The Internet of Things – IoT – is changing the world for the better, and may well just save us all. The appxlications of the technology innovation seem endless, and the perfect example of the transformative impact that it is having on the world can be seen through the humble honeybee.
With the world facing devastation from bee colony collapse, potentially disrupting the pollination of 70 per cent of the edible crops that we rely on, beekeepers are turning to technology innovations, and particularly IoT, to fight back.
One excellent example is MiteNot, a technology that helps regulate the temperature within colonies so that the Varroa Destructor mite, which is responsible for much of the damage to bee colonies, does not invade the colony space. Through this unique and innovative application of IoT, beekeepers have been able to stabalise colonies and reduce the risk of global bee population collapse.
This is just one specific application of IoT, but across the board and in all sectors, innovators are finding ways to make use of connecting together massive numbers of devices and sensors to monitor and control the environment around them. The boom in IoT devices is extreme – there will be more than 29 billion IoT devices by 2030, and in many ways we’ve only just begun to experiment to learn the full depth and breadth of what they offer to business and society.
How some sectors are leveraging IoT
Because IoT is exceptional at gathering data via sensors, healthcare is benefitting from the technology right now through the use of things like wearables. Whether it’s insurance companies providing a discount for people that record a certain amount of activity through a fitness band, or sensors being used to assess the progress of rehabilitation, patient health and care is going to be significantly boosted by the data that sensors can collect at all times.
In the longer term, technologies such as surgical robots will allow for remote operations to great precision. This will be important as it will allow for better treatment in regional areas, away from the main hospitals, resulting in better standards healthcare for millions upon millions of people.
The big opportunity for IoT in transportation is autonomous vehicles. Tesla is taking the leadership position on this, recently announcing semi tricks that are equipped with self-driving capabilities. For now self-driving vehicles still need a person present in the vehicle that can take control at a moment’s notice, but as this technology improves the future vision is fleets of vehicles that are fully driverless.
This innovation will have a monumental impact on our society, as suddenly 24/7 transportation is going to be viable, safe, and affordable for organisations, resulting in supercharged logistics systems and maximum convenience.
In the manufacturing space there is a lot of talk around “Industry 4.0” currently, and IoT is underpinning this new revolution in production. The short definition of Industry 4.0 is that the increasing interconnectivity and smart automation of manufacturing environments (through IoT) will result in decisions being made without human involvement (i.e. through AI and automation). What this means is that factories will become far more efficient and productive, and waste will be effectively eliminated.
A factory will be able to increase or slow down production to meet real-time needs, ensuring that shortages and excess production alike are completely eliminated. This will help control pricing in the market, help businesses with their margins and revenue, and ensure that no one misses out.
One of the most advanced applications of IoT devices can be found in urban planning, and specifically the concept of “smart cities”. “Smart city” refers to urban environments that have deployed networks of sensors to ensure the smooth, efficient, and typically sustainable running of the environment.
A simple example of smart cities in action is sensors deployed across the city’s traffic lights that monitor the build up of cars and will adjust the frequency with which the lights change to facilitate a better flow of traffic. Another example can be seen with the massive Billund BioRefinery project, which brings together wastewater treatment, energy production and resource recovery together through the application of IoT to create green electricity, heating, organic fertilizers, and recycled water. Typically water treatment is energy consumption heavy, but this smart cities project has meant that the facility produces three times as much energy as it consumes, highlighting a future in which we’re able to more efficiently convert waste to benefit society.
One of the biggest benefits of IoT in the travel industry is the ability to utilise RFID tags to track baggage with an unprecedented degree of precision. IoT all-but makes lost baggage a thing of the past, to the great relief of the many passengers that spend their entire flights worried about whether their suitcases are on the plane with them.
IoT can also be used to facilitate a smoother experience for customers moving through an airport. For example, an Australian company has been heavily involved in innovations around X-ray screening for both security and COVID-19 purposes. This has even made self-screening possible, vastly reducing the lengths of queues.
Finally, IoT is being deployed into the aircraft themselves to collect data and monitor for faults, before running diagnostics. This can provide crews with the information they need to maintenance before the planes have even touched down, minimising the disruption caused in fleet management and safety.
IoT isn’t just helping industries run more efficiently – it’s also going to be a big boost to our home lives too. According to research, the typical home already has 10.37 devices connected to the Internet. That number’s going to continue to grow. Those devices range from everything from the expected (PCs, laptops, printers and games consoles), through to the more conventional devices that previously wouldn’t have been connected to the Internet (door locks, light bulbs, air conditioner and heating systems).
It is the latter where IoT will start to differentiate itself and make for more convenient and comfortable home life. People will be able to set their air conditioner to turn on remotely, and have a cool home when they return from work for the day. An IoT-enabled refrigerator will “notice” when you’ve run out of something, and automatically put an order in. Air quality monitors and robot vacuum cleaners will automatically turn on purifiers and the like to keep the environment clean, and so on. Added together the little seconds of convenience that each of these devices provide will total a much more efficient lifestyle.
These are just six examples from six sectors, but as you can see, part of what makes IoT so compelling is that it can provide value to a sector that is unique to that sector’s needs.
The technology is highly adaptable, and so, as long as the sector has processes, and collects and needs to use data (which applies to all sectors), then there is an opportunity to leverage IoT to improve efficiency, productivity and the profitability of businesses.
Does IoT require specialised IT teams to deploy?
No. One of the reasons that IoT is resonating so strongly across businesses of all sizes is that it’s no more difficult to deploy and manage than any other piece of IT equipment. Your existing IT team will be able to handle most such solutions.
There are times where the data gathered by IoT will be most valuable when considered by a data science team, and for that reason some organisations do hire as they start to scale up their IoT usage, but those hires aren’t responsible for the management of the IT environment.
Is IoT secure?
A lot has been said about the security of IoT devices. For a long time there weren’t industry standards around security and IoT, and the wireless, connected nature of those devices did pose a security risk to the devices themselves. There’s a great story from back in 2015 of how hackers were able to stop a car remotely while on the highway – certainly a terrifying thought!
The situation is better now, with major companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and others making investments into IoT and, as part of that, developing better standards and best practices for security. Nonetheless, it’s important to monitor an IoT environment for security risks, make sure devices and sensors are kept up to date with patches, and have firewalls and the like protecting the environment from outside intrusion.
How can I be sure that an IoT project is going to be successful?
Because there is so much IoT out there it is possible to throw money at a project that sounds good, only for it to fail to deliver any returns. The best way to avoid this happening is to look at the problems, rather than the solution (IoT).
Look at your work environment and see where there are inefficiencies or problems being caused. Then, consider whether an IoT deployment can assist in addressing these problems. If IoT and automation can solve the problem, then there will be a long-term ROI on investing into the IoT project.
Do I need IoT for AI?
AI is the other big technology concept that people are talking about at the moment. It’s often related to, but distinct from, IoT. By that we mean that AI is software-driven and doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to IoT devices. However, there is a common link between the two and it’s data. AI needs a lot of data to be “trained” and to run effectively. IoT devices collect a lot of data that can be used to train AI on how to do tasks.
For this reason the two technologies often work in collaboration. The AI is trained on IoT data to make decisions and thus ensure the smooth operating of the IoT environment without any human input.
Jacqueline Coombe has been a prolific reader since childhood, and now channels her love of the written word into writing content on a range of topics from business, marketing and finance to travel and lifestyle. Jacqueline is also a Principal Consultant specialising in Search + Content Marketing at international digital marketing agency Web Profits.