media coverage, this new phenomenon is certainly making waves, and rightfully so! With Apple, Google, Samsung and the likes taking an interest and investing in this field of technology and industry experts tipping it to dominate the mainstream by 2025, this tech advancement is definitely worth keeping your eyes out for.
What’s It All About?
With a name so broad and non-specific, you’re probably wondering what this is all about. Wikipedia defines it as “the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing-like devices within the existing Internet infrastructure.” Well that doesn’t help much, does it?! Basically, what we’re looking at here is the ability to connect objects and things to the web for greater control, convenience and automation.
For consumers, this is a great thing and brings about an abundance of opportunities. Having a house filled with inter-connected smart objects that are automated and can collect data, means that you’ll be able to monitor the way your house works and optimise it to improve efficiency, convenience, your lifestyle and even living costs.
The same applies for businesses, from small start-ups right the way through to large corporate entities. Once again, the ability to monitor the use and activity of business objects and equipment will help businesses to streamline their work. This goes a step further when one considers the ability to create intelligent systems that automate supply and production, while predicting and acting on demand. Furthermore, the idea of a smart grid means that businesses can improve the efficiency, reliability, economics and sustainability of the production and distribution of electricity. This could help mankind’s sustainable use of the precious resource.
What Can We Connect to IoT?
No matter the shape or size of the product, as long as it can power a small embedded radio device, then it can probably be connect to IoT! Tech research firm, Gartner, predicts that there will be up to 26 billion devices connected to IoT by 2020. Here are some of the most notable categories that are starting to take shape:
What better place to start the IoT journey than an efficient replacement for the lightswitch? Smart lighting is a fast growing aspect of IoT and allows users to automate their household or business lighting with the use of smart lightbulbs that track usage to develop patterns and save electricity. Greenwave is a great example of a South African company aiming to create energy efficient systems to automate our homes and offices. Similarly, one of the most talked about smart lighting companies, LIFX, has the lightbulb reinvented. Here’s a great video from their funded Kickstarter campaign of their product in action to automate, customise, save electricity, receive notifications, respond to music and more!
Not straying too far from simplicity, smart thermostats are another of IoT that has gained a fair amount of attention. So much so, that Google recently acquired smart thermostat specialists, Nest Labs, for a cool $3.2billion. Smart thermostats, like the Nest, focus on providing your home or office with the desired and optimal temperature based on it’s learning capabilities. These thermostats program themselves over time and can be controlled from your smartphone. Here’s a video of the Nest Learning Thermostat doing it’s thing.
Your refrigerator, washing machine, dishwasher and much more to come! The IoT bug is spreading to home appliances, allowing users to manage their appliances from their smartphones, automate them based on learning and even share content with their appliances (ever wanted to send a tweet from your toaster?!). Samsung and LG are pioneering the field of smart appliances, so here’s a video demo via GetConnected of Samsung’s Wi-Fi connected smart-fridge.
When it comes to security, the smarter the better. There are many IoT security systems coming to the fore to ensure that our homes remain safe and secure on an automated, personalized and remotely accessed means. Start-Up companies like Sentri and Canary are leading the way with their innovative and secure systems. American telecommunications giant, AT&T has also stepped into this arena with their new Digital Life product for a safe and secure automated home, here’s their advert.
It seems this tech trend isn’t only for the nerds. With IoT spreading into the world of sport, we’ll start to see the rise of smart bicycles, smart tennis racquets, smart soccer balls and more! Here’s a video from Vanhawks Valour – a smart bike that helps you navigate, warns you about blindspots / traffic and tracks your fitness information.
Tennis has also served up an IoT offering. Meet the Babolat Play – a smart tennis racquet that monitors your grip, spin and impact with metrics for each and every shot you play in a game.
Soccer has joined in on the fun too, with Adidas’s MiCoach soccer ball helping players to perfect their passes, crosses, headers and shots.
Yip, these exist too! The world’s first smart toothbrush, Kolibree, was announced earlier this year and collects data about the way you brush your teeth to optimise the process. With the help of the smartphone app, you can make sure you’ve brushed for long enough and reached all the important and hard to access spots. You can even share this info with your family or friends to see who’s polishing up their brightest smile.
IoT is set to take the world by storm, however, there are a few issues and potential problems to take into account, here are the top 3.
Most of these smart devices, or the apps that come along with them, collect a large amount of personal data. Where this data goes and what it’s used for is a great concern to customers – we want to make sure our information is stored securely, not used for any other purpose other than personal use and not sold to 3rd party companies who could gain crucial information about our lifestyles and living habits.
Linked to this idea, is one that takes great concern in our physical safety. With an abundance of important data collected and stored by IoT devices, we’ll need to safeguard ourselves from hackers and criminals who tap into this information which could be compromised or used in a harmful way. Cyber attacks could get personal!
With some of the world’s biggest tech firms getting involved in IoT from a hands-on, API and third-party perspective, there are bound to be a host of different products and apps that may work well in isolation, but don’t work well together. Collaboration vs individualization could prove to be a major issue that prevents us from using all of our IoT devices seamlessly.
It’s still early days for the Internet of Things, but it seems like there’s a bright future to follow. With constant advancements and no limits to the types of devices that can be connected to IoT, we can expect to see more and more of the objects that we interact with daily becoming “smart.” Here’s to your smart home, smart business and smart life, with the help of IoT.