The Internet of Things: what is it and how will it change your life?
The Internet of Things is making big waves across homes, offices and cities. Tiny computers are finding their way into our light bulbs, fridges, cars, garages and other formerly dumb things.
Making them smart, these “things” can communicate with each other and us, so we can monitor what’s going on around home, our cars can report faults automatically and the world can run that little bit more efficiently.
The Internet of Things is everywhere
Things can range from your thermostat at home, a speed or battery monitor in a car, a temperature sensor in a cargo hold, a line of pollution sensors along a city road, rain or acidity sensors in farmers’ fields, or millions of other things, all providing data. They use mobile networks, Bluetooth radio or WiFi to send their data to your phone, keeping road managers or emergency services informed.
Any company operating an IoT service has a “big data” server or cloud computing network to collect all the data and feed back to people. Big data is used to describe this massive flow of regular information from potentially billions of IoT devices between our devices and computer systems. That data can be linked together to provide valuable information to users. These systems can monitor fleets of vehicles, environmental conditions around the world, energy use in neighbourhoods and much more. For us, they connect to smartphones or smart home hubs to provide us with information from energy saving tips to flood alerts or shopping bargains.
When cities become smart
A smart city is perhaps the ultimate ambition of the Internet of Things, bringing benefits to the population both large and small. On the roads, if there’s an accident, fire or flood, you won’t be stuck hearing about a blockage on the radio. Instead self-driving cars will be rerouted around town automatically, while manual car drivers will get updated GPS routes. If you need somewhere to park, the IoT will locate the nearest spot to your destination (and pay automatically for you). Citizens on foot will be warned about local pollution hot spots, and people having lunch in the park will be warned about UV radiation, incoming rain and so on.
Overall, city planners will see how people and vehicles move and will be able to better plan roadworks, building projects and improvements for their city. Benefits for us include being told about nearby bargains or new places that are opening of interest. IoT can provide city history tours, without the annoying guide and much more.
Big business benefits
Much of the IoT effort is to help improve business efficiency and improve customer services, billing and provide more accurate information for when we have to talk to them. The company can talk to their IoT products directly to find out what’s wrong, resolving problems faster. There are already IoT enabled fleets of cargo vessels that automatically talk to each other, suggesting route changes based on their local weather and sea states. Small savings in fuel use per vessel soon add up to huge savings.
Within the containers, sensors help producers ensure their goods remain at the ideal temperature, aren’t shaken up too much or remain untampered with as they travel the world on boat, plane and lorry. If there’s a problem, automatic replacements can be produced and dispatched.
If a business relies on any type of “dumb” digital product that currently requires an engineer to visit, they can create a tiny IoT computer and add it to the box. That little computer can send data back and be told automatically how to repair a range of problems. That helps reduce the number of engineer call-outs and also creates more information for the company to learn about likely problems, breakdowns and other issues with its products. This enables future generations of product to be more resilient and further reduce maintenance needs.
The IoT at home
The Internet of Things isn’t just about big business. Many of their ideas have trickled down to the home, while several small companies who started with smart home ideas are now working on business-class products. The smart home concept is an IoT that anyone can get their head around. The heating only comes on when the temperature dips below a certain point, saving money, controlled by a smart thermostat. This can show your energy use patterns and just how much money is being saved.
Similarly, lights will go off if there’s no one in the room for a fixed period, saving more energy. Smart home controllers can set particular lights to come on in the morning to help get everyone up. Smart locks and alarms can be activated as you leave home and disabled when you arrive back in the evening. If you’re away and someone calls, a smart door alarm can show video on your smartphone of who is there, and you can talk to the postman, courier or gardener. Meanwhile, if your smart fridge or washing machine goes wrong, it can remind you to book an engineer, or if it notices it is running low on something, it can remind you to restock, or even order for you.
All these benefits across the home, office or town can help save money on a personal or country level, improve efficiency and customer service, making the IoT one of the most valuable additions to our lives.
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