What can we expect from the Internet of Things? Will everything eventually be a “smart” device?
Imagine a world where you could access your refrigerator from your smartphone while you’re at the grocery store and know exactly what is inside. Think about a world where every time you lose your car keys, you just go to an app and locate exactly where they’re at. Even better, imagine being able to manage Earth’s natural resources by knowing exactly what is currently being used and what is still available.
Welcome to The Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT has a very literal meaning. It is connecting things (yes, actual things such as cars, clothes and houses) to the internet wirelessly, creating a massive cloud-based environment. By connecting everything to the internet we can access the things we use every day, simplifying our lives.
We have already seen smart devices taking over the technological world. Smartphones are practically ubiquitous. Smart TVs are found in homes all across the world. We’re even getting to the point where we make the things we wear “smart”. Smart watches have been all the rage this year. The largest tech companies (with the exception of Apple which is releasing its smart watch this Spring) have already released watches that can track your heart rate, know the weather and control your phone from your wrist. This is just a brief preview as to what will come in upcoming years.
How will this all work? In order to connect everything to the internet, each “thing” will need to be assigned an IP address. This would have seemed a daunting task ten years ago, but now IPv6 will allow billions more IP address options. IPv6 is the latest version of the Internet Protocol and uses a 128-bit address, compared to IPv4 which only uses a 32-bit address. This will equate to approximately 3.4 X 10²⁸ IP addresses. To put that into perspective, every single thing on Earth right now could have an IP address assigned to it (with billions of combinations left to spare).
IoT is not a new concept. In 1999, Kevin Ashton, an expert on digital innovation, said:
“If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best”.
When Ashton said this, the Internet of Things was an idea. Now, we are seeing it become a reality right before our eyes.
Dr. John Barrett, Head of Academic Studies at the Nimbus Centre for Embedded Systems Research at CIT, gave an in-depth TED talk about the Internet of Things. He talked about the benefits of the IoT and how it will not only improve our everyday lives but also help to manage cities around the world. Energy distribution will greatly improve with the IoT and health care issues will be more accurately assessed.
Barrett also predicts that by 2030 each person on Earth will be surrounded by 3,000 to 5,000 connected everyday things.
Although the IoT is meant to enhance our everyday life, what kind of problems will arise? For one, we can expect a huge question in security. Online security is already breached and hacked every single day. When we add millions of new connected devices, will that not add an innumerable amount of hackable devices? Before the Internet of Things completely takes over, security must be locked down in order to ensure a safe, connected world.
Big Data will be taken to an entirely new level with the IoT. Not only will your web browser know what advertisements to display when you’re scrolling through Facebook, your grocery store will know exactly what you need in your kitchen. Marketing will take an absolute turn and advertising will have to be entirely rethought.
Another concern regarding the IoT is that instead of simplifying our lives, we will actually be complicating them more. Does a smartphone really simplify our everyday tasks, or was life easier before we had a mobile computer in our pocket? We already manage work, families, hobbies and much more. With the IoT, we’ll have to figure out a way to manage additional devices.
Barrett believes that the upcoming generation will have no issue adapting to an entirely connected world. A 10 year old can maneuver an iPad much better than most 50 year olds. Young kids won’t understand any other way of life.
How will we manage thousands of connected devices? As of now, the answer is not clear. There is not yet a set rule on exactly how the IoT will work. Certain protocols will need to take place in order to keep each “thing” in check. However, if one organization takes control of the IoT, aren’t we getting awfully close to Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’?
The Internet of Things will be an absolute breakthrough in technology. Although the quirks are still to be refined and polished, the final product of the IoT should enhance our lives in the sense that we won’t have to waste time doing the mundane everyday tasks. In a broader sense, the IoT could actually be a solution to resource management and healthcare around the world. It may even save lives.
Be ready for what is coming. We’re already seeing the IoT in our daily lives, but experts predict that by 2020, we will have four internet-enabled devices for every person on the planet. Whether you’re skeptical or excited, let it known that the IoT is here to stay and moving forward at a brisk pace.