Internet of Things: Present and Future

Laura Goodrich Posted by Laura Goodrich.

Laura is cofounder of On Impact, an integrated content company that specializes in creating and producing videos, television, and multimedia content delivered over time to create sustained change and adoption of important leadership concepts.


Internet of Things: Present and Future

Internet of Things conference in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

You may not have heard of it yet, but you’ve almost certainly encountered the Internet of Things in action. This increasingly popular concept involves connecting inanimate objects to the Internet so that they can be monitored, adjusted and even controlled remotely. As newfangled as it may sound, the idea is hardly new. Discussion about the Internet of Things, or IoT, began way back in the early 1990s. It’s only now, however, that it’s really starting to happen. Before too long, it will have worked its way into just about everyone’s lives. Eventually, you’ll hardly remember a time that you lived without it.

What is the Internet of Things, Anyway?

The simplicity of the term “Internet of Things” belies a very complex idea. To put it in the simplest terms possible, the Internet of Things refers to a unified theory of connected life. In a way, consumers have moved beyond the physical realm by being connected to the Internet 24/7. Inanimate objects have been left behind, but it won’t stay like that for long. The main promise of the Internet of Things is that everyone will have constant, ongoing access to everything they own and use at some point. From refrigerators to home heating and cooling systems, these objects will loom larger in consumers’ lives than ever.

The Internet of Things is Already All Around You

Many people have encountered connected devices without realizing that they are part of the Internet of Things. As is often the case, companies and other organizations are at least a few steps ahead of the game. Why are they so eager to get on board with IoT? There’s the promise of making their products more useful and effective for consumers, of course, but there’s a lot more in it for them than that. After all, connected devices continually collect data, and that data can be used to improve products, track consumer activities and to perform a vast array of other functions that ultimately benefit a company’s bottom line.

So, how has the Internet of Things already touched our lives? Consider these examples:

Car Insurance

By agreeing to the installation of a dashboard camera, Progressive Insurance customers may qualify for reduced insurance rates. The program is known as Snapshot, and the dash cam collects a variety of data and sends it back to Progressive. From how quickly and frequently you slam the brakes to how fast and often you drive, the information that’s collected shows Progressive how safe – or not-so-safe – of a driver you are. This is a great example of the Internet of Things in action because it provides benefits to both the consumer, in the form of potentially lower rates, and the business, in the form of up-to-the-minute data collection.

Fitness

A great way to stay on top of your fitness regimen is by investing in a fitness-tracking device like a FitBit. These devices are ostensibly for personal use, but the data that’s collected can be used for a variety of other purposes. For example, health insurance providers could take a page from car insurance companies’ books by encouraging consumers to wear such devices in exchange for health insurance discounts.

Diagnostics

Preventative maintenance is the best way to ward off catastrophic breakdowns and malfunctions, but it’s not foolproof. The Internet of Things involves embedding actuators and other sensors into objects in order to monitor them, and that monitoring can just as easily be used for diagnostic purposes as well. For instance, John Deere already performs remote, wireless diagnostics on certain combines and tractors. Those machines alert the company and consumers when they are in need of repairs or maintenance, and preemptive steps can be taken to avoid more costly and involved repairs.

Home Appliance Monitoring

Not surprisingly, the thing that interests everyday people the most about the Internet of Things is the concept of being connected to household appliances at all times. Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest, a company that makes Internet-connected smoke detectors and thermostats, is proof positive that this will be the next big thing. Having the ability to adjust the thermostat wherever you are could help you drastically reduce the amount of energy you use, and the concept can just as easily apply to things like refrigerators. For instance, an IoT-enabled fridge could alert you when you’re running low on staples like eggs and butter and could even reorder them for you.

Traffic

A lot of work has already begun on connecting traffic-related devices to the Internet. From collecting tolls to enhancing the efficiency of parking lots, this technology could make consumers’ lives a lot easier. As far-fetched as it may seem, this could eventually lead to Internet-connected cars that are controlled remotely via the Internet. For instance, Google Maps could be used to direct a connected car to its destination.

Electricity

Smart electric grids are already being developed, and they are yet another example of the incredible possibilities of the Internet of Things. Such grids are capable of adjusting rates based on peak usage, which could help save a lot of energy while giving consumers more control and understanding over how they use energy and how much they pay for it.

Waste Management

At a certain point, the Internet of Things will touch nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s already being used to make waste management and recycling more efficient and effective. Since implementing a “pay as you throw” policy, which incorporates IoT-type technology, Cincinnati has seen residential waste volume drop by 17 percent and recycling volume increase by 49 percent. This program wouldn’t be possible without IoT.

Water Systems

People around the world are concerned about water conservation, and several major cities have put the Internet of Things to work on the problem. Through the use of sensors on pumps and other equipment, cities like Beijing and São Paulo are better able to prevent and contain leaks, which has reduced water wastage by 40 to 50 percent in many cases.

Moving Forward: The Internet of Everything

In many ways, the term “Internet of Things” is a bit archaic. After all, new technologies have made it possible to not only connect inanimate objects to the Internet but to allow people to engage with them in ways that were never imagined even just a decade or two ago. As a result, many are beginning to refer to the concept as “The Internet of Everything,” which more adequately reflects the fact that data, people, processes and objects are connected and accessible at all times.

Challenges

As exciting as the Internet of Things, or the Internet of Everything, may be, there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome. Data breaches and other security concerns are chief among them, but there’s also the fact that having everything monitored at all times leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths. For some, the idea of so much connectivity is too eerily similar to Big Brother. Still, as smarter products are developed and enhanced through continual connectivity, the benefits they provide will be tough for most people to resist. The fact that the Internet of Things offers so many exciting opportunities for brands means that it’s only going to become more popular. Work is already being done to overcome the challenges that are faced by IoT. As they are worked out, this technology will become all the more widespread and embedded into our lives.

Future is Here

Imagine telling your smartphone you want to make a certain recipe and having sensors and monitors tell you whether or not you have everything you need. If not, they can automatically order the missing items for you and have ready for pickup or delivery the same day. Your productivity will certainly increase, and the convenience of not having to do the legwork yourself is certainly enticing. The day when this will be possible is closer than you probably think, and it’s all going to be made possible by the Internet of Things.

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