What’s in your wallet? Or how about just in your pocket? Around your wrist? What’s in your car, your refrigerator, and even your coffee maker? What if I told you the answer was the internet?
Okay, I’ll admit that’s a bit of a cheesy line. But it’s not far from the truth, and before long it probably won’t even give you pause. After the introduction of globally available WiFi and the onset of the smartphone revolution, many in the industry believe the next step in the internet’s evolution is a dramatic increase in the number of everyday devices connected online — also known as “the Internet of Things.”
The Internet of Things is not a new concept.
The name was first coined by Kevin Ashton as far back as 1999. At the time, he noted how computers were dependent on manual entry for all of their data. They were essentially “brains without senses,” completely unable to interact with the physical world by themselves. Ashton and other visionaries at the time predicted that this would change. Eventually computers would not just learn how to interact with the world around them: they would become an integral part of the landscape.
Flash forward to 2017, and it’s pointless to question the accuracy of Ashton’s prediction. More and more devices in our lives now come equipped with sensors, WiFi capability, and even artificial intelligence in order to more efficiently perform their tasks. This includes devices across the spectrum; from refrigerators that can tell you when you’re low on eggs, to traffic lights that are able to combat rush-hour gridlock. In 2017, if a device can be connected, it probably is.
Probably the most exciting application of IoT technology in 2017 is the advent of smart cities.
Metropolises around the world are using smart devices and data collecting technology to make life easier. In Kansas City, sensors monitor traffic data to help people find open parking spaces. In Barcelona, smart traffic lights have reduced traffic by 21%, and streetlights save energy by only turning on when they sense people are in the area. Some industry leaders even have plans to build their own smart cities from the ground-up, with one company planning to build floating, connected cities off the coast of French Polynesia.
Although it’s not as sexy as a floating city, the industrial applications for IoT technology will arguably drive innovation even more in the coming years. Increased connection between employees, production facilities, and the deployment of data is an invaluable asset to every industry, and will likely become commonplace in the next few years. Applications of such technologies have already begun to have a positive impact on companies’ profits and productivity; using machine learning and IoT Technologies, Hershey was able to save over a half a million dollars, putting more money in their pockets and more candy in ours.
IBM estimates that, by 2020, over 200 billion devices will be connected across the world, meaning the Internet of Things isn’t just here to stay: it’s only going to get bigger. Obviously there is a still a lot of progress to be made. Much of the data being collected is still not being used at maximum efficiency, and as devices get smarter more applications will make themselves apparent.
At the same time, many people are urging caution before we fully embrace a totally connected world, citing privacy issues and concerns over the ownership of data. These are legitimate concerns, and ones that will need to be answered as the technology starts to become more widespread.
But it’s hard not to get excited about the Internet of Things. Floating cities? Toasters that send you a text when you’re out of bread? The list of domestic, public, and industrial applications is only as limited as your imagination. Whatever side of the issue you fall on, evangelist or skeptic, one thing is for certain. The world is about to get a whole lot smarter — and a whole lot more interesting.