IoT: Rise of the devices
Everybody has heard of The Internet of Things (IoT), but few know what it means and how it impacts our lives. Here’s a primer.
Aiko Takahashi didn’t grumble when unexpected work landed at her desk late on a Friday evening. Her friends were coming over for dinner, and she was delayed. As she headed home after work to Fujisawa, 51km away, the Tokyo traffic jam slowed her down further. Yet, she remained unfazed, enjoying her favorite music on the radio.
Forty-five minutes later, Aiko was finally home and walked into her house, greeting her guests who had made themselves comfortable inside. What just happened here? Magic? Not really. Just the workings of a smart home. Aiko was connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), which has a facial-recognition camera at the door that matches information with a pre-registered list of visitors to open the door for them automatically.
What followed may appear to many as a scene from a science-fiction film. For the residents of the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (SST), a 60-billion-yen (524 Million USD) development, however, this was an everyday experience. IoT or the Internet of Things came into play when Aiko’s electric car entered the virtual-gated community. Facial recognition cameras allowed her vehicle to enter and park at the shared parking lot. Street Lamps lit up automatically as she walked home, while hidden security cameras ensured she felt safe.
The smart tea kettle filled itself up at home and boiled the water on a simple command: ‘Boil’. Aiko freshened up in the smart washroom that included a full-body scan via a mirror equipped with sensors and monitors that, on command, displayed her heart rate, weight, BMI, blood pressure, even scalp condition.
Cooking was a cinch too. What ingredients were in the fridge? The home computer did a quick assessment and ordered the missing items before guiding Aiko through the preparation.
Chalk one up for IoT.
What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
Aiko’s experience may seem to be an extreme example of the Internet of Things (IoT) in practice; the fact is, it’s a reality. IoT is a system of connected devices with on/off switches that collect data from their environment and transmit them via the internet. This data is processed and eventually used to initiate actions that best serve the person/system it is connected to.
For instance, you may be connected to IoT without knowing it if you have an iPhone or an iPad, work with a MacBook Air, wear an Apple Watch, and watch Netflix at home on Apple TV. All these devices are linked on a shared internet platform. They read and process data from one another to facilitate the services optimally expected of them.
That’s IoT for you. Remote viewing of closed-circuit cameras on your laptop, the phone that counts your steps to suggest an exercise and diet routine, a GPS that warns you of heavy traffic and navigates you through an alternative route, your lifestyle is the work of smart devices.
Interestingly, IoT is not just about smart devices. It also includes living and non-living things that share a designated IP (internet protocol) address. If they can be switched on and off, gather and transfer data from their ecosystem via the internet, and function based on the information received, they are components of an IoT system. The ‘thing’ in IoT can be a person who has a cardiac monitor, an animal wearing a tracking device, even an automated vehicle that has built-in electronic sensors to detect hurdles on the way and warn the driver.
According to this writer, “The arrival of super-cheap computer chips and the ubiquity of wireless networks, it’s possible to turn anything, from something as small as a pill to something as big as an aeroplane, into a part of the IoT.”
IoT For All places Internet of Things (IoT) “at the epicenter of the Digital Transformation Revolution that is changing the shape of business, enterprise, and people’s lives. This transformation influences everything from how we manage and operate our homes to automating processes across nearly all industries.”
What are some examples of IoT devices shaping our lives?
- Connected appliances: Smart refrigerators that signal food items needing to be restocked, water kettles that will switch on at a time you want, coffee makers, and many more appliances are joining the IoT world.
- Smart home systems: The market for this category is booming and the devices come with an array of features at the press of a button. Thermostats, smoke alarms, air quality readers, security devices, smart controllers that can integrate light and temperature, and switch on music, robot lawn mowers, smart sprinkler systems, personal assistants like Alexa and Siri, are all becoming popular to help you enjoy a safe, secure, comfortable home.
- Autonomous farming: Smart tractors anyone? These can gauge a host of factors including weather conditions to do the job, giving the farmer a break. Or smart weeders that make the strenuous job easy. Autonomous farming is an exciting possibility that is drawing a lot of attention.
- Industrial applications: A host of industries including aeronautics, retail, mining, shipping, automobiles, energy, oil and gas and construction are using IoT and IIoT to streamline their operations in a range of areas, such as inventory tracking, manufacturing, tooling, product performance, supply chain management, etc.
- Healthcare: This field is undergoing a revolution in IoT. From personal wearables such as Fitbit, sleep, weight, activity, heart rate and blood pressure trackers, smart medicine patches, to large-scale uses such as remote patient management, vaccine, blood and drug temperature monitoring, medical data transfers, drug inventories, supply chain and a host of other areas.
- Smart cities: Increasingly, cities are being integrated into a smart operational grid that includes traffic management, air pollution alerts, utility meters, transportation, parking, waste management, surveillance, and security to improve the lives of people, create efficiencies, reduce waste and negative environmental impact.
How does IoT work?
Internet of Things (IoT) assimilates the data gathered by sensors, processors, and other communication hardware embedded in ‘things’, analyses them and shares relevant information with specific applications built into devices. This helps the device function optimally to deliver services.
IoT platforms can sift through the collected data and isolate helpful information from the rest. They can detect patterns, make recommendations, and warn the user of potential setbacks or problems.
Why do we need IoT?
Devices that talk to each other and work in tandem, which the Internet of Things (IoT) is all about, can be a powerful tool across sectors and industries. Not only does IoT help save time, labour, and resources, it also allows for strategic planning based on patterns and preferences.
From homes and offices to farming and supply chains, there is hardly a field that does not benefit from IoT.
IoT-led home automation can control energy use, optimize security, the functioning of HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning), home security, and smart appliances. It can help companies make their systems and supply chains more efficient by supplying accurate data about their products and internal systems.
In the health industry, the Internet of Things has made patients’ lives more comfortable. Smart thermostats, smart beds, and customizable lighting reduce stress levels and aid in recovery. IoT-enabled remote health monitoring and emergency notification systems through wearable technology, including electronic wristbands, advanced hearing aids, wearable heart monitors, allow doctors to monitor and treat their patients better.
Sensor-based IoT devices in hospitals have led to higher safety levels benefiting patients and staff. IoT-enabled temperature sensors in storage systems ensure safe food, blood, and medications; water sensors check potential leaks and hazards; occupancy sensors monitor waiting areas; disinfection systems can keep neighborhoods clean and sterile; and more.
For the consumer, smart homes like Aiko’s, where internet-enabled gadgets make life easier, is where the action is. A more pertinent use of smart home applications could help older people remain independent and mobile in their homes longer by aiding family and carers in communicating with them and monitoring them closely.
Industrial Internet of Things
Also known as the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0., the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) refers to highly evolved IoT technology in a specialized business setting. Using the same concept as consumer IoT devices at home, IIoT pushes the envelope further by utilizing a combination of sensors, wireless networks, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and analytics to measure, evaluate and optimize industrial processes.
The projected impact of IIoT across an entire supply chain would be revolutionary rather than when used by individual companies. It would impact and scale up the whole process with on-time delivery of materials and efficient production management from start to finish.
The potential of IIoT lies not only in Increasing workforce productivity and reduced cost but also in creating new revenue streams for businesses. For a car manufacturer, it would mean much more than selling a model. Leveraging IIoT, he would increase his profits by including predictive maintenance of the car parts.
The flip side
One of the critical concerns of the Internet of Things is security. It is challenging to keep your information private and safe in a world where billions of devices are connected and share data. There is always the possibility, however remote, of your smart device being hacked.
According to Kaspersky, “Research shows 55 percent of IT professionals list IoT security as their top priority, according to a survey conducted by 451 Research.” It suggests taking precautions which include installing antivirus updates, strong passwords, end-to-end encryption, to prevent cyber hacking,
TechCrunch, reports that a Tel Aviv-based start-up has secured funding to embed security for IoT devices, “which can be integrated both at the point of manufacture or retrofitted at any point in their lifecycle.” “We have built new algorithms that are capable of identifying the fingerprints of an attacker in real-time and preventing attack,” Natalie Tshuva told TechCrunch.
Another primary concern is the sheer amount of data produced by these devices. In companies with thousands of connected devices, massive quantities of data are generated, which need to be stored, analyzed, and utilized fruitfully and safely.
The point to consider here is whether the IoT solution supplier adheres to security protocols, such as data encryption, blocking tags, authentication, etc. The things to look out for are compliance with international protocols and regulations, following strict privacy standards, and implementing encryption tools.
What is next for IoT?
With the prices of sensors and communication devices plummeting, IoT will continue to grow, adding more devices to its list. While the benefit to consumers remains debatable, vendors across competing platforms and standards, including device makers, software companies, and network operators, will continue their attempts to grab a more significant portion of the pie.
According to the World Economic Forum, the Internet of Things (IoT) will ally with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data to create a ripple effect for people. The merger is called AIoT. “The AIoT fusion is increasingly becoming more mainstream, as it continues to transform the fundamental ways in which we live our lives and process data-related concerns,” it says. The new frontiers of this collaboration, WE Forum predicts, are smart wearables, smart homes, smart cities, and smart industries.
As the number of connected smart devices overruns our lives at work and home, the brave will venture boldly into the uncertain terrain. The more conventional may perhaps wish for the days when their phone was a simple call and receiving device.