The Internet of Things is the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.
The world is at the verge of a new revolution combining three distinct elements:
- The Internet
- Digital technology
Together these three elements are creating the foundation of the “Internet of Things” (IoT); the interaction of products with people and products communicating with other products. Increasingly, objects that can be represented digitally will be connected to surrounding objects and database data and when acting in unison, will possess what is being called “ambient intelligence”. This year may represent the tipping point when the IoT breaks into the greater consumer consciousness and opens up the prospect of the physical and digital worlds converging, as increasing numbers of physical objects become Web-enabled.
Already, more than 12 billion devices around the world, including computers and smartphones, are connected to the Internet with the number of connected devices expected to increase dramatically within the next decade. According to Gartner, the US information technology research and advisory firm, the IoT (excluding PCs, tablets and smartphones) will grow to 26 billion units installed in 2020, representing an almost 30-fold increase from 0.9 billion in 2009. Nearly 200 billion objects have the ability to connect to the Internet, but only 7% presently communicate via the Internet and only 2% produce data. The IoT heralds a revolution in the creation, manipulation and storage of ‘Big Data‘ and the rapid growth of cloud computing.
It is relatively simple to build a device capable of detecting wireless signals, but they tend to consume lots of power. It is not so easy to design energy-efficient devices that function as well as the components they replace. Nanotechnology is enabling the development of self-powered nanoscale devices that can transmit and receive wireless signals using so little power that their batteries never need replacing. This miniaturisation is facilitating the increase in Web-enabled devices.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a vision. Millions of everyday objects, such as household appliances, cars, clothing, tools, food and medicines will connect to the internet via smart chips capable of sensing and sharing information about themselves, and their interactions with their external environment.
The planet itself – natural systems, human systems, physical objects – have always generated an enormous amount of data, but we didn’t used to be able to hear it, to see it, to capture it. Now we can because all of this stuff is now instrumented. And it’s all interconnected, so now we can actually have access to it. In effect the planet has grown a central nervous system
Many large corporations are racing to provide the tools to make this ‘new world’ happen and to gain first mover advantage in what promises to be the “emerging strategic industry”. Apple are unveiling new technologies for controlling smart, connected devices like thermostats, lights, door locks, and will make it easy for hardware makers to link their devices to iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs. As a result, an iPhone owner could have lights turn on at home when he walks in the door, or play music when he moves from room to room. Applications already exist to turn iPhone and iPad into smart home controllers. Google is hedging its bets in a similar way with the “wearables” that represent the second main branch of the internet of things. Earlier in 2014 it launched its Android Wear, a version of the operating system for smart watches, as it forged ahead with the hugely ambitious Google Glass.
Other industries are opening up to the opportunities created by the IoT. Smart cities, connected cars, and connected health are examples of transformations that are being driven by the IoT. Managers in the manufacturing sector will be able to control equipment from their mobile devices. Machinery, such as drills will be monitored, using a myriad of sensors, enabling manufacturers to replace expensive machinery based on usage rather than on the time it has been installed.
Cities across the world are about to enter the next phase of their development – as ‘smart’ cities, with more Web-connected objects surrounding us in smart homes, offices, streets, and cities. The Internet of Things will force developers to approach data management very differently than the old world of structured data; deploying a near invisible network of radio frequency identification tags (RFID) on almost every type of consumer item. These tiny, traceable chips, which can be scanned wirelessly, are being produced in their billions and are capable of being connected to the internet in an instant.
However, as the age of Smart Everything dawns, it is also raising the fear of a host of largely unsecured smart devices like TVs, which may become the subject of malware attack. Already, companies like Kaspersky Lab have produced anti-virus software ready for sale. Technically, it is possible to infect millions of devices. For example, Internet-enabled TV sets use both Android and Linux. Has anyone produced a successful virus for televisions? “Not yet,” says Kaspersky, “but it will happen”.