During the initial phase of new technological development, ideas and features are influenced by the areas on which developers choose to focus. But as a new technology matures, commercial use cases tend to drive future developments. If the future of IoT takes a similar path, we can look forward to seeing new devices and systems that are designed to solve specific business goals. If businesses can see clear and tangible benefits, they will be more inclined to invest in near future technologies related to the Internet of Things. This increased demand from the consumer will drive manufacturers to continue with the development of new IoT machines and ideas into the future.

With this in mind, this article focuses on existing use cases that already provide clear benefits and have the potential to become more popular in the future, along with some possible developments that appear to have great potential for commercial applications. They’re all working towards a future of IoT that benefits both commercial organisations and consumers. 

Among the many possible directions that the future of the Internet of Things may take, the following appear to offer significant benefits to both organisations and their customers. 

IoT systems that utilise AI technology 

With emerging AI technology, there’s the possibility for IoT connected devices and systems to not just collect and transmit data, but to analyse and learn from it, too. Smart logistics is one potential application for this combination of technology, with IoT/AI solutions capable of using both customer and supplier data to select the best sources for ordered products and to propose optimal delivery routes to ensure that each order is filled in a timely manner.

Predictive maintenance for manufacturing equipment and machinery is another potential application that IoT future devices and systems could be used for. IoT sensors can collect a variety of data on the condition and usage patterns of manufacturing equipment, then use AI technology to predict when individual machines will next need to be serviced by technicians or replaced as they reach the end of their useful working life.

More 5G-connected IoT devices 

As the latest generation of mobile networks continues to be rolled out across the globe, more commercial organisations will have the opportunity to build IoT systems that employ 5G-connected devices to collect and transfer data for analysis via intelligent control systems. 5G networks offer higher data transfer speeds, greater capacity for the number of connected devices per square kilometre and lower latency than previous generation networks. All these performance improvements have the potential to make it easier to process large amounts of data in real-time.

The ability to process more data at faster speeds could make it possible for manufacturers, suppliers and retailers to deploy future internet technology on a larger scale than is currently possible. Systems that rely on hundreds of thousands of connected devices could be a not-so-distant possibility with the greater capacity that 5G provides.

Combined with edge computing, which is designed to put processing power closer to end users than Cloud computing currently does, 5G-connected devices could provide a more responsive experience for consumers too.

More smart home devices 

The Internet of Things future for smart home devices is of interest to both manufacturers and consumers. In the USA, over 80% of respondents in a recent report said they already owned at least one smart home device, which illustrates the potential market for new, more capable devices in the future.

Developments such as the Dialog DA16200 system on a chip are likely to make it easier for smart home system designers to incorporate more battery-powered IoT devices into future solutions. This innovative low-power chip has been designed to provide always-connected IoT wireless devices with a battery life of 1 year or more. This could facilitate the integration of battery-powered connected devices such as door locks, security cameras and thermostats into smart home solutions of the future. While these devices can already be connected, battery life issues have made it less practical for systems to utilise them on a widespread basis. 

More wearable devices for health and fitness applications 

According to research organisation Gartner, the future of Internet technology in the consumer sector will include a market for wearable IoT devices that will generate in excess of US$87 billion by 2023. While wearable device technology has been with us for some time, it is still very much in the early stages of development as far as its full potential is concerned. It’s fairly safe to assume that this point of view is correct, given that complementary technologies, including AI and blockchain technology, have yet to be fully utilised in IoT devices.

When reading Internet of Things predictions online, you are sure to come across healthcare applications in almost every article you find. Wearable devices have numerous uses for the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Some possible future applications that have already been tested include IoT devices to monitor participants in clinical trials and devices that can monitor the movements of Parkinson’s sufferers to help doctors accurately gauge changes in the severity of symptoms over time.

Smart farming 

Sensors that monitor rainfall, ambient temperatures and other vital environmental statistics give us the ability to develop smart farming systems that can indicate when conditions are ideal for planting, harvesting and other activities. By 2050, it is predicted that the global population will be 9.1 billion and that we will need to increase food production by 70% to feed everybody. This will entail producing an extra 3 billion tonnes of cereal and an extra 200 million tonnes of meat every year. In order to achieve this increase in food production, it is likely that farming will have to be made significantly more efficient than it is today.

What might the Internet of Things do in the future to help farmers become more efficient? Possible applications include more effective disease control, cattle and crop monitoring systems and robotics that help to address labour shortages in various farming sectors. Navigational devices, which utilise machine learning, GPS and IoT technology, can give farmers the ability to control tractors, combine harvesters and other agricultural machinery from remote locations.

The machine learning component of these devices should also make it possible for them to adapt to different types of terrain. By storing information about the location of rougher patches of land and steeper gradients, they will be able to select appropriate gears and engine speeds when tackling these patches in the future.

Intelligent IoT drones have already been used to survey agricultural land. The images and data they are able to collect are likely to be used in future applications to assist farmers with tasks such as crop yield predictions and the application of fertilisers where they are most needed.

All these applications have the potential to make farming more efficient, enabling humanity to produce enough food for everybody as the global population continues to expand.

Smart cities 

Local governments around the world have been experimenting with various smart city strategies and applications over the last decade or so, with mixed results. However, we are likely to see many more technological developments and innovations for smart cities in the future — developments that make the building and running of such cities more financially viable and more beneficial to the residents of those cities. As local authorities realise that smart city strategies need to be built around the people in a city — rather than expecting people to fit the tech — we should see more applications specifically designed to improve the quality of life.

Digital applications have the potential to improve the quality of life for residents of urban areas, using Internet of Things-connected devices for purposes such as monitoring air quality, security surveillance, traffic management, building automation, waste collection management and water quality monitoring systems.

Let’s take waste management as an example. It is a relatively simple task to install IoT sensors in rubbish bins and skips, which can then be connected to a central system. As bins become full, the sensors can send an alert, and the central system can schedule a visit from the local waste collection team to ensure the bins are emptied in a timely manner. Using such technology, it should be possible to streamline waste collection services by directing manpower to the locations where it is most needed at any given moment in time. It’s possible that overflowing bins will become a thing of the past with these types of applications, and that cities will be able to manage their public service budgets more effectively.

A more efficient design process for consumer electronics products 

Companies have already started to use data collected from IoT devices in the design process for future generations of consumer electronics products. In the future, this data could be used to improve the design and functionality of a wide variety of appliances and gadgets. Imagine, for example, a smart fridge that sends usage data back to the manufacturer’s engineers. This data could include what types of food products are commonly stored in their fridges, times when people run out of space, temperature readings at various times and under various different conditions, and the number of times people use an attached ice machine to make cold drinks.

By analysing all of the data collected from smart fridges, while also ensuring customers’ privacy, engineers could improve the design of future models to cater better to real-world usage patterns. Perhaps a larger ice compartment will be indicated or more space in the vegetable drawer. With access to detailed data on how people use their fridges on a daily basis, considerable guesswork could be removed from future design work.

Improved security with blockchain technology 

The same technology that is behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is already being used in some IoT systems. If the problems posed by its decentralised nature can be overcome, it is likely to be more widely adopted as companies seek to improve the security of their IoT systems. It could also help to ensure greater accuracy in applications such as supply chain management and facilitate better traceability of products in pharmaceutical IoT solutions.

Blockchain technology’s data redundancy (data stored in many different locations) makes it an interesting proposition for IoT security and surveillance systems manufacturers. With current systems that collect data on a single server, hackers have an easier target if they wish to compromise the ability of a system to record footage from a security camera. In a distributed blockchain environment, they would have to target multiple servers, making it more difficult to compromise both commercial and domestic security systems.

The future of IoT

It is important to bear in mind that any future IoT technology and internet predictions always involve a degree of speculation. We may not see the widespread adoption of all these technologies in the next few years, even if some of them represent clear benefits. So what is the future of Internet of Things technology in Australia and elsewhere? We’ll just have to wait and see. 

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