The Internet of Things in 5 questions

September 29, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Consultist Blog | No comment

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is a buzz term that we hear more frequently then ever. But what actually is the Internet of Things? Will it change our lives?

We covered the basics of the IoT in 5 questions.

1)    What is the Internet of Things?

In the simplest term, a wide range of ‘things’ (devices, machines, our house, car, etc.) will seamlessly receive and process information from the real world, and will communicate with us and each other to make our lives easier, revolutionize industrial practices, and provide energy savings. 

The chart below summarizes the major components of the Internet of Things :

2)How old is this concept?

The term was coined by Kevin Ashton,  in 1999, to describe the use of the RFID tags on the P&G’s supply chain.

3) Will the IoT change our  lives?

You receive such messages on your smart phone : “Hi, we will run out of milk soon”, “Julia and George are coming for dinner on Thursday, you’d better have some grocery shop”, or “Hey, you’re at Tesco? Here is the shopping list:….”.

No, that’s not your partner or housemate sending these texts, that’s your fridge! Your smart fridge will be able to keep track of the items you placed in,  have access to your agenda, and your smartphone will communicate with your fridge to let it know that you are at/close to the supermarket.

The HomeChat app launched by LG also promises that such things will be a part of our daily lives:

The example above is only a small illustration from an ordinary day at our near future with the Internet of Things. However, the implications of the IoT will not be limited with our communication with the home appliances: It will change the way we live, the way we manufacture and the way we do business. It will hopefully accelerate the development of  smart cities with high energy efficiency, and more effective healthcare systems.

4) How fast does the IoT grow? 

Source: The Connectivist

  • The EMC study indicates that the digital universe (the data we create and copy) doubles the size every two years, and it will reach the  volume of 44 trillion gigabytes in 2020.

  • Majority of the data is created by people today. However, in the near future the data created by the ‘things’ will dominate the digital universe.

  • The ‘connected’ devices have already outnumbered the people in our planet. This expansion is not only a result of the massive use of the mobile devices and laptops ; but also the toothbrushes, traffic lights, wind turbines and many other things that already have IP addresses.

All these information lead us to the next question:

5) Why we are STILL not surrounded by the IoT?

If the IoT is such a disruptive phenomenon, and that we hear the launch of IoT-related products almost everyday; then why we are still not surrounded by the IoT? There are three main reasons:

Not everything is equipped with sensors and tags.

We will not see disruptive changes in our lives until the majority of devices around us can sense the real world and communicate each other. In most cases, this will require the replacement of the machines and devices with the ‘smart ones’ equipped with sensors. However, not all machines and devices are replaced as frequently as the smart phones.

Another important step is having objects to carry smart tags that the sensors can detect. The RFID tags are only used for commercial purposes, and it is very likely to take time to introduce the tags for consumer use.

 Jack Uldrich uses the analogy of cartoon series ‘the Jetsons’ to explain why the IoT still did not change our lives. The Jetsons could not be successful when it was first released in 1963. The main reason was that the series were originally created in colour, but only 1% of the population had colour TV these days, and the black&white TV’s could not reflect the futuristic world of the Jetsons. Once the majority of the population had colour TV’s, the series had great success in global scale. Uldrich concludes that the Internet of Things will change our lives as soon as all devices have the ability to sense the real world and be able to communicate each other.

The ‘things’ need a common language to communicate

The real value of the internet of things lies on the ability of devices to communicate each other, which requires a common language for communication. However, there is not a standardized protocol to enable the communication of the devices from different brands.

For instance, wearable health monitor of your grandmother will need to contact your mobile phone, hospital’s emergency department and her house’s door lock in case of an emergency. Your Siemens alarm clock should be able to communicate with your Bosch coffee maker,  Philips toaster and Vaillant boiler when you wake up.

 Privacy concerns

Alongside with its positive impacts , IoT also brings serious concerns on  privacy and security.

Currently, our privacy concerns are mostly related to the information we share through social media and various mobile apps. IoT will carry the privacy and security concerns on another level, as the smart things around us will collect and store more information than we share on any social network.

Providing privacy and security solutions is one of the biggest challenges ahead for the IoT to disrupt our lives.

At the next  post, we will talk about the major players and innovative startups on the IoT.

Want to hear more about the IoT ? Enjoy the following TED talk from Marco Annunziata, Chief Economist at General Electric.


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