IoT seems to be one of the biggest tech related buzzwords nowadays. We hear and see about it everywhere. Although it seems to be ubiquitous, not everybody understands what it is and more importantly how it is impacting our daily life today and how it will reshape our world in the future.
Estimations say that by end of this year more than 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet. This huge number just confirms that IoT isn’t just a new trend but that it is already affecting our day-to-day and will continue to do so in the near future.
As a confirmation of its strength we can look at its market capitalization, as the saying goes «put your money where your mouth is». In this regard, IoT is on the increase too, its global market is on track to reach $520 billion by 2021, representing a growth of about 50 percent in each successive year since 2017. But besides the astonishing numbers and projections, first of all, we should know the answer to a basic question.
What are we talking about when we talk about IOT?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects “Things” that use sensors to capture data and have embedded connectivity to exchange information over the internet to drive new value creation. ‘Things’ are pieces of hardware, such as sensors, actuators, gadgets, appliances, or machines that are programmed for certain applications and can transmit data. Connected objects (or things) share data with each other and operate without any intervention by humans.
Internet of Things first surfaced in the year 1999 when Kevin Ashton, a British entrepreneur, came up with the concept while working in the lab. We are entering an era where there will be a very advanced connectivity amongst network, systems and devices which will go beyond the application of human- to-machine and machine-to-machine communications. The development of ‘Smart Cities’ and ‘Smart Grid’ will witness the implementation of loT in several ways.
Internet of Things has already begun changing the world and will continue to do so in the near future. We can begin to understand the level of impact and disruptive nature of IoT when it is combined with data analytics and AI which allow “things» to use the information that they or other things gather to make decisions for themselves without any human interaction.
How is IoT changing our lives?
IoT is changing different aspects of our day to day life, here are some examples:
IoT technology is making our homes smarter and more comfortable but more importantly is improving their efficiency when we consider both the money we can save and the impact on the environment that can be greatly reduced.
These are some examples of the devices that are already available:
- Smart home hubs like Apple HomeKit Framework, Amazon Alexa, Google Nest and many others are the best examples of how IoT is present in our homes to help us manage lighting, heating, cooling and many other day-to-day needs using our voice or even when we are not home. Have you ever been on vacation wondering if you’d left a window open for thieves and rain to breach or forgotten to turn off the AC or the lights? With these IoT powered assistants you can quickly check and correct these situations that troubled us in the past but will soon be history.
- Google’s Nest thermostat is not only controlled from anywhere but also it learns by itself by following your daily routine and change the temperatures of your home without bothering you. For example, if you set a given temperature at night continuously for 7 days, then this device learns that and automatically lowers the temperature at night. It can also detect when someone enters or leaves a room in order to activate or de- activate the temperature control. This tool is real handy for energy and money saving.
- Smart Appliances: There are all sort of smart appliances like stoves, refrigerators, washers/dryers & coffee machines. Just to name a few:
- Intelligent light bulbs, linked with your mobile phones, you can now control the intensity and even the color of lights at your fingertips. Instead of going for different watt/color of bulbs to suit the mood and the environment, simply change the intensity from dim to medium to full using your phone. These bulbs can be programmed to get dim at night, also they can work as an alarm by setting it in blinking mode on any intruder detection.
- Smart refrigerators not only inform you about the consumed items or empty bottles in the fridge but also can be configured to order them online before they run out.
- Smart security systems: There are multiple smart security systems, smart locks, and smart doorbells available in the market. Here are some examples:
- Google Nest’s security kit is an accessible security related IoT device that you can easily install at home by yourself and also control with your mobile devices even when you are not at home.
- Eyelock creates iris-based identity authentication technology. It’s suite of IoT products serves the automotive, financial, mobile and healthcare sectors.
- Simplisafe makes wireless/cellular home security systems that are disaster-ready, protected against power outages, operate on extra- secure networks and employ deep encryption. The company’s Glassbreak sensors can differentiate between types of shattering — say, a broken bottle versus a broken window pane.
Smartwatches are probably the most common wearable devices nowadays, Apple Watch being the clear market leader. Besides Apple’s device there are multiple Android compatible Wear OS watches like Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, Fitbit Versa, Garmin and many others. These are their most interesting features:
- Deliver different vibrations to your wrist to tell you if you should turn right or left when following directions.
- Most of them have a “Find Phone” feature, you can connect your phone or any device with it and you will be able to ring it through your watch whenever you wish.
- They can count steps, distance, calories, heart rate, pulse rate, sleep and some even go beyond this to calculate other important metrics you might need.
- Receive calls or reply to messages on the go.
- Some watches also have voice support allowing you to interact with Siri, Alexa and Google assistant.
Ralph Lauren has launched the Polotech Shirt for athletes and became a pioneer to bring IoT in clothing industry (smart clothes). This shirt can record the biometric readings of athletes like heart rate, calories burned, activity levels, breathing depths etc. and can help them to deliver their best performance. It can be connected to the Apple watch or an iPhone, and can track & record all the activities in your phone.
Mimo – Smart baby monitoring uses a smart, washable crib sheet to show parents their baby’s sleep activity and movement on their smartphone or tablet.
Sense – Sleep Tracker is packed with sensors that monitor the conditions of your bedroom, giving you unparalleled insight into how temperature, humidity, light, sound, and even air quality affect how well you sleep.
IoT enabled cars rank among the most exciting opportunities in the whole ecosystem. We’re seeing already that Siri and Alexa can talk to us in the car just as if we were at home, in parallel, an entire ecosystem is forming around creating applications and services to enhance (and monetize) the connected car space. The promise of connected cars can be divided roughly into two communications technologies with distinct benefits for consumers:
- Vehicle-to-infrastructure V2I: Stream diagnostic data to an auto service center, and help locate and reserve vacant parking spots.
- Vehicle-to-vehicle V2V: Powered by high-speed, high-bandwidth in- vehicle networks, cameras and radar, V2V will let cars avoid collisions, streamline traffic and become autonomous in just a few years.
Automated driver assistance ADAS and the self-driving car AV further leverage connectivity to make the connected car increasingly compelling.
These are some of the companies that are changing the car manufacturing landscape:
- Tesla car is a really big achievement in this field. Imagine that a car automatically opens the garage door before you arrive at home and you can remotely control the temperature, lights and charging of the car. This car has all these features. It also has an App framework where you can build your own app to control the car and know its speed, location and battery status from anywhere. It can upgrade itself automatically by downloading and installing the latest firmware and software. The car can even fix a service schedule at the car service station by itself.
- Airbiquity is a software and engineering company that provides over-the- air OTA updates and data management services for connected cars. Airbiquity users can choose to have family or friends automatically and immediately notified in the event of a crash.
- Dash’s free app for iOS and Android receives data from a variety of sensors to keep you informed about your car’s current status and immediate or future maintenance needs. The company’s app has a parental control function that allows parents or caretakers to get email alerts if a young driver exceeds set thresholds or tries to circumvent them.
- Zubi offers real-time GPS fleet tracking while monitoring vehicle health and driver performance. If a driver is in the habit of braking hard or accelerating rapidly, that information can be used to have them avoid potential accidents and increase fuel efficiency.
The Internet of Things has massive potential for bringing diagnostics and disease management into the modern age. Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices at home and in hospitals are already being used to improve safety and efficiency in social and health care. The impact of IoMT can be seen in multiple fronts:
- Real time monitoring and reporting: In case of a medical emergency, such as heart failure, diabetes, asthma attacks etc., real-time tracking with connected devices can save lives. With real-time monitoring of the condition in place using a smart medical device connected to a smartphone app, connected devices can collect medical and other health data required and use the smartphone’s data connection to transfer the information collected to a physician.
- Remote medical help: In case of an emergency, patients can use a smart mobile app to contact a doctor who is several kilometers away. With mobility solutions in healthcare, physicians can check patients instantly and identify on-the-go ailments.
- Research: IoT may also be used for research purposes in the health care sector. It is because IoT allows us to collect a massive amount of data about a patient’s disease that would take many years if it were to be collected manually. This collected data can thus be used for statistical study, which would support medical research.
- Promotion of preventive care: Since health care costs are projected to grow unmanageably in the future, mitigation has become a focus field. The universal access to high-fidelity, real-time data on the wellbeing of each patient would improve health care by helping people live healthier lives and prevent disease. IoT can improve patient satisfaction by optimizing the operative workflow
- Contact tracing: Even though not specifically related to health care, there are on-going efforts to develop contact tracing solutions to enable companies to get workers to work during the Covid-19 pandemic. Folder IT is actively working on such solutions that combine radio frequency enabled wearable devices and different cloud IoT platforms like AWS IoT Core, Azure IoT Hub and Losant IoT.
The biggest challenges
All the amazing features and life improvements that IoT gives us are not free of risks and challenges, some of them being:
- Keeping IoT hardware updated
- Overcoming connectivity issues
- Waiting for governmental regulation and standards
- Data privacy
Among these the most concerning are security and data privacy, the more IoT devices dominate our day-to-day life the more exposed we are. The convenience these devices offer comes with a price: insufficient security measures, vulnerabilities, and the risk of your data being compromised.
There are some basic security measures that you can take if you already have an IoT device at home:
- Always change the default password on your devices. In some cases, devices of the same maker/model may come equipped with the same default password. This means that if you buy the same device as your neighbor, their device could have the same password, making both devices easy targets for cybercriminals!
- Turn off or disable any features that you don’t need.
- For devices capable of using third-party applications, only use legitimate applications from valid vendors.
- Keep the device firmware and applications up-to-date for the device to be protected against known security vulnerabilities.
- In terms of setting up applications on devices, review the permissions they require and limit the access given to these apps.
A more complex issue is related to PII (personally identifiable information), we have recently seen that the personal information shared in social media has been used for obscure purposes. Think of the Cambridge Analytica scandal related to Donald Trump’s and Brexit’s campaigns. The more connected we are, the more data we share and the higher the risk that this data is exploited, traded and used for multiple purposes. In the near future, it will be critical to have strong regulations to protect all our data from being misused and to ensure that we can benefit from all the wonders that IoT technology provides without giving up our privacy and freedom.