Coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, IoT describes a network of communications between products, enabled by the tech used in everything from mobiles, to fridges, to cars. In a simple sense, one thing you own can talks to another thing you own — and we use ‘thing’ because the application of tech keeps spreading.
From the house to your city
Early adopters of product communications have tried to tackle the essentials, starting from inside the home: LIFX is a smart lightbulb that can be controlled from your smartphone: it can show the full-colour spectrum, be dimmed or brightened, and even programmed to assist with your daily routine. Its brightness can slowly increase to gently wake you up in the mornings (programmed with, say, a sleep-assistance app like Sleep Cycle), and can turn off and on when you are in the house. Smart home device company Nest, recently acquired by Google for $3.2 billion allows integration based on your schedule. Nest’s range of thermostats, smoke alarms, and cameras ‘talk’ to power companies to identify when peaks in energy usage might happen, adjusting automatically to save on your power bill.
Outside the home, IoT is changing how we approach city design and anthropology. Sensors installed in the African Delta currently monitor the movement of clean water, tracking changes in ecosystems as they occur. Smart Parking is assigning the closest parking spot based on your location, whilst smart ports in Barcelona and Hamburg have complex networks recording traffic flow, lighting, and structural wear and tear.
Perhaps the most ambitious use of this technology so far is the construction of the first “Smart City” of Songdo, in South Korea. Envisioned as a sustainable, low carbon emission city, it’s packed with sensors of all kinds to monitor energy and water usage, transportation, pollution, and wastage.
A technology ecosystem: what the future holds
So what will the future of this emerging technology look like? On a personal level, it allows an unprecedented degree of automation and personalisation from technology. Picture an average day in 2020: you’re woken up earlier than normal by a gradual change in light from your light bulb via a sleep-tracking app that follows your schedule.
On a personal level, it allows an unprecedented degree of automation and personalisation from technology. Picture an average day in 2020: you’re woken up earlier than normal by a gradual change in light from your light bulb via a sleep-tracking app that follows your schedule.
- Your map app has sensed the traffic might be heavier today, and so adjusted your alarm to go off a little earlier.
- Your shower water is pre-heated to save time and energy. Don’t worry about forgetting your key — your car automatically unlocks by sensing the presence of your phone, and your house locks itself, turns the lights and heating off.
- While you’re away, your washing machine tasks itself, calibrating off the RFID tags attached to your clothes.
- When you get home, there’s a delivery on your doorstep: your fridge sensed you were running low on milk that day and ordered some more.
Of course, we’ve only scratched the surface of the possibilities for this tech. On a broader level, installing a network in our cities can help us identify traffic, energy, and water distribution problems, making it easier to reduce waste. Construction of infrastructure becomes safer thanks to smart building materials alerting construction workers when they need maintenance. Just as the internet fundamentally changed our ability to access and change information, the Internet of Things will shift how we can relate to, and control the world around us.
In that sense, it’s less the Internet of Things, and more the Internet of Everything.
3 Minute Read