Unless you’ve miraculously avoided all technology over the past few years, you’re likely familiar with the term Internet of Things – or IoT. What you may not know is exactly what this phrase means, or what it means for you.
The IoT, simply put, is a way of bringing anything that can turn on and off into the fold of the internet superhighway. It means harnessing technology to connect everyday products to the internet so that you can automate their functions via smartphones, computers and tablets.
Once upon a time, the concept of a smart home called to mind palatial, high-tech houses only within the reach of the wealthy. Times have changed. Ericsson predicts that there will be 18 billion IoT devices worldwide by 2022. Of those, 1.5 billion will use a cellular subscription.
The IoT In Real Life
What does all this tech connection mean in application? Here are a few examples of daily tasks made easier by the Internet of Things. Imagine you could:
- Have your coffee brewing before you wake up.
- Close your garage door from work.
- Bring your house to the perfect temp before arriving home.
- Send your grocery list to the store automatically – and have it delivered.
The idea of a connected environment isn’t new. Companies were dabbling in concepts like smart refrigerators as early as the 1990s. Early products like the Electrolux Screenfridge may not have become mainstream, but with smartphone ownership in the U.S. at better than 80% (according to consumer behavior analyst comScore) this technology is now available to nearly everyone.
The IoT And Business
Naturally, enterprise is taking advantage of these technological conveniences, improving both the bottom line and the consumer experience.
What’s available now: Businesses already use the IoT to streamline formerly time-consuming tasks. Counting inventory manually is a labor of the past. Inventory management can all be automated, allowing lightning fast access to any number of inventory metrics.
Data tracking has also undergone drastic changes over the course of technological advancement. Those little loyalty cards not only tell companies how much you spend but precisely what you spend on and how often.
Small businesses aren’t left out of the connection fray: from mobile credit card readers to remote security camera management, smaller companies are able to increase profit and reduce expenses by utilizing the IoT.
What’s next: According to a recent research report from Business Insider, there are exciting things coming in the next few years. BI’s forecast includes:
- Teller-assisted ATMs
- Soil sensors to enhance agricultural productivity and efficiency
- Smart buildings with automated processes to improve tenant experience
The IoT is even disrupting the municipal services sector. A company called Bigbelly, founded in 2003 by two college students, offers trash collection solutions that reduce labor hours and streamline collection. By using built-in sensors and compactors inside city garbage cans, communities manage trash collection by targeting only those containers that actually need emptying at any time.
The IoT At Home
Virtually anything in your home can become an IoT integrated device. From the pedestrian – turning your lights on and off remotely – to the extravagant, like the HiMirror, which analyzes your skin conditions and recommends beauty routine solutions, life is becoming increasingly tech-ified.
While you may not be ready for total home automation, there are plenty of ways to embrace the Internet of Things to simply make life a little easier.
What’s available now:
- Security systems with remote control functionality
- Smart thermostats, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Smart kitchen gadgets, including cooking appliances, and refrigerators and garbage cans that track inventory
- Wearables like fitness trackers and smart watches
- Voice assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo, which play music, control other devices, answer questions, even order pizza
What’s next: While in-home IoT applications are in constant states of development and refinement, one of the most exciting sectors is automotive innovation. It was only a matter of time before connection moved into our cars, and that day is here.
You can already buy a car with built-in Wi-Fi, but it gets even better. On the horizon is technology that will inform you of impending problems with your vehicle, track fluid levels, and locate your car if it’s stolen. Companies like Kaa, maker of an open-source IoT platform, are working toward enabling total vehicle monitoring, management and automation via the power of the internet.
As mentioned earlier, billions of additional devices will become connected in the coming years. With more and more appliances and devices taking to the internet, it’s par for the course that the Internet of Things will expand beyond the reaches of the home or business.
We can see this happening already with smart watches, activity trackers, GPS trackers and similar wearable tech. Through a SIM card, these devices use an internet connection to provide near real-time feedback. A parent can give their child a GPS tracker and receive automatic updates while he or she is en route to school.
Cell phone carriers are leading the charge, offering low-cost or even free SIM cards for a range of devices.
As with all tech when it first becomes available on a mass scale, the IoT has suffered growing pains.
For consumers, if you don’t have a hub that can control all your devices, you must manage your automation through multiple apps rather than one simple interface. This means you’ve got to be vigilant about making sure that any gadget you add to your IoT network is compatible.
As far as industrial and business applications go, there are also integration bumps, security concerns, and issues with managing so many devices on one network.
The Future Of The IoT
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), reports that two-thirds of Americans already use at least one connected device. Just as with the release of the first smartphone (rudimentary as it was) in 1992, the IoT becoming the norm isn’t a question of if – it’s a matter of when.