The Internet of Things
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept gaining traction as a conversation point both in the workplace and out of it. It not only impacts how we live, but how we conduct our work. With the increasing availability of Wi-Fi and increasing potential for connectivity, technology costs are decreasing and smartphone penetration is at an all-time high, thus creating the perfect milieu for the IoT. The concept is simple enough. It basically comprises connecting anything with on/off switch to the Internet. This ranges from anything from cellphones, coffeemakers, washing machines, lamps to refrigerators. Literally anything you can think of. The result is a giant network of interconnected “things”.
Kevin Ashton coined the phrase “Internet of Things in 1999 while working for Proctor & Gamble. He went on to co-found the Auto-ID centre at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The question one tends to ask oneself, is why? Why connect these devices?
The reasons are diverse as the people connecting them. The potential is of epic proportions. For example, if your car had access to your calendar, it would already know the route to take for your 2pm meeting across town and factor in traffic and weather. The potential is there for your alarm clock to both wake you up at 6am and send a message to your coffee maker to start brewing. Work related applications could be that your printer would order new cartridges when running low on supplies.
Looking at the bigger picture, IoT can have value in “smart cities” where it can help reduce waste and improve efficiency of energy use. The reality is that IoT actually has endless opportunities and connections, most of which we can only imagine.
Applications of the Internet of Things
There are many IoT devices already in existence, but Nest is probably the most popular at the moment. Nest makes smart thermostats and smoke/ carbon monoxide detectors. It has just been acquired by Google for $3.2 billion.
The Smart Home is one of the most popular and most pertinent, as it is most affordable and readily available to consumers.
Wearables or smart watches can give you biometrics from your heart rate and activity, to sleep pattern as well as enabling text messaging and phone calls.
As mentioned previously, Smart Cities have the potential to transform entire cities by solving problems such as traffic congestion, noise reduction, crime and pollution.
Connected Cars have already become a fixture in some models. Having connectivity to the internet is no longer just for satellite navigation but can plan routes based on traffic congestion data and many more applications.
Benefits of IoT in Europe
Less than 1% of objects are currently connected to the Internet. It is projected that by 2020 connections within the EU will increase from 1.8million to 6 billion. This has a direct economic impact on the market, injecting more than one trillion euros by this time.
In addition to these economic benefits, it also has the potential to improve efficiency in processes, reduce the consumption of resources and energy, better consumer awareness and increased flexibility and sharing possibilities.
To put things in perspective, there are already IoT systems in place that improve Europe for example:
• Barcelona's Energy-Saving Smart Streetlights comprises sensors installed in streetlights, enabling automatic control of brightness by analysing the levels of noise, air pollution, and population density. The result is at least 30% energy saving per year
• UK’s Intelligent Transport System that Reduces Traffic Congestion. The UK built an responsive transport system on the M42 motorway that reduced travel time by 25% and traffic accidents by 50%
• In the Netherlands, IoT based solutions supporting health monitoring and independent living at home for people with multiple chronic conditions has demonstrated efficiency gains of care efforts of more than 20%
Germany specifically is at the forefront of implementing the Internet of Things. A recent survey showed that in German factories are leading the charge when it comes to automation and digital solutions.
The countries with the most IoT devices are currently Korea, Denmark, Switzerland, United States, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Spain, France, Portugal, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
Advantages of IoT
There are many benefits to having your devices connected to you, and interconnected with other devices. Some of the advantages include:
• Generation of data. The more information you are faced with, the easier it is to make the correct decision. For example, knowing what to buy when you at the grocery store without having to check yourself, saves time and is very convenient.
• Computers can keep track of the quality and viability of things in your home or work environment. For example, expiration dates on products, or supply levels in office machinery.
• The most popular benefit of IoT is that is saves time. Time is one of the most precious commodities and as life gets busier, the commodity we have the least of.
• IoT can actually save money by automating and replacing humans who are in charge of monitoring and maintaining supplies.
Disadvantages of the Internet of Things
Problems arising are generally that of security. With so many devices interconnected, how does one ensure security of information? Is it possible for someone to hack into your washing machine and thus gain access to your banking applications?
Secondary to security, is privacy and data sharing. Not only do companies have to deal with the privacy aspects of copious amounts of data produced, but they have to deal with this data somehow. Options on storing, tracking and analysing data need to be organised.
There is also the issue of compatibility of products which may have to be overcome with various adaptors and integration set ups. Additionally, the complexity of the systems may be a deterring factor.
The cost implications of this technology are also a limiting factor but as technology advances and becomes more affordable, IoT can become more accessible to the public.
Accelerators of Development
It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention and the same can be said for IoT. As the complexity of life increases, it is becoming harder for individuals to keep track of everything in their lives without help. Computers don’t get confused or forget and thus it seems that contemporary life is the accelerator for the development of this technology.
The realm of development at present seems to capture the attention of start-ups and these are driving the technological advancement of the field.
Opinions of IoT
IoT means many things to many different people depending on personal and professional needs. There have been a few famous stances taken regarding this technology that is worth noting.
"When I hear that five of the 12 most-sold connected objects in the United States are French, I have no doubts! I know France will be one of the world's top digital economies," - Hollande
• Barack Obama has embraced the notion of IoT and sees its potential to reindustrialise the American nation. He said “Together, we could open up government and invite citizens in, while connecting all of America to 21st century broadband. We could use technology to help achieve universal health care, to reach for a clean energy future, and to ensure that young Americans can compete - and win - in the global economy..."
• Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany fully supports the implementation of IoT technology and has said after a recent tour, “I think here is an exciting piece of German production for 'Industrie 4.0', we must develop this further, if we want to stay in front.”
• Vladimir Putin has always been reluctant to accept the pervasiveness of the Internet and expressly directed at the IoT, he stated his suspicions of increasing the security risk of cyber-attack by multiplying access points. “I think we should not control the Internet”
• Former French President Francois Hollande has recently opened a manufacturing facility for IoT devices. “When I hear that five of the 12 most-sold connected objects in the United States are French, I have no doubts! I know France will be one of the world's top digital economies," Hollande said.
• Xi Jinping, the President of China, delivered the keynote address at the World Internet Conference and although Chinese internet is amongst the world’s most restricted, he is an avid supporter of the IoT revolution. Although he advocates strict controls and management measures stating that "the relationship between freedom and order in an appropriate way."
Political Aspects of IoT
• The Social Democratic Party (SPD) advocates the modernization of the economy to meet the demands of globalization thus encouraging IoT development.
• The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is headed up by Chancellor Merkel who is a strong proponent for IoT.
• Free Democratic Party (FDP) is strongly pro-business party that promotes the free market economy and individual liberty and thus support the development of IoT technology.
• Piraten Partei opposes artificial monopolies and various measures of surveillance of citizens thus do not support IoT for the reason that it may be abused and pose security and privacy risks.
• Grünen party was originally formed for environmental activism but recently changed its pacifist ways. The party's main following comes from higher income households in urban areas which would be the consumer target market for this technology so it stands to reason that they would support the technology.
• Alternative for Germany Party (AFD) are a right wing party with a mistrust of the interconnectivity of objects due to privacy and security issues.
• Die Linke party is a democratic socialist and left-wing populist political party with deeply communist roots which has the estimation that the increased connectivity will overtake and overthrow capitalism with its increased efficiencies and lowering production costs.
It is extremely likely that Germany will invest further into the development of the Internet of Things. With current government already investing in IoT technology and leading the charge with regard to technology and its integration into daily life, it remains to be seen on which side of the fence the new government will fall. Merkel’s reign as Chancellor is currently under threat by the SPD and both support IoT. The only concern is that the whole world is making leaps and bounds toward this technology, and it seems prudent to do the same and embrace the changing landscape of interconnectedness.