Discussions about the Internet of Things (IoT) have been growing in popularity as of late, and for good reason: more internet-ready devices are hitting the market than ever before and most, if not all of these products offer consumers a whole assortment of exciting new features.
So what is the Internet of things?
Simply put, the Internet of Things is a network of internet connected devices sending and receiving data between each other. While it may seem trivial on the surface, the IoT has tremendous, real-world implications that will inevitably shape the future in ways that we have yet to imagine.
How Does the Internet of Things Work?
To understand how the Internet of Things works, it’s best to start with something that we’re all likely familiar with: the smartphones in our pockets.
Like a regular desktop or laptop computer, our smartphones are computerized devices that are capable of communicating and sharing data on the internet, which means that they can definitely be categorized as an IoT device.
As a matter of fact, our smartphones might just be the most sophisticated consumer IoT device on the planet, as they’re capable of performing a wide variety of functions, like making phone calls, SMS text messaging, multimedia sharing, and engaging with augmented reality.
However, IoT devices don’t have to be as sophisticated as a smartphone to be a member of the Internet of Things; indeed, many IoT devices are rather simple.
Take, for instance, the SmartFeeder 2.0: while feeding our pets isn’t exactly a chore, the Internet of Things is all about automating simple tasks so that we no longer have to worry about them.
With this device, pet owners can create a customized program that rations food throughout the day, and, when food starts to run out, pet owners will receive a notification on their smartphone that it is time to buy more food. Additionally, once the device’s food supply starts to run low, the device is capable of ordering more food directly from Amazon and having it delivered straight to your door.1
This functionality is made possible through the internet, and as more “things” receive internet connectivity, new and exciting automation opportunities will certainly come about for consumers.
IoT Applications for Consumers
In today’s consumer market, IoT devices are quickly becoming a staple among those with reliable internet connectivity.
From smart speakers to smart television sets, internet connectivity is quickly becoming a ubiquitous feature in new products and devices of all types.
Below are some of the most interesting examples of how consumers can make use of different IoT applications:
One type of consumer application for IoT devices that many of us are already familiar with is the Smart Home.
Smart homes aim to make our lives easier by automating many of the mundane tasks that often go along with living in a traditional home.
Tired of having to navigate your dark living room to find the light switch when you come home from work? With a smart home and various IoT technologies, like GPS location services, the lights in your living room can be automatically activated once your vehicle turns on your street.
How does this work?
First, the bulbs in your home would have to be “smart”, that is, capable of connecting to a home network of some sort, and second, you’ll need to have a GPS capable device, like a smartphone or even your car.
Using simple IFTTT statements and something like the Phillips Hue, programming such an event would be relatively simple thanks to the internet.
Smart home functionality doesn’t end there either, as smart wall plugs can automate tasks such as turning on your crock-pot, while other devices like smart thermostats can adjust the temperature of your home based on outside weather conditions.
One of the biggest IoT applications coming to market in the next several years is autonomous cars.
While current advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) offer safety features such as automatic braking, lane control, and collision warnings, these systems don’t offer true autonomy on their own.
For cars to be able to drive themselves, their “vision” needs to extend beyond their immediate surroundings; otherwise, it will be impossible to achieve absolute efficiency in tasks like traffic management.
To illustrate this point, consider a world where everyone owned an autonomous vehicle: if you wanted to go to a store on the other side of town, you would simply get in your car, inform the vehicle of where it is you want to go, and then the vehicle begins to move.
However, for the car to successfully navigate you to the store in the most efficient manner possible, it needs to not only be able to see the cars around it but also understand where every car is currently headed so that it can find the fastest route possible.
Theoretically, this sort of system would eliminate the need for infrastructure items like stop lights, as autonomous cars could simply plan their routes in such a way so that traffic never stops flowing.
To achieve this level of efficiency, autonomous vehicles will need to be connected to a high-speed network, like a 5G network, where data about exact location, speed, and planned route can be shared seamlessly between vehicles.
With this information on hand, true autonomy can be achieved, and the occupants of the vehicle can focus on more important tasks, like sleeping, work, or other productive applications.
One of the most important Internet of Things examples is healthcare.
As we can see from the previous examples, internet ready devices excel at aggregating data from a variety of sources and sharing it between devices.
Because of this dynamic, IoT devices stand to play a huge role in healthcare, as our own vitals are data points that can be monitored, uploaded, and analyzed in real-time with the right system in place.
Take for instance consumer wearables like smartwatches: most of these devices, like the Apple watch, are already capable of monitoring our heart rate, and in the future, it’s not hard to imagine a world, that, in case of a medical emergency, the smartwatch on your wrist will be able to contact a self-driving ambulance to your current location and transport you to the nearest hospital.
Internet of Things Challenges
Standing in the way of the Internet of Things becoming completely ubiquitous are two important challenges: internet connectivity and artificial intelligence.
5G Mobile Networks
For a network of IoT devices to flourish, there needs to a reliable and fast internet connection; however, depending on the location, a robust internet connection isn’t always available.
Cellular developers and other technology companies know how important the Internet of Things will be, and efforts are being made to ensure that there is enough internet connectivity to go around.
In just a few short years, 5G mobile connectivity should start to hit the mainstream markets, and with it, a new age of high-speed data transfers will become available to anyone with a modern smartphone.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
With everything connected to the internet, there is another serious problem that will have to be tackled: information overload.
For example, let’s revisit our previous examples of self-driving cars and healthcare.
While the idea of our roads filled with autonomous cars speeding to their desired destinations without the need of traffic lights is exciting, this type of functionality will not be possible without the right A.I system in place.
Additionally, with everyone wearing a health tracking device and sending their health metrics to their primary care physician, the amount of data being collected will quickly become too overwhelming for a nurse or doctor to review on their own.
The development of A.I and machine learning are critical to the development of the Internet of Things, because without these tools, real-time, intelligent decision making will simply not be possible due to the limitations of human beings.
The Future of IoT
In the future, it is likely that IoT technology will become a standard feature on all consumer products.
From autonomous cars to microwaves, it’s hard to envision the future without the internet flowing through everything we touch.
With this level of interconnectivity, a certain amount of automation is bound to occur, which will have both positive and negative effects.
There is a concern that the Internet of Things and automation will eventually lead to countless jobs being lost; however, as it is in any technological revolution, there will be an adjustment period where new opportunities for products and services requiring human labor will eventually emerge.
Additionally, there are countless IoT projects for both municipal and business purposes in development, which means that we’re likely to see a whole new wave of opportunities for people to apply the knowledge provided by our vast IoT networks.
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