With the arrival of the Internet of Things, will it be for everyone? The arrival of intelligent machines, ultra fast wireless networking technology and a huge array of new products and services are going to affect the way we live, so it seems the answer is inevitably, in time, ’yes’. It all comes down to one thing: connectivity, and it could be radical. The GSMA predicts that there will be 18 billion connected objects by 2020.
The Internet of Things is becoming a reality, and we can start to see it coming together in all sorts of ways. It’s underpinned by what The Guardian described last year as pervasive computing - “where technology is seamlessly embedded within the real world, intrinsically tied to the physical environment.”
So whilst your fridge might let you know you’re low on milk (is that really necessary?), the same connectivity could be letting a sheltered housing manager know that an elderly resident isn’t eating properly. Towns and cities are fast becoming ‘intelligent’ through the connectivity of infrastructure such as traffic lights that adjust their timing depending on levels of congestion or parking systems that help drivers find a less busy car park.
With trailblazing by Google, the automotive sector is putting effort in to driverless cars. Combining such technology with cloud based intelligent satnav linked to a city database will be able to guide both the driven and the driverless directly to an empty parking space by going straight to it - no more driving around the block in the vague hope of finding one.
When Amazon announced it was looking at delivery by drone, it was derided, some even thinking it must be an April Fool joke. But Bezos and the guys mean it. At CES in Las Vegas this month, drones were one of the biggest stories, bigger, better with anti-collision software installed and looking more likely to play a part in our lives. Will we look back in a few decades and look at this, like we look back now at black and white flickering movies of the Wright Brothers? Maybe…
Perhaps Amazon really will start to deliver that way, we will see. Taking it just a little further, if we see driverless vehicles and drones coming together, how far away are we from The Jetsons of 1962 arriving by flying car in the twenty-first century?! Back in the 60s it seemed complete science fiction in cartoon form, but intelligent machines and immensely powerful network technology make one wonder whether we’ll see it in a generation. If it ever happens (might be a nightmare for the CAA/FAA!), will it only be for the very wealthy…?
Beneath all of this there are the networks on which the Internet of Things will run. Orange always talked about the world of wirefree and we wrote extensively in the mid 90s about a family living in the future which looked remarkably like the future that seems to be coming down the track. Huge investment is being made in networking technologies like 5G which promises multi-gigabit wireless speeds, perhaps by the early 2020s, although the standards don’t appear to be settled yet.
ZigBee, an open, global wireless standard aims to provide the foundation for the Internet of Things by enabling simple and smart objects to work together. There’s a battle going on to develop the dominant software and platform that will enable all these devices to talk to each other. Watch this space, a winner will emerge that perhaps we haven’t even heard of yet.
Making the most of ‘white spaces’, unused radio bandwidth, will be needed to ensure that this infrastructure will be fast enough and affordable enough to support the influx of connected devices and make the Internet of Things a reality.
The Apple Watch is about to land after years of expectation and no doubt the faithful will be queuing round the block to get their hands on one. It will be interesting to see whether it will fare better than the ill fated Google Glass. Apple Watch’s ability to connect and become tied into the Internet of Things may affect how long it’s loved. Truly wearable, soon you’ll wear a shirt that will let your doctor know if something isn’t quite right and alert you though a myriad of devices.
Apart from filling the fridge, the Internet of Things is going to help control your heating, lighting and appliances. It’s going to monitor your health, remind you to exercise, send a birthday card.
When it comes to smart energy management, Hive can use geolocation to work out when to put on the system because it can figure out when you’ll be home. No need to worry if you’re away on holiday and there’s a cold snap back home, Hive automatically switches on if the temperature inside your home drops below a set level to help protect your pipes from freezing. The system links the boiler and thermostat through to the internet and from there to your smartphone so you can adjust it from anywhere.
A group of former Apple employees created another smart thermostat and smoke alarm-maker, Nest Labs. Christmas came early at Nest with Google reportedly picking it up for a whopping 3.2 billion dollars. Who’d have thought it, but it goes to show that the competition emerging to capture home automation through the Internet of Things is going to be furious.
From self-watering plants to keyless door entry through either a smartphone app or proximity release, it’s coming to a home near you.
It’s not just in the home or helping to park the car that the Internet of Things is changing the world, there are endless industrial applications too. Accenture’s recent report on the industrial application of the Internet of Things ‘Driving Unconventional Growth through the Industrial Internet of Things’ illustrates it:
“In the future, successful companies will use the Industrial Internet of Things to capture new growth through three approaches: boost revenues by increasing production and creating new hybrid business models, exploit intelligent technologies to fuel innovation, and transform their workforce.”
It needs technology to handle big data as millions, even billions of devices talk to each other.
Social consequences, is it for everyone?
Dystopian book The Circle by Dave Eggers, is a good read but ultimately a depressing view of the future where one Apple-esque or Google-esque company of the title controls everything. Thinking it's alright to introduce a billion miniature yet super HD cameras in every corner of the world connected so everyone can see everything all the time with no thought to individual choice to be private. Good intentions maybe, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions!
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