The term Internet of Things (IoT) is thrown around quite a bit these days so I thought I’d write a general introductory-level post today. Let’s start with defining the term. Engineers would argue that the IoT refers to a network of physical objects that are embedded with electronics in order to exchange data with manufacturers, operators or other connected devices. While each of these devices has a unique identity, it also is able to operate within the existing infrastructure provided by the Internet.
This goes beyond basic machine-to-machine communications, and covers a number of protocols and applications that are only now emerging. These new devices and increased connectivity may show a great deal of promise, but there are also some caveats that people should heed as technology moves forward.
Consumer-level Applications of IoT Devices
Home automation is the field that has seen the most explosive growth in the field of IoT devices, but it’s not the only consumer sector that this technology will influence. For instance, these devices will bring large changes to medical and healthcare services. IoT devices can function as emergency notification systems and remote health monitoring aids. Wearable heart monitors and connected pacemakers might allow doctors to keep an eye on patients who aren’t in their vicinity (i.e. remote medical care).
Eventually this might allow hospitalized patients to recover in their own homes, since all monitoring equipment will be connected to the Internet and report vital signs automatically. That might eventually translate into fewer patients in hospitals, which would free up beds as well as allow people to convalesce in more comfortable and familiar surroundings.
Large Scale Applications
Environmental monitoring is a field that IoT is already starting to impact, despite the fact that most media attention has remained focus on smart-meters and similar devices. Air, water and soil conditions can be monitored via remote sensing stations, which allows scientists to keep a closer eye on changing conditions in obscure areas. Networks of digital seismographs will eventually allow cities to develop better earthquake warning systems than are currently in place.
Large manufacturing plants will also be transformed by this technology. Network control and management of equipment in facilities is an important aspect of smart manufacturing. Managing supply chain networks and machinery is currently something that many businesses spend a great deal of money on. That’s now changing because of remote equipment, which streamlines the entire process.
Challenges Associated with IoT
Space consideration is a major issue. The Internet has been primarily used to manage information that’s parsed by people, so things like geographic location haven’t been as important to date. Machines will have to be monitored more closely, so this kind of data will have to be tracked. Devices too close to other devices may start to malfunction as well.
Users are increasingly concerned that their devices could track them (with reason), and the fact that this information is being monitored increases that concern. Machines could theoretically reveal data to manufacturer monitoring stations without users’ knowledge of what they’re sharing.
That brings up a whole number of privacy issues. Some technologists feel that a mass of interconnected digital devices will eventually begin to illustrate some of the attributes associated with sentience, and the collective number of IoT devices might someday act as a giant organism. This calls into question the ethics of whether or not such an organism can morally be used as what amounts to a giant electronic slave.
Security is going to be a major issue as well. Organizations are struggling to combat hackers and viruses already. What will happen with billions more devices are brought online? The challenges associated with keeping data and devices secure will be increasingly difficult as the IoT becomes reality.
One of the larger consequences of this type of technology will increasingly impact the funding markets as well. Some estimates place the potential IoT marketplace in the $trillions (with a “t”). A number of new IoT focused startups are popping up over the place, and they’re poised to evolve within the IoT marketplace as it continues to emerge. I would imagine that capital will increasingly pour into this sector in the near-term future, but I could be wrong. Insufficient capital in the market could impact the rate of IoT adoption as well.
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