We live in a time where there are chips inserted into devices that collect and communicate data from washing machines to smoke detectors, consumer and industrial devices are having the ‘Internet of Things’ applied to them & it’s projected to grow as big as the internet itself within the next decade.
Smart cookers, toasters, microwave, fridges, heating, door locks, water bottle temperature control and fitness collars for dogs are just some of the everyday items being connected to the web as part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Connected machines and objects in factories offer the potential for a ‘fourth industrial revolution’, and experts predict more than half of new businesses will run on the IoT within the next decade.
Here’s what you need to know about the increasingly connected world
What is the Internet of Things?
In the broadest sense, the term IoT encompasses everything connected to the internet, but it is increasingly being used to define objects that “talk” to each other. “Simply, the Internet of Things is made up of devices – from simple sensors to smartphones and wearables – connected together,”
By combining these connected devices with automated systems, it is possible to “gather information, analyse it and create an action” to help someone with a particular task, or learn from a process. In reality, this ranges from smart mirrors to cameras in shops and beyond. It’s quite frankly about about networks, devices, and data.
IoT allows devices on closed private internet connections to communicate with others and the Internet of Things brings those networks together. It gives the opportunity for devices to communicate not only within close silos but across different networking types and creates a much more connected world.
Why connected devices share data?
Because something can be connected to the internet doesn’t mean it should be, but each device collects data for a specific purpose that may be useful to a buyer and impact the wider economy.
Within industrial applications, sensors on product lines can increase efficiency and cut down on waste. One study estimates 35 per cent of US manufacturers are using data from smart sensors within their set-ups already. US firm Concrete Sensors has created a device that can be inserted into concrete to provide data on the material’s condition, for instance.
IoT offers us opportunity to be more efficient in how we do things, saving us time, money and often emissions in the process. It allows companies, governments and public authorities to re-think how they deliver services and produce goods.
The quality and scope of the data across the Internet of Things generates an opportunity for much more meaningful and real context and responsive interactions with devices to create a potential for change.
Where next for IoT?
Even those who have purchased one of the myriad smart home products – from lightbulbs, switches, to motion sensors – will attest to the fact IoT is in its infancy. Products don’t always easily connect to each other and there are significant security issues that need to be addressed.
A report from Samsung says the need to secure every connected device by 2020 is “critical”. The firm’s Open Economy document says “there is a very clear danger that technology is running ahead of the game”. The firm said more than 7.3 billion devices will need to be made secure by their manufacturers this year.
IoT botnets, created using a network of out-of-date devices took large websites and services offline in 2016. A Chinese firm later recalled 4.3 million unsecured connected cameras. The ease of bringing down the internet using IoT devices was revealed when instead of malicious purposes, the botnet was revealed to have been created to game Minecraft.
What are the privacy implications?
Everything that’s connected to the internet can be hacked, IoT products are no exception to this unwritten rule. Insecure IoT systems led to toy manufacturer VTech losing videos and pictures of children using its connected devices.
There’s also the issue of surveillance. If every product becomes connected then there’s the potential for unbridled observation of users. If a connected fridge tracks food usage and consumption, takeaways could be targeted at hungry people who have no food. If a smartwatch can detect when you’re having sex, what is to stop people with that data using it against the watches’ wearer.
In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.
Reliable standards are needed
At the centre of creating a vast, reliable IoT network lies one significant issue: compatible standards. Connected objects need to be able to speak to each other to transfer data and share what they are recording. If they all run on different standards, they struggle to communicate and share. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Standards Association lists a huge number of standards being developed and worked on for different applications.
Additional needs are emerging for standardisation, the Internet Society says. If standardisation happens it will let more devices and applications be connected.
To try and tackle this issue on an enterprise scale, Microsoft has introduced its own system for IoT devices. Called IoT Central, TechCrunch, reports the system gives businesses a managed central platform for setting up IoT devices. Microsoft claims the system will simplify the creation of IoT networks.
In the short term, we know IoT will impact on anything where there is a high cost of not intervening and it’ll simply be for day-to-day issues – like finding a car parking space in busy areas, linking up your home entertainment system and using your fridge webcam to check if you need more milk on the way home.
Ultimately what makes it exciting is that we don’t yet know the exact use cases and just that it has the potential to have a major impact on our lives.
Nazrul Hoque – 1 March 2020