“There is no stopping it,” said Joe Tucci, CEO of EMC
“The internet of things is coming, and you better disrupt or prepare to be disrupted.” -PCWorld
We all know that the Internet is one of the most important and transformative technologies ever invented. It is like a digital fabric that is woven into our lives in one way or another. It is something that we cannot imagine our lives without in this digital era. If we look back, it is only 25 years ago that the first ever web browser was developed and now we see that we have a digital universe of information freely available to us. A current estimate says that it is roughly 4k million terabytes in size. In the present day, we have our devices like our smartphones which can access this digital universe from anywhere and at any time. With over 90% of the world’s land service now having a phone signal, it is truly a global phenomenon. Internet has truly had a life changing impact on our society and our individual lives in just less than 25 years’ time.
Just when you thought that there could be nothing bigger than the internet, I would say hold your breath because we are now about to embark on the next step with the internet and the web and all the current forecasts are that it will make the current internet and its impact on our society look trivial. It is being called the fourth industrial revolution – The Internet of things (IoT). In this, we connect the physical world to the internet. When I say ‘things’, it literally means anything and everything – the things we encounter in our daily lives, the machines and appliances we use in our jobs and at home, the buildings we live in, the cars we travel in and even we ourselves constitute the ‘things’ on the Internet of Things. IoT adds a level of digital intelligence to these ‘things’ that would be otherwise dumb, enabling them to communicate without a human being involved, and merging the digital and physical worlds.
Imagine you forgetting to switch off your geyser or air conditioning at your home and remembering this only when you have driven far enough in your car that you practically don’t feel like coming all the way back to switch them off. In this helpless situation, you often wish technology had come far enough for you to be able to operate your household appliances by the click of a button being far away from home. How cool would it be if I say you can do that using an application on your smartphone itself or by the press of a button on your car music system? I know, you may not believe me and may think that I am being way too optimistic but I am quite excited to tell you that this is very much possible with the rise of IoT.
As a technology enthusiast, the first question that comes to my mind is “How does it technology work?”
Let’s take an example – Suppose that you are out of town for a few days and you have forgotten to park your car inside your garage and left it outside your house. Now you would definitely start to feel insecure about it and you want to know from anywhere in the world whether your car is being driven or stationary and who is driving it. Now to get an answer to that, your car would have to be turned into a ‘smart car’ equivalent to a smart object in the internet of things. How do you that? First of all, your car has to be given a unique identification so that you could single out your car from all other cars in the world. And the current addressing protocol for the internet IPv6 effectively gives you a unique identity without any practical limit. The next step is to make sure that your car is able to communicate which effectively is wireless communication these days. The third step is that you need to give your car a few ‘senses’. The car should be fitted with sensors which tell you something about the car or something about the environment in and around it. In this case if you use the accelerometer of your car as the sensor, you can get the information of whether it is moving or stationary. Along with that, if you use a little RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag reader, then the tagged person who is sitting on the driving seat of the car is identified. Then you can use a simple application on your smartphone anywhere in this world and you can easily know this information. The final thing which you would wish to do in such a situation is to reach out and control your car from being anywhere in this world. This can be done using very small embedded electronic circuits which are becoming smaller and cheaper with every passing day.
The next big question which arises is “What can you do using this technology?”
The first thing is that you will be able to connect with ‘things’ and learn about these ‘things’ in a completely new way. In internet of things, your smartphone can help you learn about different things if you just walk upto it and point your smartphone in that direction. For example if you want to learn about a packet of food in the supermarket, you can simply walk upto it and pointing your smartphone towards it, you can easily learn about its ingredients, dietary, allergy advice and what not. The second thing is that IoT allows you to reach out, monitor and observe things. Let’s say you have a heart problem. You can wear a wireless cardiac monitor that is commonly used in hospitals these days and is web linked. So your smartphone which has a cardiac application can monitor your heart’s rhythms and give you early warnings. With the number of people above the age of 65 set to double in the coming years, e-health and telemedicine are going to be big applications for the IoT. The third thing which you can do using IoT is to search for things. Instead of using Google just to search this digital universe of information, you can do really useful things like ask Google “Where are my keys?” because your keys are tagged locatable objects on the IoT. Additionally, if you know what your ‘things’ are doing or how they are feeling or where they are located, then you can also manage your ‘things’ using the IoT. For example – 51% of the world’s population now live in cities, so we need a better way of managing our cities which are quickly becoming megacities. If you know where vehicles are located and where they want to go, you can manage your traffic better and avoid congestion. If you know where energy is flowing and you can predict where energy is utilized, you can be more energy efficient and make better use of renewables. If you know where the citizens of your smart city are and what they are upto, then you can better look after the safety and security of all your citizens in your city. Last but not the least, IoT allows you to control ‘things’. An example for this would be the use of smart-meters in homes. These are meters that communicate between the appliances in your home and the power grid. Suppose you put your clothes for a wash in your washing machine, then you don’t have to decide when it’s to be turned on, the power grid does. You can communicate directly to the grid what kind of electricity you would like to use whether be it green electricity or any kind of electricity that is the cheapest. Then the grid will decide based on balancing the load, on energy efficiency, on using renewables when your wash should actually go on. In a way you sacrifice some of the controls of the washing machine in the interest of getting cheap electricity and in the interest of better society.
What is the future for Internet of Things?
As the price of sensors and communications continue to drop, it becomes cost-effective to add more devices to the IoT — even if in some cases there’s little obvious benefit to consumers. As the number of connected devices continues to rise, our living and working environments will become filled with smart products — assuming we are willing to accept the security and privacy trade-offs. Some will welcome the new era of smart things. Others will pine for the days when a chair was simply a chair. If I had to make a prediction regarding the future of IoT, I would say that whatever we think about it and whatever way we think it will turn out, get used to it because it’s already happening. Every major government and every major economic block is investing heavily in the IoT. There are already hundreds of millions of ‘things’ connected to the internet and we are heading towards hundreds of billions or possibly even trillions. It will definitely change our lives and it already is to some extent and if the change is for the common good, then I think we all should support this wonderful technology.