A beginner’s guide to the internet of things

Of all the technology trends that are taking place right now, most experts agree that the biggest one will be the Internet of Things.

Like any disruption, it can have positive or negative impacts but for those with depth of vision – the ability to see what lies ahead – the business opportunities are exceptional.

This article explores what the Internet of Things is, how it’s going to affect us, the industries to be affected and how those with depth of vision can take advantage of the opportunities it presents.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT, sometimes called the Internet of Everything) is the network of physical objects or “things” embedded within electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity. It enables objects to exchange data with the manufacturer, operator and other connected devices based on the infrastructure of International Telecommunication Union’s Global Standards Initiative.  Experts estimate that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020.

What does ‘things’ refer to?

The ‘things’ in the IoT refers to a wide variety of devices such as heart monitoring implants, biochip transponders on farm animals, automobiles with built-in sensors, fridges with built-in sensors to record what goes in and out, field operation devices that assist fire-fighters in search and rescue and much more.

What does it do?

It allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure, creating opportunities for more direct integration between the physical world and computer-based systems, resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefits.

Who coined the term?

The term “Internet of Things” was coined by British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton in 1999.

What’s the premise behind the IoT?

The IOT is based around the premise that more and more devices will become connected and interactive with each other – hence an internet made up of “things”, rather than just people and computers. By interacting in this way, they can complete advanced analytical tasks at super-fast speeds, with minimal need for manual human involvement and produce accurate data that will inform every aspect of the production and buying cycle.

Is Google in on this?

Of course. Google’s plan is to get better at providing the services we need, when we need them. It is clear that it expects its services to be the powerhouse behind the smart homes of the future, one of the most direct ways that consumers will interact with the IoT.   It has already invested heavily in Nest, a company that creates connected products for the smart home.

How will the IoT impact our daily life?

A wide variety of industries will be affected by the IoT. Here’s just a snapshot of some of those industries and a brief example of how it will be affected.

  • Health and Medicine:

Instead of remembering when to take a tablet, your medicine bottle will sense that a tablet has not been taken, will vibrate and light up, and sound an alert to let you know it’s time to take it.

  • Roads and Traffic:

Sensors connected to traffic cameras and traffic signals will assess traffic flow, change signal patterns accordingly and send alerts to drivers, all in real time. You’ll receive alerts via your phone telling you what routes are best to take, and how long each option will take.

  • Homes:

Connected ceiling fans will sense and engage automatically when a person enters a room, regulate its speed on the basis of temperature and humidity, and recognize individual user preferences and adjust accordingly.

  • Cars:

Instead of taking your car in for a service, the sensors in the car will alert you and your mechanic as to when the car needs a service or is in danger of breaking down before it breaks down.

  • Parking:

“Smart Parking” will alert drivers to vacant spots on the street or in garages via a phone app.

  • Streets:

Street lights equipped with sensors will automatically adjust brightness by monitoring the light or clouds in the sky.  Street lights won’t stay on throughout the night but will turn on only when a car appears and turn off after the car has passed through.

  • Waste Management:

Rather than sticking to a strict schedule, garbage pickup will be prioritized by the level of waste monitored by sensors embedded in connected trash bins and their planned routes will be re-diverted according to what bins need to be emptied.

  • Bridges:

Sensors that monitor vibrations, temperatures and other changes will alert human inspectors to check integrity and avoid disasters.  Smart cement embedded with sensors will alert authorities of any cracking before it actually occurs.

  • Buildings

Elevators fitted with sensors will reduce wait times by as much as 50% by predicting elevator demand patterns, will calculate the fastest time to the destination, and assign the appropriate elevator to move passengers quickly.

What role does big data play here?

The value of the Internet of Things comes together with the connection of sensors and machines; at the intersection of gathering data and leveraging it. All the information gathered by all the sensors in the world isn’t worth very much if there isn’t an infrastructure in place to analyse it in real time.  If you thought big data was impacting business now, just wait and see what’s ahead.

When the IoT hits its straps, we will be hit by an avalanche of data.  Can we make sense of it?  That will be up to the data analysts.  If you want a change of career, consider becoming one. They’ll be in demand for decades to come and will be one of the most valuable assets of any business team.

What drives the IoT?

The Internet of Things doesn’t function without cloud-based applications to interpret and transmit the data coming from all these sensors. The cloud is what enables the apps to go to work for you anytime, anywhere. Cloud-based applications are the key to using this leveraged data.

How to take advantage of the IoT:

It can be overwhelming to think about the vast changes that the IoT will bring.  What can be helpful however is to drill down within your own industry and start contemplating key aspects that you can impact, rather than focus on everything the IoT will impact.

Consider what industry you’re really in and what role your product or service plays within that ecosystem.  Analyse what key functions your product plays in a person’s life or business and ask yourself: if you could embed a sensor in anything, what would you put it in and what would it measure?

The IoT is an enormous opportunity and it’s already here.  Start looking around to see how your business and your industry could benefit from it.  Those who understand it now and become early adopters will be the ones who stand to gain the most.