Thursday, 26 June 2014

How the Internet of Things Will Change Your Life (Whether You Know it or Not)

Tech is full of buzz words and hyperbole, from Software-Defined Networking to Social Media Marketing, the Cloud, and the Internet of Things.
All of those are huge, but you have to cut through a lot of frosting before you get to the cake.
The Internet of Things, frequently shortened to IoT (and sometimes called the Internet of Devices, or IoD), has huge implications, but a good number of people are fuzzy on the details and implications, even if they’ve heard the term repeatedly.
McKinsey Global Institute’s Disruptive Technologies Report cites the Internet of Things (IoT) as a top disruptive technology trend that will have an impact of as much as $6 Trillion on the world economy by 2025, with 50 billion connected devices!
Many are predicting 20 or 25 billion connected devices by 2020 alone.

First Things First: What Exactly is the Internet of Things?
In its paper, “The Digital Agenda for Europe,” the EU states that the Internet of Things is

  • Facilitating object and data reuse across application domains
  • Leveraging on hyper-connectivity, interoperability solutions and semantic-enriched information distribution, and
  • Incorporating intelligence at different levels, in the objects, devices, network(s), systems and in the applications for evidence-based decision making and priority setting.
That’s a dense and complicated description, so let’s simplify it a bit at the risk of accuracy.
Simply put, the Internet of Things (IoT) means connecting billions of internet-enabled objects to each other and allow them to share information. 
The IoT is already here in a basic form.

From RFID to Context-Aware IoT
The first iteration of the IoT used basic technology for tracking, such as barcodes and RFID tags, like you might see at a warehouse.
The second and current wave of IoT has been a move towards connecting sensors mounted on machinery to software for a greater level of interaction. This has also been called M2M, meaning machine to machine communication  
An example of the purpose of this would be when a vehicle’s computer gets a warning from an engine sensor, it can send the driver a notification and slow down the available safe speed of the car until the problem is fixed and the software is subsequently reset at a dealer.
The next wave of IoT has been variously dubbed “Context-Aware IoT” or “Cognitive IoT”.
Context-Aware computing refers to devices that can sense and react based on their environment. The sensors only share what’s relevant to the given situation rather than sharing every piece of data.
BlackBerry is launching a series of projects called Project Ion for the IoT, which will do just that.

…And This Affects Me How?
So why would we want to connect up billions of devices and allow them to share data?
A great case study for Context-Aware IoT can be found in the healthcare industry.
A wearable device could act as a health monitor and advise us to take a timeout because of mounting stress, or offer advice at meal time on what we should eat or drink based on dietary restrictions or special needs.
It can offer real-time remote health monitoring of hospital out-patients and in the case of a real medical emergency, it could offer the medical services vital information on the condition of the patient. Think a Medic-Alert bracelet with a brain.
Notably there was recent news of a corporate partnership between BlackBerry and NantHealth, a cloud-based medical IT provider pioneering the delivery of healthcare through real-time connectivity. This collaboration could deliver on the promise for better health management for all of us.
The companies intend to collaborate on the development of HIPAA and other government privacy-certified integrated clinical systems to transform the delivery of medical care.
This collaboration could be the first step towards an end-to-end secure health monitoring system, saving thousands of lives and millions of dollars by proactively monitoring the health of citizens on the go.
Other application areas include transit, utilities, retail, security and home controls.

IoT, Combined with Big Data, has Big Implications
There are certainly more “macro” applications associated with the Internet of Things, where the scalability of the applications of the IoT and Big Data intersect.
Here’s an example: According to UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), currently about one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted. That’s approximately 1.3 billion tons of food, and to put it in perspective, it’s more than enough to feed the 21,000 people who die every day from hunger or hunger-related diseases.
The ability to greatly reduce food waste is a relevant and actionable area, and if we connect IoT with Consumer Big Data, we might begin to see a solution.
Consumer Big Data is exactly what it sounds like: comprehensive data collected on consumer buying habits.
It’s currently being used by the big retailers to forecast their buying needs, although they don’t share the information across corporate boundaries. If Big Data was utilized to accurately track food consumption across corporate boundaries, the information could accurately forecast food needs across entire geographical areas.
The efficiency alone would mean huge savings, and the core concept of the marriage of the IoT with Consumer Big Data can be applied to any industry, although you might see a few less clearance racks at the stores.

The Wave of the Future?
The Internet of Things will fundamentally transform the world of the things around us, and how we interact with them, or more accurately, how they interact with us.
It brings the mundane into the active world and makes note of the placement, purpose, and functionality of anything deemed significant enough to make note of.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really happen?

If it’s part of the Internet of Things, it did.