The Internet of Things (IoT) is really just fancy talk for “things that are connected to the internet,” which isn’t to say the IoT isn’t incredibly awesome, because it is. Much of what we know as modern citizens of the 21st century is due to owning products and devices that are connected to the internet: smartphones, personal computers, cameras, smart watches, and even washing machines—but that’s not what’s most interesting about the IoT. The Internet of Things is interesting because of the benefits that interconnectivity provides.
How The IoT is Affecting Change Now
A current IoT application that we can all understand and relate to is commuting. Almost every American can relate to dealing with some kind of morning commute, especially if you live in a traffic-riddled area like Southern California, where there are so few options for public transportation. In these sorts of situations, most individuals will typically check their smartphone for traffic updates, and if you have a newer smartphone running the latest operating system, your phone will automatically provide you with traffic updates on its own.
But how does your smartphone know what the traffic is?
The answer isn’t really all that complex: your smartphone is able to “see” what the traffic is on your commute through a series of interconnected technologies sending and receiving data over the Internet. These technologies include things like road sensors and updates from local authorities, as well as local data collected from the smartphones of individuals who are already in traffic on your commute.
And that, in a nutshell, is the Internet of Things. If an individual in traffic is using an application on their smartphone such as “Google Maps,” then Google can measure the velocity of that vehicle in real time, and with the help of other connected smartphones, Google can aggregate all of this data to provide other people with an accurate measurement of how quickly the traffic is moving on a specific road or highway. It’s only possible because all these different devices connect to the Internet, then with a system that organizes their information, aggregates it, and spits it back out to your device in a manner that makes it useful to you.
Because all of this data is being collected in real time, it also has the capability of pushing notifications to your smartphone about new events, like traffic collisions, that might negatively affect your commute. To take it a step further, once the application on your phone is capable of capturing this traffic from all local commuters, and making calculations of the available routes, now it can tell you the best way to reach your destination in the shortest amount of time.
In this example, the “things” in “Internet of Things” are the technologies like the road sensors, computers used by city authorities, and smartphones, which of course are all using the Internet to communicate. However, this is only a very basic example of the kinds of benefits the Internet of Things can provide: there are thousands of new applications made possible by IoT devices that will make their way to market over the next few years, and the examples below are just a few of them.
Internet of Things Applications
One of the main reasons IoT devices and applications are becoming popular across many different industries is the need for automation. While there are many complex and serious issues surrounding automation, it’s safe to say that the future of almost every industry will incorporate at least some degree of automation.
Most IoT applications have the goal of maximizing resources while increasing profits. While automation might seem scary, IoT automation and IoT optimization will ultimately make our lives easier, safer, and more productive.
When we think of the “Smart Home,” we might think of television shows such as The Jetsons, where their home of high-tech gadgets and gizmos are at the center-piece of every episode. While this “smart home” was a great example of interconnectivity at the time, the homes of our future will be far more interesting than what was ever showcased on The Jetsons.
Our homes as they stand now are already one of the most “interconnectable” spaces in our lives, and it’s only going to get more connected in the future.
As of right now, we have the ability to control the temperature of our homes, monitor our home security systems, and monitor the level of detergent in our laundry machines from a personal computer or smartphone. We can also perform neat tricks like turning on the lights in our living room with the power of our voice or smartphone as well.
Adding to this interconnectivity are things like Amazon’s “Echo” and Google’s “Google Home.” These devices are “Internet of Things” devices, but at their most basic, they’re essentially just platforms for each company’s respective A.I., but these A.I. platforms have a lot to offer people with regards to interconnectivity and home automation.
Both of these A.I. platforms will allow an individual to use their voice to check on all of the interconnected devices in their home and perform daily tasks such as searching the Internet for movie times, checking calendars, or making purchases online.
Although these A.I. assistants are still in their infancy, they still hold a lot of promise. Eventually, our homes will become so automated that when arrive at home after a long day of work, we might arrive to a hot meal prepared by one of these A.I. assistants, with our favorite TV show already playing in the background.
How will these assistants know when you’ll be home? Well, for starters, your assistant will be able to monitor your progress on your commute, estimate what time you’ll be home, and because of your recent TV history, be able to make a determination of what TV show you will want to see.
Pretty neat, right?
IoT Applications in Retail
Retail is also about to undergo a transformation of sorts with the help of IoT devices, a prime of example of which is Amazon’s new “Amazon Go” shopping centers.
While many of our local grocery stores are utilizing self-checkout systems in place of normal cashiers (another controversial topic), Amazon Go takes shopping automation to the next level. Amazon Go is essentially a grocery store, but the similarities between a normal grocery store and Amazon Go pretty much stop there.
When you enter Amazon’s futuristic grocery store in San Francisco, you will need to log in with your amazon account through your smartphone. After this log in process is finished, all you need to do is grab a cart and begin shopping as normal; however, there is a lot of technology happening in the background that is completely invisible to the shopper.
Amazon’s futuristic grocery store uses many of the same technologies that make other IoT projects work: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. What’s different about Amazon Go stores? When you shop at Amazon Go, you don’t have to check out. Instead of bringing your items to a sales terminal, all you need to do is add the things you want to your cart, and then you can simply walk out of the store with them. Since everything that goes on inside the store is happening as part of the IoT, Amazon’s grocery store can determine what groceries you’ve added to the cart and, after you leave with those items, Amazon will automatically send you the bill.
While Amazon has only deployed a single Amazon Go store, it’s not hard to imagine that this concept will influence many of our future shopping habits. This type of automation will ultimately lead to a loss of jobs, but it will also help shoppers get in and out of the grocery store, or any store for that matter, in the fastest manner possible.
With an IoT enabled retail store, you will no longer have to waste time in line waiting to check out, you can just grab what you need, get out, and get on with the rest of your day.
The future of retail might sound exciting for consumers, but what’s the point of saving time shopping when you still have to jump in your car and fight traffic on the way back home? Well, the IoT has a solution for that as well.
Self-driving cars are the future, plain and simple. Self-driving cars offer the promise of safer roads, the elimination of traffic jams, and the ability to get you where you need to go faster than ever before. While many people might be unwilling to give up the freedom that comes with being behind the wheel of your own vehicle, the benefits provided by self-driving cars are undeniable: nearly 37,000 people in the United States die each year from traffic accidents, with an additional 2.35 million becoming injured or disabled due to an automobile accident. Self-driving cars may be able to reduce those numbers by a significant amount.
Globally, nearly 1.3 million people die in car accidents each year, which amounts to about 3,287 deaths per day. These are staggering numbers when we consider that the vast majority of these deaths could have been prevented with the implementation of self-driving cars.
Self-driving cars work because they integrate everything that makes the IoT so powerful. Self-driving cars know and see everything that is occurring around them, and because of the interconnectivity we have been discussing, self-driving cars can adapt and alter their position and route in real time. This means that a self-driving car can account for jaywalkers, stray dogs, and anything else that a person might not notice, or be able to react to, in time to prevent an accident.
The promise of self-driving cars isn’t only that they’ll free up all that time we spend driving, but also that they’ll be able to eliminate or at least drastically reduce the risks associated with being in a moving vehicle. Some people are currently even arguing that we have a moral responsibility to fast-track the development of self-driving cards in order to start saving lives.
At Landmark Dividend, we know all too well about the benefits that an interconnected city, or “Smart City” can bring. Our efforts in Kansas City have helped make it one of the most high-tech cities in the world, improving both connectivity and interconnectivity throughout the city’s many services.
In essence, “smart cities” are really just extensions of our “smart home,” and as such, we can expect that the cities of the future will feature certain advantages that can only come with interconnectivity. Smart cities will help us save energy, keep citizens safer, and better help manage resources (like power, water, etc.), especially during difficult times.
Internet of Things technologies also have a variety of applications in healthcare. When we talk about the IoT, we are talking about how “things” are becoming interconnected. However, the IoT doesn’t stop with Internet of Things devices and products; the IoT also includes our own bodies.
There are already companies making advancements in high-tech fitness wearables such as Apple and Fitbit, which are great for tracking your heart beat, activity levels, and nutrition, but the IoT can offer us so much more if we are willing to give it a shot.
In the future, we might be able to implant ourselves with all sorts of sensors that can give us real-time readings about our vitals and overall health. This data could be relayed to a browser or to our smartphones, where we can receive a detailed readout about how our bodies are performing and whether or not we have any nutritional deficiencies.
Here’s something else to think about: if you were to have a medical emergency and that medical emergency left you immobilized and unable to call for help, then IoT data could be automatically sent to a local ambulance service over the Internet, signaling them to come to your rescue. If we were all interconnected in this manner, we might even be able to dispatch the ambulance to a particular location before the individual even suffers the medical emergency.
This type of interconnectivity, like the ones implemented in self-driving cars, will undoubtedly help save lives over the long-term and perhaps help us to live happier and longer lives as well.
Agriculture is another area that can benefit from the interconnectivity of the IoT.
Just as in the previous example where we can use sensors to monitor health information of our bodies, we can also use sensors to monitor the health of crops.
It’s a fact that our global population is growing each and every year, and with it, the planet must also place a higher demand on agriculture. With the implementation of IoT devices, farmers around the world can get a detailed look at weather forecasts and satellite imagery of their property, helping them to do a better job of producing more, and better food. Additionally, IoT interconnectivity can also provide farmers with detailed readouts about water and fertilizer usage per crop, which will ultimately lead to less waste and higher yields.
IoT implementation in agriculture might be one of the most important opportunities in history, and this technological advancement could lead to significantly better crop yields, allowing existing agricultural efforts to feed additional people.
Obstacles to the Internet of Things
All of these Internet of Things projects rely upon some sort of internet connectivity, and while internet service providers and companies like Google are attempting to expand internet connectivity, there is still a lot of work to be done.
We’ve already covered how some ISPs are reaching out to property owners in hopes of leasing their rooftops, and as such, we are intimately aware of how bandwidth needs are skyrocketing across the country.
Without a stable and secure connection to the internet, IoT implementation will be severely limited. By 2020, it is estimated that there will be over 26 billion connected devices in the world, with over 4 billion people connected to the internet.
Currently in 2016, people who have access to the Internet are sending and receiving about one zettabyte of data, which is poised to increase to 2.3 zettabytes of data in 2020. In theory, this means that broadband providers will need to more than double the amount of available bandwidth over the next 4 years.
Other than internet connectivity, there are also certain moral and ethical issues that are attached to some of the services provided by IoT systems (i.e., loss of jobs, invasion of privacy, preferential treatment from healthcare providers, etc.,) which we will discuss in further detail in a future article.
The Future of the IoT
Current Internet of Things trends are typically revolving around A.I. And while it’s true that there’s a whole host of IoT devices already on, and soon coming to the market, there’s a huge focus on providing users with an interface by which to control all of these devices. Currently, options are relatively limited, but some of the biggest names in Tech are looking at ways to resolve these issues.
With some luck and ingenuity, companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple will be able to provide users with an easy to use interface by which we can manage all of the IoT products that we own. Without this interface, it is likely that we would simply become overwhelmed by the amount of interconnectivity surrounding us, and as a result, that the benefits these IoT systems provide will be diminished.
However, with the advancements in machine learning, it is quite likely that in a few years, many of us will be living our lives with the help and guidance of a digital assistant of some sort, which will make our connection to the IoT feel more real and more tangible than anything we’ve experienced before.
To go back to the question asked at the beginning of this article, the next time someone asks you, “What is the Internet of Things,” just point at something—anything—and chances are, you’ll be pointing at something that already is or will one day be part of the grand Internet of Things.