The statement “we’re on the brink of a revolution” typically induces an eye rolling response. The phrase has been bandied around by just about every marketing company which, frankly, makes it sound boring. Furthermore, if anything genuinely ‘revolutionary’ was imminent for humanity, surely we’d know all about it? Well, not necessarily, and for those unaware: we really are on the brink of a revolution.
This particular revolution comes in the form of a very tangible technological transition referred to as ‘the Internet of Things’ (IoT). The phrase was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, a tech guru hailing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). ‘Things’ in this instance refers to day-to-day material objects and devices which historically have not been connected to the Internet. But we are now entering an age where everything is connected via the Internet, rather than just the varying types of computers that we are used to. This is the IoT revolution, and in this article we’re going to take a look at the ramifications therein.
How Does It Work?
‘Wirelessly’ is the short answer to that question. Wireless technology is advancing and being adopted at an incredible pace, and organisations such as ABI Research estimate over 5 billion wireless chips will ship in 2013. In addition to the kind of wireless chips which might be used for WiFi connection, other technologies are also on the rise including radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, improved Bluetooth, ZigBee, and plenty more besides.
With this relatively inexpensive method of information transfer in place, the next element of the Internet of Things is sensors. If everything from temperature readings, to the contents of your stomach (more on this later), to geolocation of just-about-anything, to pollution levels, can be measured and reported on, the potential is genuinely limitless.
Is It Too Early to Start Getting Excited?
It’s easy to see many products incorporating aspects of this technology even today. One better-known example would be the Nike+ System which records and monitors your workout data with sensors installed in trainers. Earlier this year, President and COO of KORE Telematics, Alex Brisbourne had an article published in Forbes also pointing out that the Internet of Things isn’t such a new concept when you consider that telemetry systems such as those used in black box airplane recorders, and homing devices, have been around for a long time.
However, many respectable organisations and forecasters believe 2013 will be the year of IoT, and MIT is counted among them. For example, while the Google Glass reality augmentation headset is being met with considerable scepticism, a story in the Washington Post suggests that the product could offer an ideal method to control, manage and interact with various IoT objects with the necessary wireless communication hardware installed.
A Day in the Life of the Internet of Things
Whether your interest in the IoT stems from a business profit perspective or more of a geeky tech enthusiast angle, the ramifications are as significant as they are exciting. A simple example might be if you had an early flight to catch, let’s say you’re taking a two-week holiday. Your smart phone would communicate with the airport timetable and be aware of any changes to the flight times, and this information would be shared with your local IoT. You would be automatically woken up in good time to make the airport, and your electronic appliances that had automatically activated early would switch to energy-saving holiday mode once they detected that you had left the house. Your vehicle navigation would determine the best route to take based on real time information from traffic and weather sensors, and would guide you to the closest or lowest cost vacant parking space when you reached the airport. While on holiday similar interactions with your accommodation environment would ensure a comfortable, effortless and energy efficient experience. Then on your return the process would reverse, your household appliances would be informed of your schedule and activate in advance so you returned to a warm and organised house.
Examples Pending Release
Naturally, as this revolution has been unfolding, so has a race between commercial technology companies. Some great examples include
- A digestible sensor which stays in your stomach and communicates optimal timings for consumption of prescribed medicines – Source
- A baby monitoring garment to make sure we know what’s going on with our toddlers when we’re not around – Source
- Significantly improved energy efficiency (the world over) – Source
- Monitoring the successful growth of plants, both commercially and domestically – Source
- Finding parking spaces in heavily congested cities more easily – Source
It’s an exciting time and IoT technology may genuinely revolutionise humanity. Ideally, it will greatly support reductions in energy consumption and consequently global warming, plus it has the potential to increase human productivity and quality of life in hundreds of ways that we haven’t even thought of yet.