Introduction To: The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) has been heavily touted as one of the next big things in the technology industry. But what exactly is the Internet of Things? Well, for the first in our series of Introduction to blog posts, we decided to answer that question and provide an introduction to an area of technology that could soon make a real impact, both at home and at work.
The Oxford English dictionary describes the Internet of Things as "The interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data". Simply put, IoT is putting computer chips and sensors in items such as traffic lights, air conditioning, lightbulbs and speakers so they can carry out actions based on their function and environment and "talk" to other devices, objects and systems, thus in theory making your life simpler and better in the process.
A current example of the IoT is the Nest Smart Thermostat. It allows you to set your desired temperature via your smartphone from any location with an internet connection, and it can also learn your routine and adjust the temperate automatically depending on whether you're in the house or not, or if you're awake or asleep. In theory, almost anything around you could become connected and part of the Internet of Things.
Before we go any further, we thought we'd look at some of the terms most commonly used when talking about IoT.
Dumb and Smart: A fridge with a computer screen on the front of it and that can take stock of your shopping and diet is a "smart" fridge. A regular, normal fridge is a "dumb" fridge. Smart can be put in front of anything, from a city whose streets, homes, buildings and transport systems have sensors and chips in them, to the cars driving through those cities that can interact with the world around them.
The term Home Automation is also used in reference to a smart home that features the control and automation of features and settings in the house.
M2M: Machine-to-Machine (M2M) simply means machines transmitting data to each other. This term is often used to describe the relationship between devices in IoT, with sensors and computer chips in one object talking to another.
Internet of Everything (IoE): This can be a little confusing as IoT and IoE are often interchanged in their use, but there is a difference between the two. While the IoT is focused on Things, IoE relates to the wider issue of connectivity that has come out of the development of the IoT. IoE includes Things, but it also includes People (e.g. health and fitness sensors), Data (e.g. temperature logs stored on the cloud from Smart Thermostats) and Processes (e.g. combining Data and Things to advertise relevant services to customers). The Internet of Everything was first coined by Cisco, and while some believe it's just a nice bit of phrasing and marketing by Cisco, others believe it is the more accurate term for what lies ahead for the IoT.
What the Future Holds
Emerging technologies always have a projected date for their widespread uptake, and for the IoT, the date is 2020. There are estimates that by 2020, there will be 24 billion IoT devices connected to the internet, compared to 10 billion for traditional computing devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Those figures, combined with the projected $6 trillion that will be spent on IoT solutions between 2015 and 2020, show that the Internet of Things is something to take seriously.
With smart devices already on the market, it seems inevitable that the IoT will soon become a standard part of everyday life. Amazon Echo and Google Home are both Home Automation Controllers that allow you to speak with an AI personal assistant and ask them to perform tasks, such as play music and search the internet. It's easy to imagine how these devices will evolve in the coming years, especially as more people invest in smart devices. But while asking a Home Automation system to stream a film to your television is a natural step forward, it's likely to be a bit longer until most people are living in fully automated houses that accept voice commands to lock doors and feed the cat.
And there is a larger, more immediate issue to resolve for the IoT: security. The 2016 hack of smart webcams and DVRs built by XiongMai Technologies was a clear indication that there is work to do to better secure smart devices before the IoT truly takes off. Privacy could also be an issue for smart devices, particularly in light of James Clapper, ex-Director of National Intelligence, admitting that smart devices may be used in the future for surveillance and location tracking. How the industry addresses these issues will determine the success of the IoT.
The Internet of Things has the potential to revolutionise the tech industry and change how we think about connectivity. According to tech expert and futurist, Daniel Burrus, "of all the technology trends that are taking place right now, perhaps the biggest one is the Internet of Things; it's the one that's going to give us the most disruption as well as the most opportunity over the next five years". Although issues and uncertainties remain with IoT, there seems to be a consensus that soon the world will become a lot more connected.