A few short years ago, a futuristic network of interconnected smart gadgets could have been the subject of a science-fiction novel. However, thanks to the wider availability of broadband Internet and wireless devices, that network — known as the Internet of Things (IoT) — is now more fact than fiction.
To put it in its simplest terms, the Internet of Things is a wireless network connecting smart tools and devices to each other and to the Internet. The IoT can be utilized to make life faster, easier, and more efficient. From devices like the Nest Learning Thermostat to Google’s upcoming smart car, the IoT has become so ubiquitous that you have probably interacted with it on some scale without even realizing it. And these modern devices are just the start — the world is only becoming more interconnected.
Here’s a closer look at the IoT and what its current and future applications could mean for you.
Understanding the Internet of Things
The key to the Internet of Things is data collection — specifically, data about individual uses, user habits, and predictive factors. Every time a smart device is used, it can gather and analyze information to create a better user experience. That collection and analysis generally occurs as follows:
- Usage: On the most basic level, IoT devices gather data around individual use cases. If you turn your smart thermostat down tonight, for example, the device will log that temperature change and when it occurred.
- Habits: Once a device has collected information from several individual use cases, it can start to analyze that data to recognize user trends or habits. If you turn the temperature down on your smart thermostat every night when you get home from work, the device can start mapping that trend.
- Predictive Factors: Finally, smart devices analyze contextual factors around trends to preemptively meet future user needs. For example, after a week or so of you regularly turning your thermostat down right after you’ve pulled into the garage, your smart thermostat may start pulling data from your smart garage door to trigger an automatic temperature decrease — you won’t have to lift a finger.
This type of data collection and analysis can be done by myriad smart devices for a range of functions. A smart coffee maker can gather information about how and when you take your morning brew, making a perfect pot right when you wake up.
On a larger scale, a store’s POS system can log the items you buy, comparing them against other consumer purchases to predict what products you may need in the future. The possibilities for IoT application are endless.
The Next Step for the IoT
With so many devices already connected to the Internet and to each other, what’s next for the Internet of Things? The answer lies in sensor technology.
Sensors can collect and broadcast information that different devices can interpret differently. For example, a smart sensor built into a bridge could hypothetically sense freezing temperatures and ice formation, and it could then use that data to notify approaching drivers of icy conditions, communicate with a navigation app to reroute commuters around the hazardous stretches, and inform authorities of needed roadway attention.
As sensors develop and more data is collected, even more devices of all types will be connected to the IoT network, leading to more automation. Just a few years ago, all focus was on smart homes or smart offices — now, companies and government bodies are working to create smart cities. In the next decade or two, you could feasibly see smart cars being driven down sensor-monitored roadways, complete with smart traffic lights and automated emergency services.
New Risks from Interconnectivity and Automation
Unfortunately, the journey to an efficiently automated world isn’t without obstacles. There are some potential downsides to this process, a few of which in particular stand out:
- Data Breaches: All the data being stored in and around automated devices could be vulnerable to security breaches as a result of hacking — a fact that cybercriminals are already starting to take advantage of.
- Lack of Routine Variation: The Internet of Things might make it difficult to easily change your daily schedule, as most of the current technology revolves around replicating routines automatically.
- Overreliance on Machines: As tasks like driving become safer through automation, it’s possible that doing such things manually may become more difficult — and possibly even illegal — as people come to rely more on their smart devices.
Whatever the downsides might be, the growth of the Internet of Things is showing no signs of slowing down.
These technological developments are sure to bring big societal changes with them. It is important to remember, though, that many of these changes will help make life more convenient and more efficient.