What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
So, imagine this. You wake up before work and make breakfast. You’re having cereal, so you take the milk and our some in your bowl. After, you realise that there’s not much left but you really don’t have time in your busy day to go and get some more. Well in the future with a Wifi connected fridge, it will be able to sense that you’ve run out of milk and get some ordered for you to be delivered whatever time of the day suits you. If you have wifi cupboards too, you’ll never have to go without your favourite food and brands again. Anyway, let’s go into more detail.
Basically, anything connected to the internet makes up the Internet of Things. What’s special about what’s happening now with technology is that manufacturers are starting to introduce functionality that allows them to use the data and communicate with each other. For example, in the case above, your fridge will be able to use your account with whichever supermarket you use to send you some more of whatever you’re getting short of. This has never been done before. It means we can benefit from a huge saving in time, allow our internet connected devices to recognize human needs as they occur.
How else is it useful?
It also has industrial applications too. If a manufacturer that uses an intricate supply chain runs out of one part, they have to wait for the next one to be delivered which costs time and this cost is inevitably passed down to the consumer. If a sensor connected to the internet detects that the warehouse is running low of this specific part, it’ll be able to communicate with the supplier and get a batch sent straight away. Again, it all helps with efficiency, which in an industrial setting, even saving one second in a process that is repeated thousands of times a year can have huge cost savings.
Of course, everyone’s heard of smartwatches and how they can improve your health by measuring how much you exercise and the energy that how use, but it can also benefit professional health care. Devices are in development that are strapped to your chest and can instantly recognise any abnormal patterns in a heart beat to detect an oncoming heart attack and alert the authorities and loved ones. Another device will be able to measure how much a parkinson’s sufferer shakes in order to identify how bad their condition is. Health is one thing that many of us never get back once we lose, so any device that helps us to measure is a good investment. However, health is also very sensitive and in order for the technology to be successful, it must be secure and tamper proof, and we’re not quite there yet.
How can I start using the Internet of Things?
Well technically you already are, with your laptop, smartphone and smartwatch. Recently though, light bulbs, power sockets and heating systems have entered the market that allow you to adjust them using your smartphone. It’s a very cool feeling walking into your living room and being able to turn on your light, television and adjust your heating using your smartphone. It’s only natural that door locks are eventually connected to the Internet of Things so you no longer need your keys. That in itself raises one question though..
How secure is the Internet of Things?
Imagine if you had all of your devices connect to your wifi and all of a sudden your lights started flicking on and off and your front door was unlocked because someone had found a way into your system. This poses a real threat at a time when many multi-nationals can’t even protect their own websites and servers from being hacked, what’s to say someone very skilled couldn’t control your internet connected devices if they wanted to. For the Internet of Things to ever become a viable option, manufacturers will have to provide really compelling proof that the technology is completely secure.
A decade from now, the term Internet of Things will probably be laughed at because it’ll just be ‘normal’. Our electric car will be connected to our smartphone so we’ll be able to tell it to come and pick us up and it’ll drive over autonomously. Until then, we’ll all have to work out how exactly we can use it to improve our lives without leaving ourselves open to data theft and hackers.