Well, let’s just start by saying that the question is almost as perplexing as “How long is a piece of string?” (And, yes, even a piece of string could be part of the Internet of Things too…)
The phrase is being used all over social media, traditional media, electronic media…everywhere. It’s the latest buzz word and it looks like 2015 is going to be recorded as the Year of the Internet of Things. But what exactly is it?
What is “The Internet of Things”?
Wikipedia describes the Internet of Things (IoT) as: “The network of physical objects or ‘things’ embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity to enable objects to exchange data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices.”
Meaning exactly what? To illustrate this, let’s indulge ourselves a little and examine a typical day in a typical household in a typical modern city. Think of the number of things you use each day and imagine how they could be connected to make life easier, more efficient, less costly, and more pleasant for you and yours:
On waking, coffee and breakfast will be prepared and ready for you at a time you prefer, all sensed through your smartwatch or smartphone.
Your exercise regime will be laid out for you as you go through your desired activity, and of course all your vital health signs will be monitored automatically: heart rate, calorie burn, distance, time, effort, BMI, weight…elements which are available right now via a combination of smartwatch, smartphone, and other health monitoring devices.
Even more so, these data can be relayed to your Medical services provider…and even to your insurance company to adjust your premiums depending on your health status. Your shower or bath temperature will be adjusted to the perfect level. The clothes you want to wear will be presented to you, extending from your smart cupboard based on your preference – and what you wore yesterday. Your fridge can not only tell you what you are lacking but will also be able to place the order for you at the local supermarket….and alert you when it’s ready to be collected or delivered. Your car (or shall we call a ‘personal transportation unit’) will be started automatically; climate control adjusted and waiting for you, with the favorite radio station or music selected (based on your mood of course) and playing as you step into it. You will have already set your destination and appointments for the day via your smart device even before you walk out of the door and you will whisked there by the most efficient, quickest route…while you read the online news or watch a TV broadcast or finish that presentation, as your driverless car effortlessly negotiates traffic and routes.
Get the picture?
Science fiction? Not at all.
The term “Internet of Things” was coined by British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton in 1999. Typically, IoT is expected to offer advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services that goes beyond machine-to-machine communications (M2M) and covers a variety of protocols, domains, and applications. (Wikipedia)]
It can refer to a wide variety of devices such as heart monitoring implants, biochip transponders on farm animals, environmental monitors in the ocean, automobiles with built-in sensors, or field operation devices that assist fire-fighters in search and rescue. These devices collect useful data with the help of various existing technologies and then autonomously flow the data between other devices. Current market examples include smart thermostat systems and washer/dryers that utilize Wi-Fi for remote monitoring.
Besides the plethora of new application areas for Internet connected automation to expand into, IoT is also expected to generate large amounts of data from diverse locations that is aggregated very quickly, thereby increasing the need to better index, store and process such data. This brings us into the arena of Big Data…and entire HUGE subject on its own, so we won’t even go there…for now.
The concept of a network of smart devices was discussed as early as 1982, with a modified Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University becoming the first internet-connected appliance, able to report its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold.
In its original interpretation one of the first consequences of implementing the Internet of Things by equipping all objects in the world with minuscule identifying devices or machine-readable identifiers would be to transform daily life. For instance, instant and ceaseless inventory control would become ubiquitous. A person’s ability to interact with objects could be altered remotely based on immediate or present needs, in accordance with existing end-user agreements. Such technology could, for example, allow motion-picture and music publishers to exercise much more control over end-user private devices by enforcing remote copyright restrictions, completely eliminating piracy.
How big is it?
The estimates of magnitude vary depending on who is providing the analysis: According to Gartner, there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the Internet of Things by 2020. ABI Research on the other hand, estimates that more than 30 billion devices will be wirelessly connected to the Internet of Things by 2020.
Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization in Washington, DC, punts for an even higher number: 50 billion. In their online publication, Brookings TECHTANK , they state:
“The Internet of Things is hard to track because the addressing system for devices is changing. AN ‘internet census’ conducted in 2012 found 1.3 billion devices with an IPv4 address.
But because engineers believe that there are so many of these connected devices, they have reconfigured the addressing system to allow for 2 to the 128th power addresses – enough for each atom on the face of the earth to have 100 Internet addresses.
The IoT is developing now because we’ve figured out how to give everything we produce an address, we have enough bandwidth to allow device-to-device communications, and we have the capacity to store all the data those exchanges create.
The number 50 billion connections by 2020 has been parroted across multiple industry documents…at this point it appears to be credible enough that the technology industry is sticking to it.”
In an active move to accommodate new and emerging technological innovation, the UK Government, in their 2015 budget, allocated £40,000,000 towards research into the Internet of Things. The Chancellor, George Osborne, posited that the Internet of Things is the next stage of the information revolution and referenced the inter-connectivity of everything from urban transport to medical devices to household appliances.
This subject is way bigger than the sum of its parts, so to conclude – for the moment – here is a partial range of the various areas in which the Internet of Things can, will and is already being used (Wikipedia):
- Media – Targeting of consumers, providing favorite content.
Data-capture – Measuring, collecting and analyzing an ever-increasing variety of behavioral statistics.
- Environmental monitoring – Monitoring air or water quality; atmospheric or soil conditions; movements of wildlife and their habitats.
- Infrastructure management – Monitoring and controlling operations of urban and rural infrastructures like bridges, railway tracks, air and sea ports, and wind-farms.
- Manufacturing – Equipment, asset and production management, manufacturing process control, operator tools and service information to optimize plant safety and security.
- Energy Management – Integration of sensing and actuation systems.
- Medical and Healthcare Systems – Remote health monitoring and emergency notification systems; blood pressure and heart rate monitors, monitoring specialized implants, such as pacemakers or advanced hearing aids.
- Building Automation – Monitoring and control of mechanical, electrical and electronic systems used in various types of building.
- Home automation systems – Control lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, appliances, garbage disposal, recycling systems, water and electricity, communication systems, entertainment and home security devices.
- Transportation – Integration of communications, control, and information processing across various transportation systems; vehicle, infrastructure and driver or user; inter and intra vehicular communication, smart traffic control, smart parking, electronic toll collection systems, logistic and fleet management, vehicle control, and safety and road assistance.
Large scale deployments.
Better management of cities and systems. For example, Songdo, South Korea, the first of its kind fully equipped and wired smart city, is near completion. Nearly everything in this city is planned to be wired, connected and turned into a constant stream of data that would be monitored and analyzed by an array of computers with little, or no human intervention.
Other examples include the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City; improving air and water quality, reducing noise pollution, and increasing transportation efficiency in San Jose, California; and smart traffic management in western Singapore.