Monday, April 20, 2015
It’s been hyped up as a revolution in the way we live our lives – a vision, a future scenario, and a “smarter” world. It’s the Internet of Things. Futurist and author Daniel Burrus (a native of Portland) wrote in Wired Magazine that, “of all the technology trends that are taking place right now, perhaps the biggest one is the Internet of Things; it’s the one that’s going to give us the most disruption as well as the most opportunity over the next five years.” And according to research from Toluna, the vast majority of women will embrace “connected living” and the Internet of Things compared to men. So just what is it? Here’s a run-down of key points on how the Internet of Things affects us now, and what the future might look when everyday devices are all connected.
1. What is the Internet of Things?
These “things” could be our cars, our smartphones, and even farm animals. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a collection of objects, whether manmade or found in the natural world, which can be embedded with Internet-connected sensors to enable them to talk to each other, gather information and analysis, and share that data with us. It’s enhanced machine-to-machine communication (M2M), and it’s projected to make all the things in our daily lives “smarter”, from home appliances and our clothing, to city infrastructure and the business sector. According to Gartner.com there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the Internet of Things by 2020. The IoT could make us wonder how we ever lived without the super-connectivity of our objects. But it could also lead us into a future where everyday devices are monitoring and running every aspect of our lives. Our privacy could be stripped away and exploited. Devices could become all too intelligent, perhaps even aware. If it sounds like a sci-fi movie, well, it’s not far off.
2. We’re already living it
It’s taking place right now, all around us. Companies have been working at this for decades to explore how sensors can make their processes more streamlined. Think about your smart devices – your phone, computer, tablet and smartwatch. These are just the tip of the iceberg of the IoT’s potential. While they’re certainly “connected”, they’re not “sensing” just yet. The fitness tracker is a prime example, as it tracks and analyzes your health and fitness activity, and even monitors your basic physiological state. Another example was the topic of last week’s column – the smart kitchen. And while some of us might have one or two of these devices, most of us haven’t yet rushed out to build an entire smart kitchen. But as the Internet of Things becomes more present in our daily lives, these “sensor devices” will become second nature.
3. IoT in your personal life
Going beyond the smart kitchen is the “smart home.” Imagine your devices gathering data about you and your behavior, and then analyzing that data to suit your personal situation. The Nest Learning Thermostat, for instance, knows when you’re home and can track your movements and adjust its temperature. It keeps you comfortable and cuts down on your utility bills. But it could evolve to know exactly where you are, based on your phone or your wearables, or even set up a home lighting system that works for you and your activities. Then there’s Ninja Block, a small device that acts a household protector. Through sensors it lets you know if a water pipe has burst, or a stranger has entered your home. Emerging IoT devices can also assess your backyard’s growth rate to keep your plants and lawn watered, as well as monitor your sleeping baby’s vital signs, and remind you to take your medicine, order your refills for you, and coordinate your next doctor’s visit.
4. IoT in the world outside
Self-driving smart cars will be connected to the “smart city grid” to eliminate traffic and accidents, while roads and bridges will detect ice or damage in their concrete and send that information to your car. Like the way the Internet changed the workplace, the IoT will take it to the next phase through smart machinery and inventory, saving time and resources. Your office could embrace improved security through sensors in doors and ID cards, or implement smarter presentations, printers and equipment – all making decisions on their own to fit the needs of the workplace. Picking up a few things after work? Your favorite shops could use sensors to detect how you’re engaging with their products and even the layout of the store. And moving beyond urban life to the environment, the IoT will expand to monitor pollution levels and track deforestation, endangered wildlife and water systems for contamination or flooding.
5. Women embrace IoT more than men
Back to Toluna’s research report, almost 9 in 10 American women (86%) plan to actively use the Internet of Things. Two in five ladies believe it will make them more efficient and less forgetful, while offering a streamlined and more organized lifestyle. More women, above men, would embrace connected household appliances that aid in day-to-day chores. The survey also revealed that 48 percent of women, compared to 37 percent of men, would adopt the IoT for healthcare, while 45 percent believe it would improve their social lives, by connecting them to ticketed events or restaurant reservations based on their tastes and habits. As could be predicted, Toluna also reported that two thirds of American women (70%) are concerned about their security within the IoT. 87 percent feared hackers, while 60 percent felt uneasy over its reliability. And what to do if the sensor-system malfunctions? 63 percent of women worried about being left stranded.
Melanie Sevcenko is a journalist for radio, print and online. She reports internationally for BBC World Service and Monocle Radio (M24) in the UK, and for Deutsche Welle in Germany. Melanie also reports for the online news source GoLocalPDX, in Portland, Oregon. Her work has been broadcast by CBC in Canada and the Northwest News Network, and published by Al Jazeera English, Global Post, Pacific Standard, the Toronto Star and USA Today, amongst others.