What is the internet of things (IoT)? It is the network of physical objects or “things” embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator and(or) other connected devices. Excuse the jargon, I just came out of a Mechatronics Engineering exam Paper. A good illustration is like how a smart phone is able to send data to the manufacturer when the background data is on. These phones have close to 10 sensors that are able to capture anything from location to the device orientation to light conditions. Collectively, these sensors produce a huge amount of data, both in pictures or videos as well as GPS or acceleration data. The phone is usually in constant communication with external servers and the apps that you have installed, through its embedded computing system and is able to intero-perate within the existing Internet infrastructure. These devices collect useful data with the help of various existing technologies and then autonomously flow the data between other devices. All this data exchange is through the internet, no wonder they are ‘bundle hungry’ little monsters. This can be referred to as smart technology. In school , we defined smart materials as those that are able to relate with their surrounding and react to changes in their working environment. Machine communication through the internet concept is a couple years old, the first IoT device being a Coca cola vending machine that would enable people to connect to the machine over the internet, check the status of the machine and determine whether or not there would be a cold drink awaiting them, should they decide to make the trip down to the machine. Devices and machines have been very much dependent on human beings for operation and information for a long time. The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy. This means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world. If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things and using the data they gathered without any help from us, we would be able to track and count everything and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling and whether they were fresh or past their expiry dates. In the not so distant future, every object in your life will be online and talking to one another. It’ll transform the way we live and work. For example your alarm clock might be able cross-reference traffic flow so if it’s light, you get to sleep an extra 10 minutes. I’m a heavy sleeper, that’s the best example I could think of at the moment. Once it goes off, your alarm might be able to trigger more ‘things’ like switch on your lights. If we think of today’s internet it is metaphorically about the size of a golf ball, tomorrow’s will be the size of the sun. Within the coming years, not only will every computer, phone and tablet be online, but so too will every car, house, dog, bridge, tunnel, cup, clock, watch, pacemaker, cow, streetlight, bridge, tunnel, pipeline, toy and soda can, you name it. Two years ago about 13billion devices had online properties so come 2030,we might be looking at 50 billion plus. This is the promise of the internet of things (IoT), a rapidly emerging new paradigm of computing that, when it takes off, may very well change the world we live in forever. It will be as if the Jetsons era has finally arrived.
Almost everything will have a mind of its own. Say, a fridge will know exactly when it was manufactured, the names of the people who built it, what factory it came from, and the day it left the assembly line, arrived at the retailer, and joined your home network. It will keep track of every time its door has been opened and which one of your kids forgot to close it. Buildings will know every person who has ever worked there and streetlights every car that has ever driven by. In the future all objects may become smart; in fact much smarter than they are today. It will open a whole new world that I can’t possibly write about. I thought digital migration was a revoluton but no, that was just a system falling into place in readiness for IoT. This could be like the 2nd coming of Christ in the world of computers. It will be just as the introduction of electricity was astonishing in its day. Just like electricity can kill, IoT too has its demerits. Before we add billions of hackable things and communicate with hackable data transmission protocols, important questions must be asked about the risks for the future of security, crime, terrorism, warfare and privacy. When Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk all agree on something, it’s worth paying attention. In the next post I’ll tell you what it is and why you also should.