The Internet of Things is the biggest 'phenomenon' to hit the tech world since Facebook. But what is the Internet of Things and why should you care? Here we put aside the tech jargon and focus on what you need to know.
What is the Internet of Things?
It’s a fair assumption that you have by now heard of the Internet of Things (IoT). And if not, maybe you’ve experienced it without realising it had a name. Here’s a basic definition: The Internet of Things refers to the trend by which our everyday possessions will become connected to the internet and each other.
What kinds of ‘things’ are we talking about?
Simply put, pretty much any device that has an on/off switch can be connected. Coffee makers, headphones, lamps, wearable devices, cars, washing machines and almost anything else you see around your home and office. But it goes much further than home appliances. The IoT also applies to the components of a machine, such as a jet engine in a plane.
How does the IoT impact you?
Many people are yet to be convinced that the IoT will solve any real problems. Connecting random things to the internet is more a fun hobby for techies than something we actually need. Do we really need weather-aware fridges? And Christmas lights that change colour when you tweet at them (yes, they exist).
Yet the idea is incredibly powerful. Imagine the potential of having so many connected devices talking to the internet and each other. Here’s what your typical morning could look like:
Your alarm clock wakes you up at 6.30am. While you’re in the perfectly heated shower, the alarm clock notifies the coffee maker to start brewing. The coffee maker knows the coffee is running low so automatically puts it on your online shopping order. You jump in the car, which already knows there is heavy traffic and which is the best route to avoid it. And as you park at your favourite café for another caffeine hit, the café senses your approach and alerts the barista to make your favourite order.
The bottom line is the IoT can be applied to a whole range of things to increase our efficiency and reduce energy use – both individually and as a society.
How close are we to achieving the Internet of Things?
We’re already part way there. If you own a smartphone, you’re in the club. Think of all the apps you use to make your life easier. And we don’t even use our smartphones to their full potential. The latest smartphones have the potential to be a wireless hub for other gadgets and sensors. Some can even act as a universal remote control for your “smart home”, giving you control over air conditioning, lights, door locks and so on.
In Australia, one big thing fuelling the Internet of Things is the rise of Broadband Internet. The cost of connecting is lower than ever before and an ever-growing number of devices are being created with Wi-Fi capabilities and sensors. Add to that the fact that smartphone penetration in Australia has soared to 76%, and the conditions are ripe for the IoT to soar.
So what’s holding us back?
Lots of things. Security is one of the biggest issues. Identity theft is already a huge issue globally, so how can we ensure our personal information stays secure when it’s held on so many devices? It only took one wrong email to share the G20 leaders’ personal information around. Could the same thing happen by pressing the wrong button on your toaster?
And where will all this data be held? The more devices that are connected, the more data that’ll be produced. Companies are already struggling to make sense of Big Data, and we haven’t even started yet.
What happens now?
As more devices start joining the Internet of Things, we need to do something about the opportunities and challenges it presents. The best place to start is to understand what the IoT truly is and how it will impact our lives. Hopefully this article has helped with the first part.