You have probably heard about the Internet of Things (IoT) in the past few months. IoT is being hailed as the “next big thing”. Given the considerable innovation and deployment of technology in all aspects of our lives, we can appreciate the hype around this topic. Before we can dive deep into how IoT can help us, let’s understand some basics.
What is IoT?
IoT is defined as:
“A scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.”
Put simply, IoT aims to connect the physical world to the Internet. The rapid growth of internet, wireless technology, smart devices and wearables has led to the theorization that everything and anything could be connected.
This sounds impressive but let’s peel the layer and understand what this means to us and our businesses.
IoT is made up of things.
These things can be anything and everything including objects, machines, appliances, buildings, vehicles….you get the picture. Put in more relatable terms, a thing (in IoT) can be a person with a cardiac implant, a car with sensors, or any object that can connect to the internet and transmit data.
How does it work?
In IoT, any object can be made into a smart object. This is mainly done by giving it a unique identity using IPv6 or the Internet Protocol Version 6. IPv6 is the latest version of the Internet Protocol which allows us to assign source and destination addresses to devices over a network.
IPv6 plays a crucial role in the development of the IoT space. The reason being an address space expansion was recently introduced with IPv6 which means that we could “assign an IPv6 address to every atom on the surface of the earth.” A simpler explanation: we can assign an IP address to every “thing” on the planet. An increase in more IP addresses means more digitization, which in turn means more data can be generated and consequently more insights can be gathered from objects surrounding us.
So if you’re sitting in a chair for example, we could put in a RFID sensor that lets us know if the chair is occupied or not or how long was it occupied or vacant. And to take it a step further, we could even identify who is sitting in that chair. But what does this mean from a practical sense and how can we use such technology?
6 Possible Use Cases
1) Connect with things
The first step is being able to connect with things. Nowadays, we feel connected to our network and our surroundings using the latest gadgets like smartphones, wearables and more. But with IoT, these devices could exponentially increase the information we receive from them. If you thought the ‘Instagram-all-meals’ trend was obsessive, imagine being able to learn information about every ingredient on your plate including insights about possible allergies and even the source of all your food.
Another possible scenario could involve meeting someone for the very first time and knowing all about them, their interests and inclinations (within reason of course). It kinda makes Facebook look minor doesn’t it?
2) Monitor things
Let’s say you or a loved one have a cardiac monitor. With IoT, we could connect that device to the Internet and monitor cardiac rhythms in real time. It could even send data to a doctor who could predict any medical issues weeks or months ahead of time.
From this perspective, IoT has big potential for the e-Health industry. We could revolutionize health tracking & monitoring, notifying patients about their status, and even administering care. IoT could help save lives, improve the standard of living and make healthcare accessible to everyone. You can check out this video which is an indicator of the interesting times that we live in today.
3) Search for things
Have you ever lost your keys and spent precious minutes searching for them? There’s an app for that. Being able to tag and assign IP addresses for every object in the world translates into being able to search for anything in the world. You could use IoT simply to locate objects via the Internet.
Ever wonder where your package from Amazon is or what happened to that pizza you ordered half an hour ago? Well with IoT, you could keep track of all these things and much more; all in real time.
4) Manage things
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of IoT is the ability to manage things on a macro level. Imagine the world’s cities having access to information about vehicles on the road, energy usage, population density, etc. It throws off some Big Brother vibes, but the potential for urban planning, efficient energy usage and even traffic patterns is huge. This video by Intel gives a simple explanation of the benefits of IoT.
5) Control things
A direct benefit of being able to connect and monitor things is the ability to control them as well. I recently heard from a colleague about how she uses Zapier (an app integration solution) to turn off the Wi-Fi when she leaves her house. Or take for example, the Wi-Fi enabled coffee machines that starts brewing a fresh cup the moment you wake up.
Now take those simple use cases and expand it to fit every object you interact with on a daily basis. We could potentially interact with every object we come into contact with during the day in some way or another.
6) Play with things
Gamification has been rapidly growing since its introduction a few years ago. And with IoT, the potential for gamification and the gaming industry in general is through the roof. Companies such as Layar are revolutionizing the way we game by superimposing a game environment on the real world using the camera on your smartphone.
In the past, I have written about the role of Augmented Reality (AR) in Retail. But with IoT, the role of Augmented reality could expand and touch every industry and business in the future.
Now if you’re wondering how all this data will be safeguarded, you’re not alone. Security experts have warned about the potential risks associated with objects in the IoT space, especially when you take into account the large number of unsecured devices connected to the Internet.
IoT security is a fairly recent endeavor that focuses on protecting all things on the Internet of things, as well as their networks. Objects that exist in the IoT space are not traditionally designed with security in mind. The diversity of IoT assets along with the countless ways they are connected to each other poses some major security challenges.
But as much as there is a potential threat related to unsecured devices, there is a huge opportunity for security companies that enter the space.
Wrapping it up
The growth potential for IoT seems phenomenal and while we can’t exactly pinpoint how soon some of the scenarios will be developed and deployed, it is guaranteed that our lives are going to be considerably different with the advent of IoT. IoT has been dubbed the next evolution of technology and the rate at which technology has grown, it’s not hard to see why.
In the next post, I will highlight some examples of how organizations in different industries have started driving measurable value from IoT.