Machines watching our every move, making decisions that affect our lives—not in virtual reality but in real life. It all sounds like elements of a dystopian future, this Internet of Things. But just what exactly is it all about? Should people be worried?
In reality, the Internet of Things or IoT is not just a whimsical scenario for the future. It is already in use in our daily lives, and so far, the world has not ended yet. IoT works by gathering information from sensors in devices and using that data to form custom and efficient solutions to humanity’s problems. From the moment you wake up to your vibrating smart watch or phone, to the time you go back to sleep, IoT can help you achieve both your short-term and your long-term goals.
So how big is this IoT? According to a study by Cisco Systems, the number of “things” or devices connected to the internet will grow to be around 50 billion by the year 2020. That’s significantly more connected devices that there will be people.
Top tech companies are realizing the potential of IoT and are seriously betting on it, purchasing small IoT companies for hundreds and even billions of dollars. One example is Google’s purchase of Nest Labs, a company that manufactures smart thermostats.
What will the future look like with the rise of the Internet of Things? Here’s a small glimpse.
Climate control systems that automatically turn on while waiting for you to come home are already in use in some homes. Not only does it ensure that homeowners come home to a toasty warm or pleasantly cool home, it also controls the temperature while they sleep to save energy and at no inconvenience to people at all.
Wearable technologies such as smart watches that monitor vital signs are also already in use today. Although fitness and health are the main focus, these tools also often include other features such as communication, much like what smartphones offer.
Indeed, health and fitness is one major of aspect of human life where IoT can be utilized extensively. In Singapore, for example, urban planners have developed a system that allows patients to communicate with their healthcare providers. Physical therapy that utilizes web video now also allows non-mobile elderly individuals to perform their routine exercise at home without the need for actual physical therapists to be in the room with them.
The rise of the Internet of Things will also eventually lead to more smart cities. With over 65% of the world’s population living in urban areas, there’s certainly a need to optimize available resources. Smart cities aim to leverage IoT technologies to enhance efficiency of public services supported by existing wireless broadband solutions and information technologies in order to improve the quality of life for their citizenry.
In the field of energy conservation, innovative strategies can be as simple as replacing incandescent light bulbs with LED lights, using energy saving appliances, and deploying green energy equipment like solar panels. However, looking further ahead, more complex smart grids are where smart cities are really headed.
Smart grids are the cities’ answer to the increasing demand for energy. It’s reliable, efficient, and flexible in terms of network topology, and because it uses computerized and intelligent systems, cities will be much more capable in terms of automating and managing the increasing complexity of their modern electricity requirements.
Another sector in which IoT technologies can help in the future is traffic management. One of the most anticipated technologies is probably the public parking helper. Vehicles are equipped with sensors that communicate with the city’s surveillance system to find available parking for people.
Smart traffic management systems will also soon leverage IoT in controlling the flow of vehicles, preventing pile ups and traffic accidents through constant and real time data streaming.
The Internet of Things will work with big data, and with big data comes the responsibility of governments and the private sector in securing these large chunks of information to prevent them from being used by unauthorized entities. But even with the security risks, the idea of the Internet of Things leading to the dystopian rise of machines over humans still seems farfetched and exists only in the realm of science fiction.
In fact, the great potential of IoT as a tool for economic development and human progress is now only beginning to be realized.