The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects, including vehicles, medical devices and home appliances, that use sensors and APIs to connect to one another and exchange data over the internet.
Cheap processors, sensors and wireless networks have made it possible to turn anything from a pill to a plane into an internet-connected ‘thing’ that is more useful to its customer. For example, the Orenda coffee maker
can monitor when you wake up and heat coffee accordingly.
Such ‘smart’ devices communicate directly with one another without human intermediaries (engaging in Machine to Machine communication, or M2M). This digital intelligence attempts to merge the digital and the physical.
The term ‘IoT device’ generally refers to objects that previously were not expected to connect to the internet. So, computers, tablets and smartphones are not considered IoT devices.
Connectivity Enables IoT
IoT is rapidly becoming a reality, as manufacturing companies adopt private 5G networks and major phone carriers roll out 5G wireless coverage.
Tiny sensors in IoT devices send data to one another and to the cloud using wireless internet networks (Wi-Fi or 5G) and can increasingly compute and store data locally (edge computing). The principle behind an IoT-enabled smart home full of devices engaging in M2M communication can be extended to smart campuses and smart cities.
7 Major IoT Applications
1 Smart Homes
Smart homes are the first major consumer application of IoT. For example, Google’s Nest Hub can control cameras, doorbells and thermostats around the house. AlertMe, Haier, Philips and Belkin are also market leaders in this space. The global smart home market is already valued at over $80 billion and this figure is expected to rise to $150 billion by 2024.
2 Smart Agriculture
IoT-enabled smart agriculture seeks to use sensors to track light, humidity, temperature, soil moisture and other relevant characteristics to better manage agricultural systems remotely. Such smart farming is significantly more efficient than conventional farming, since it optimizes agricultural inputs (including through irrigation) and outputs (including through targeted harvesting).
3 Livestock Monitoring
Farm use of IoT devices also extends to better monitoring of the location, health and size of livestock. It can also help prevent the spread of disease by enabling the quick identification of sick animals, so they can be removed from the group.
4 Connected Cars and Remote Fleet Management
Automated vehicles require a complex network of sensors, software and connections to navigate roads. Eventually, connected cars will use Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication to enhance safety and ease congestion. Though driverless cars are a reality, we will likely not see a fully interconnected system of exclusively driverless cars using V2V communications for at least a decade.
IoT is also enabling remote fleet management. For example, a trucking company can remotely view each truck’s speed, acceleration, location, route, fuel, load weight, performance and driver attention.
5 Smart Cities
Smart cities use IoT sensors to measure and optimize water use, energy use, waste management, traffic, air quality and other important city processes. We are only part of the way through a strong urbanization trend. The United Nations expects 68% of the world’s population to live in urban areas by 2050. Smart cities will help mitigate the resulting strain on infrastructure and resources.
6 Health Care and Fitness
By enabling more granular measurements of health indicators, remote monitoring and more timely data analysis, IoT devices can save lives and improve health. Their applications will also benefit physicians, hospitals and insurers, for example by providing more comprehensive health information, reducing health care costs and improving treatment outcomes.
The Apple Watch and other IoT-connected wearables (from LookSee, Myo, Fitbit, Sony, Samsung and others) help track and improve fitness. Soon, we will see smart clothes with embedded IoT sensors.
In manufacturing, IoT processes can improve the productivity of each worker, by automating routine tasks, providing workers with better data, allowing remote monitoring of processes, optimizing supply chains and improving operational efficiency. The automobile industry has already achieved great productivity and efficiency gains through IoT-enabled manufacturing. A potential downside of improved productivity is that fewer workers may be needed.
Security, Privacy and Compliance Concerns
As IoT technology improves, it faces three major challenges. First, interconnectedness may increase vulnerability to bad actors, including in sensitive areas like health and traffic. Second, there are valid concerns that smart homes and smart cities are highly surveilled environments, harming everyone’s privacy. Third, IoT systems will have to comply with a complex patchwork of privacy, security and consumer protection laws that may vary by country, state and city.
The Future of IoT
Globally, there has been significant public and private investment in improving wireless internet speed and reducing latency. Therefore, despite challenges, the IoT applications described above are becoming a reality.
In San Francisco, a new Target store in California sells only IoT devices. In Minneapolis, McKinsey is opening a retail store as a ‘stage’ for technology solutions. Interestingly, the rise of IoT is creating a new emphasis on physical ‘things’ and blurring the line between products and services.