The Internet of Things (IoT) is set to become as ubiquitous as the mobile phone. The technologies required, such as low power microchips, sensors, and energy efficient networks, have all become small and inexpensive enough that everything from smart watches, light bulbs and even heart monitors can connect to the Internet to send and receive data more easily than ever before.
Devices that comprise the Internet of Things typically transmit small amounts of data related to their particular function – such as temperature or moisture information, or industrial machines that can alert HQ when they need servicing. There is no strict definition of the Internet of Things, but it’s generally accepted that it includes embedded computing devices that use the existing Internet infrastructure, yet goes beyond normal machine-to-machine (M2M) networking with new protocols and applications.
Just a few examples where IoT is expected to make an enormous impact are:
- Environmental monitoring
- Infrastructure management
- Industrial applications
- Energy management
- Home automation
- Transport systems
In essence, the Internet of Things will form a smart grid of “intelligent” devices and sensors in areas like smart homes, biomedicine, mobile communications, agriculture, transport and wearables. It’s a brave new world, where everything is connected and constantly online. But what does it mean for consumers and business, and how will it affect our lives in the next few years?
The economic impact of the Internet of Things
Most industry observers agree that the Internet of Things will touch nearly every aspect of our lives over the next few decades. But in a sense it’s already here, as consumers are increasingly buying devices that connect to the Internet in novel ways. Just look at everyday objects such as the Philips Hue lightbulbs, which can be controlled from a smartphone over the Internet – that’s a very simple example, but it demonstrates that electronic devices are becoming smarter and more intelligent, anticipating our needs and reacting to their environment.
In terms of the number of connected devices that will form part of the IoT, analysts such as Gartner predict that the total number of connected ‘things’ will reach 25 billion units by the year 2020 – that’s already a huge increase compared with the 900 million objects that were connected 5 years ago.
Everyone is predicting the Internet of Things will be huge, but there isn’t much agreement on the raw numbers – in 2013 Cisco predicted twice the number that Gartner did with 50 billion devices by 2020 – so it’s clear that while nobody really knows, there is certainly huge room for growth.
As far as global revenue goes, the figures are similarly mixed:
- GE estimates that the “Industrial Internet” will add $10-$15 trillion to worldwide GDP by 2035
- Cisco says the “Internet of Everything” may add $19 trillion in economic value by 2022
Nevertheless, the technology is experiencing rapid adoption, with research firm IDC predicting there will be more than 200 billion Internet-enabled objects generating more than $7 trillion in sales by 2020.
How the Internet of Things will transform our lives
The Internet of Things will have a monumental impact on all our lives giving better access to more relevant information, as a direct result of ubiquitous connectivity to the Internet. The IoT will be more personal and predictive, in terms of making life more comfortable and efficient with new ways to interact with everyday objects and the world around us.
It will enable you to better avoid the rush hour traffic on the way to work, and tell you on the way whether your car needs a service, while also receiving alerts from video monitors at home to see if your kids have left for school yet. But it also could inform your insurance company if you’re driving dangerously or speeding, and report your whereabouts to your wife when you’re in a bar with friends instead of heading home. Much of that is already possible, but it’s only going to become more common with almost every electronic device online.
A recent survey in the UK found that much of the population has already used an IoT device, such as an in-car GPS system, smart meter or fitness tracker. The chart below shows that, while many people have experience of such devices, there is still a sizeable proportion (38.2%) who have yet to have any experience of the above.
IoT devices are also expected to bring benefits for public health – for example by enabling us to keep in close contact with doctors, or helping farmers improve yields based on weather and crop information. The Pew Research Centre found that 83% of experts predicted that the Internet of Things will “have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025”.
Some recent examples
In the past few months, there have been some interesting developments in IoT products and technologies. Even furniture manufacturers are teaming up with mobile telecom companies to combine smart home tech with network-connected household goods. In Korea, SK Telecom has partnered with furniture maker Hyundai Livart, to produce a range of so-called ‘smart furniture’ which adds touch screens and other gadgets to mundane items such as tables and cabinet doors.
The furniture has network connectivity and touch screens built-in, and uses a new service by SK Telecom – users can browse the Internet, listen to the radio and use all manner of applications (as well as the ability to make and receive calls from their furniture), besides linking to door bells, doors and room temperature controls. It might seem rather outlandish, but it’s just one example of the type of practical applications that are starting to make their way to market.
Another more high-tech gadget has been developed by Haltian, a Finnish design company that has teamed up with ex-Nokia employees – it builds specialist connected hardware such as the innovative crowd funded Thingsee One. It’s basically a sensor-laden device for the home enthusiast that contains umpteen sensors and technologies like Bluetooth, cellular connectivity and Wi-Fi, GPS, light and pressure sensors, an accelerometer and a screen.
The device can be used outdoors and allows the user to configure all manner of sensors to build their own hardware project without needing to be a programmer – connecting to a mobile phone app, it lowers the cost of entry for anyone to develop their own IoT applications.
Security and privacy concerns
Even though the Internet of Things looks like being an unstoppable force, security conscious consumers are already expressing concerns over how the information the devices gather is going to be used. Just how will all this data be managed and secured?
Usage of data these devices generate is of obvious concern to security experts, governments and consumer groups. Could the information be used to hack into our bank accounts, secretly inform our insurance companies, or even be hijacked by spy agencies? It seems quite far-fetched, but personal information can easily be misused and abused by third parties.
The business of IoT
There is no doubt that the Internet of Things represents a real opportunity for businesses of all kinds to develop innovative applications and services.
“The IoT is removing mundane repetitive tasks or creating things that just weren’t possible before, enabling more people to do more rewarding tasks and leaving the machines to do the repetitive jobs” — Grant Notman, Head of Sales and Marketing, Wood & Douglas
Among the industries that seek to capitalise on the data generated by the plethora of devices will be advertisers, so they can sell us products tailored to our individual preferences – but will this lead to us becoming even more bombarded with ads than we are now via the likes of Google?
The search giant has predicted that “a few years from now, we and other companies could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses and watches, to name just a few possibilities.”
Even now, thousands of motorists allow insurance companies to check their driving through in-car smart devices, so it would come as little surprise if similar requirements were eventually imposed on health and home insurance policies – either voluntarily or more worryingly on a mandatory basis. If it improves our health and makes our homes safer, it may become accepted, but there is likely to be some resistance at first…
A brave new world
With new information sources coming from devices and connected appliances all around us, there are bound to be novel applications that enrich our lives in ways we can’t yet imagine.
In the next decade, we can expect the Internet of Things to become part of our everyday lives – but security and privacy will be the main considerations for companies (and users) as everything around us becomes smarter and connected to the grid.
Only time will tell if the reality lives up to the expectations and hype, but we can safely say that the changes are already happening…
Is the Internet of Things the next big technological sea change? What novel applications and services can we expect in the next few years, and are you concerned about security? As usual, give us your feedback in the comments below.