08 August 2016

DIGITAL - The Internet of Things: What's Next?

The Internet of Things (IoT) promises smart systems for consumers, businesses, and governments – a growing network of objects connecting and communicating with each other in response to the people using them.

This network of devices already includes wearables such as smartwatches, fitness trackers, and health monitors, nearables such as app-interactive cars, voice-responsive appliances, and home automation systems, and more remote applications such as the many sensors and devices that make up smart cities.

The future of the Internet of Things is, in some ways, easy to predict. It will continue to grow, with an estimated 38 billion connected devices by 2020, giving users more along the existing trajectory of connectivity and data collection.

But knowing that it will continue to grow doesn’t mean knowing how and in what directions it will grow.

Although much of the infrastructure is already in place, accessibility and reliability are ongoing issues and will demand creative answers that may further revolutionize the Internet of Things.

New devices, and new ways to use existing devices, mean that change happens rapidly and sometimes unpredictably.

The coffee pot is an example of the trajectory of the Internet of Things.

In 1991, even before the World Wide Web, the Trojan Room Coffee Pot inspired the first Internet of Things application. Using a video frame-grabber, a camera, and some newly written programs, students at the University of Cambridge were able to check whether there was coffee in the pot before making the trek to the machine.

The Trojan Room Coffee Pot inspired the development of the first web cam, and coffee technology continues to develop.

Coffee pots today are wifi-connectable, programmable, and can be controlled by alarm clocks or phone apps. Coffee-addicted nerds know where their priorities lie.

That’s the fundamental principle behind the Internet of Things – the idea that devices can collect data that allows users to be more efficient, more informed, and better able to access what they need or want.

Whether it’s coffee or consumer data, the Internet of Things will give users more of it, more efficiently, using more devices connected in creative ways.

Data is the lifeblood of the Internet of Things.

Home automation relies on devices collecting and conveying data about use habits, and adjusting lights, temperature, locks, humidity, and a variety of other factors in response.

Smart cities similarly rely on use data to help governments provide services more effectively. Traffic control is one area where the data collected through the Internet of Things impacts civic planning – the road sensors, connected cars, even drivers’ phones providing GPS information all combine to give governments a better idea of how roads are used and how best to manage them.

It doesn’t stop with traffic control, though. The Internet of Things will impact every aspect of modern life, and already does.

Sensors in fridges will be able to tell when the milk has gone off, sensors in airports will be able to determine the presence of dangerous substances, cars (such as the Tesla) will continue to become more and more connected and data-loaded.

Humans are already surrounded by things, and those things are beginning to connect to each other in ways that will make life interesting, exciting, and potentially very risky.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

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