Monday, June 1, 2015

What is the "Internet of Things"?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is where objects (or even living things) are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring a person-to-person or person-to-computer interaction. IoT has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electronics, electro-mechanical systems and the Internet. 

The impact of IoT is bigger than any of us may realize.
A "thing" in IoT can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a thermostat that alerts of exceeding the desired temperature threshold, an automobile that can alert the driver when a mechanical issue arises, a farm animal with a bio chip transponder, or any other object that has a sensor which can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network. So far, IoT has been most closely associated with machine-to-machine communication. A product built with machine-to-machine communication capabilities, usually called an Internet appliance, is often referred to as being "smart".

The first Internet appliance was a Coke machine at Carnegie Melon University in the early 1980s. The programmers could connect to the machine over the Internet, check the status of the machine, and determine whether or not there would be a cold drink awaiting them in case they decided to make the trip to the machine.

How IoT Will Be Used
In 2007, a road bridge collapsed in Minnesota killing many people because the steel plates became inadequate to handle the bridge’s load. As we rebuild bridges, we can use beams, plates and cement equipped with sensors to monitor stresses and cracks. The sensors in the bridge will alert the bridge authority to fix problems before an issue causes a catastrophe.

The agriculture industry will use IoT to more effectively manage their production in order to feed a growing population. Smart farming will allow farmers to better understand the wide range of conditions that affect their yield. Embedding intelligence into the soil, as well as into the design and operation of machines, will allow sensor information to be combined with other data and the knowledge of the farmer. Farmers will water the crops only when needed and without over watering, and they will apply fertilizer only if necessary. For livestock farming, IoT includes monitoring the condition of animals to provide the right type of intervention at the right time, and only if necessary.

At home, we already have home security systems and thermostats connected to the internet. Looking forward, your refrigerator can inform you when you need to go shopping based on its contents and how your family uses the refrigerator.

The application of IoT technology is almost limitless.

IoT Comes at a Price
IoT will enable a future where every day devices are connected to the internet. In a world with billions of connected devices, privacy and data security becomes extremely important. IoT will collect data at a very granular level. When overlaid across devices and applications, companies are able to analyze and capitalize on this information quickly and in near real-time.

We have come to accept that some smart devices, such as our mobile phone, capture data associated with individual interactions. But, the ownership of this data is a matter of debate. Does the device owner or service provider own the data? Who can share that data with whom? Who must ensure data security? As consumers, we have never had to consider that for an appliance or a vehicle. 

There is no doubt that consumers should be able to control their own data. In addition, consumers must have confidence in how that information is protected and to be used.

What Should be Next?
Of all the technology trends that are taking place right now, perhaps the biggest one is IoT. It’s going to give us the most opportunity over the next several years. But, it has the potential to be the most disruptive and exploited. With the ever-increasing number of internet appliances and the amount of data that is generated in our increasingly connected world, it is essential that guidelines are developed to address privacy and security concerns.

It will be important to educate consumers on where and how their data is being shared. Consumers must become aware and accept that not all data is equally sensitive.  For example, data such as health, financial and individual communications should be subject to the more stringent privacy and security requirements than data that has been voluntarily given.

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David Schuchman     Princeton Technology Advisors