What a charming turn of phrase to describe a trend that has the potential for sinister, ubiquitous, paralyzing control of your life or the not so sinister but equally pervasive, liberating revolution in how you live: the Internet of Things or, as it is affectionately known by those who are convinced of its irreversibility, the love for internet of things. Well, I’m sure it’s not quite as Kubrick-esque as I made it out to be in the title, but it won’t hurt to understand (quickly) what a lot of different people understand it to mean.
Imagine a world in which every living thing, animal or plant, and every non-living thing too, either has an electronic senor embedded in it or is monitored by one. And imagine that all the data generated by all these sensors monitoring all these animate and inanimate subjects is being collected and transmitted every moment of your waking and sleeping life in an interminable stream of information! (If my name was Wachowski, I’d make a movie about it. Oh, wait! There is a movie about it, but never mind). And now imagine that all this data is analyzed and repackaged in real time and communicated to various other devices in this imaginary world for action.
Finally, imagine that this world is not imaginary at all but exists already: that, children, is the Internet of Everything, or Internet of Things. And it’s here!! There are an estimated 3.8 billion such devices in use as of today, and the volume is projected to grow to 25 billion by 2020 by one account (50 billion by another one and 75 billion by a third source). Let’s just say someone had too much coffee while making those estimates, and it’s actually going to be just half of the conservative estimate. That’s still TWELVE AND A HALF BILLION devices connected to existing infrastructure and exchanging information – your information – with each other incessantly. A bit like the chatter at an American quilting, but much much more deserving of your immediate, panicked, undivided attention.
So, unless you’re planning to spend the rest of your life collecting firewood, and fishing and picking for food, and living in a shack, do yourself a favor and brush up on how and where the IOT interferes, intervenes, impacts and improves your life (not to mention occasionally making a complete nuisance of itself).
# 1 – Smart Home and smart Buildings: Improve productivity and save costs
The last two decades – if not more – have seen a fair bit of false starts of how each device in your home could exchange usage data with a central processor and also communicate with external resources. The by now cliché example of your refrigerator communicating with the grocer’s computer to advise him that your milk has gone sour (slob, you) and ordering a fresh carton, with payment being debited from your credit card or online account is, despite its child-like simplicity, quite an effective description of what an IOT does.
Google put up $3.2 billion in 2013 to support the start-up company called NEST Thermostat which boasts of controlling all energy consuming devices in your home – TV, stereo, computers, lights, washing machines, dishwashers – from your mobile phone and (this is where it gets sexy) programming itself by “learning” your usage schedules and saving you about 20% or more in costs. And of course you can track your truant teenager (provided you can secretly plant a sensor on him/her). While a number of companies offer bespoke systems for individual smart homes, the viability of the sector is underpinned by the fact that Apple (did you just gasp in excitement?) has now entered the market. And Apple doesn’t go anywhere if there isn’t money to be made. So belt up for some great smart home apps coming out in the next five years, followed closely by Android and Microsoft and Google. The point being that your smart home can run pretty much by itself without much input from you, leaving you free to focus all your intellectual energies on next Kardashian saga of vacuous narcissism. (oops, sorry! My bolshie side waking up).
And if there’s a market for smart homes, there’s obviously an even bigger market for smart offices. Some of which have serious Orwellian potential. While a tracker on the uniform of a factory or constructor worker can set off an alarm and call for emergency and medical assistance if he/she has been stationary for too long, it can also let your boss know if you’ve been hanging around the water fountain too often too long. And sooner than you think, your boss’ car will be able to tell the basement parking to open up, the private elevator to come to pick them up, and to get you to be in their office to receive the first chastisement of the day.
#2 – Traffic Planning: The end of gridlock means less frustration on road and carbon benefits
And your praying that the boss gets held up in traffic while you scramble to finish your assignment before their arrival may also go unanswered, if the IOT has anything to do with it. Most gridlocks are caused by people circling the block trying to find parking. If unmanned traffic drones could identify parking spots and relay them to your phone app (for a fee), or if the available bay could itself send you the information and let you book it (for a fee), wouldn’t it save oodles of time, letting you get to the desk in time, finish up the assignment, and greet your boss at the elevator? The good thing is, it’s already here; you can benefit from it to some extent at least in the swankier parking plazas. And you should too, because your boss’ car will be using the express lanes (for a fee, paid for through the corporate credit card of course) advised by the onboard GPS device to avoid traffic congestions. With the unfortunate consequence that your boss might still beat you to it. Le plus ça change, le plus c’est la même chose.
#3 – Smart and Driver less Cars will change the way we drive: More time and less accidents
All because, while you’re on public transport your boss’ vehicle is connected to the IOT. While their current Mercedes-Benz may be smart enough to interact with their smartphone to gather information about their appointments and follow efficient routes proposed by the onboard GPS, they (your boss) may soon upgrade to a Tesla S, which can already interact with approaching charging bays if it’s getting low on juice (it’s just not gas anymore) and, with Autopilot using cameras, radar, and 360ᵒ sonar, can drive equally easily on open highways and in congested urban traffic and fit into parallel parking better than your dad ever could. So don’t bother looking out of the window; trust the IOT to make sure the boss is arriving to spook you.
There may well be 250 million such cars on the roads by 2020, with many of them capable of driving themselves, watching out for blind spots, avoiding pedestrians (there goes your chance of ending the misery by throwing yourself in front of one), communicating with each other to veer clear and potentially reduce head-on collisions by a staggering 85%, and avoid a substantial number of the estimated 1.3 million road related deaths that occur now. Or the approximately 8 million traffic accidents each year that result in people ending up in ER (instead of at their desks working on the next presentation). These benefits are of course in addition to the $1 trillion in fuel and lost productivity that would be saved when the onboard computers of cars cooperatively stack themselves much closer to each other than their human occupants can, and which result in 220 million tones of carbon-equivalent wastage on the roads as cars idle in a gridlock.
# 4 – Health Care: Increase life expectancy
Now, of course if your boss constantly manages to jump you no matter how hard you try to be there before him (or you do manage to successfully land in front of a human driven vehicle), you will become a beneficiary of the health services to receive treatment for stress, hypertension, anxiety, diabetes and the various other boss-induced ailments of the 21st century. Sensors worn on your wrist (they’ve been on the market for a good five years now) monitor your pulse, heart rate, oxygen level, state of activity, and even stress levels. The information can easily be cross-checked against the safe baseline established by your family physician, and if the safe zone is breached, alert you, your doctor, and your significant other to an impending crisis, enabling all parties to take urgent remedial measures to avert disaster. However, given that, in order to ensure that help arrives where you are, the system will also advise your location. So you’re best advised to not indulge in heart-rate elevating activities in places where you’re not supposed to be, with people you’re not supposed to be with. Or at least take the sensor off for the duration. Which would, nevertheless, cause another, more serious, alarm to go off. And you really don’t want that. So, just grow old quietly. The IOT will take care of you in old age too.
Chances are, if you’re a baby boomer in Canada, you’ll be joining the pensioners’ class soon; by 2035, 23% of the Canadian population will consist of retired boomers. Sensors can already monitor any medical crisis occurring in old-age people at home, remind them of their medication, and even confirm it remotely to their care-givers. An old person falling in the night and breaking their hip can lead to huge medical care costs for the state, and the state would really like it if the light came on in your path as you sneak to the fridge to eat that hidden wedge of cake so that you don’t fall, but also for the fridge to tell them that the cake has been eaten, and for the nurse to be alerted that a diabetic crisis is imminent. Medtronic’s subcutaneous implant is already beginning to do that reliably, so go ahead and eat that cake; I dare you.
# 5 – Smart Grid: Save the bill, earth and emissions
But all these devices in your home run on power. Which (you guessed it) costs money. And so, not just pensioners, but your average housewife, is understandably concerned about her energy consumption. To make sure that grandma’s defibrillator is always ready, junior’s hockey uniform is washed, and you don’t miss your soap, the power must stay on. Always. Sunny morning or blizzardy evening. But that means that the grid must maintain idle power capacity in the lean hours so it can successfully continue to provide power at peak hours. And that means back-up generators and back-up fuel. Funnily (not), power tariffs are not sensitive to demand, and peak consumption costs the same as lean hour consumption; with the consumer becoming indifferent, it places the grid under tremendous pressure. In walks Smart-Grid to save the day (and your wallet), an IOT concept that prices power according to daily demand cycles, and interacts with household devices to schedule activities efficiently, managing the thermostats so that the AC (or heating) doesn’t need to be on till an hour before you return, the washer/dryer doesn’t turn on till late in the night when power is at its cheapest (but don’t pull out your bat if things go “bump” in the night). Along with large batteries that can save power during the night (and pay for it), smart meters can actually “sell” surplus power back to the grid at the higher tariff during peak, thus further evening out the load. This assumes increasing poignancy for Canada where a number of households are beginning to use solar panels for a major portion of their energy production and consumption, so that the smart-meter/smart-grid tag team can truly create a binary power business between the grid and the household.
Power lines and pipelines are getting a high-tech upgrade, too. Data collected by sensors in the lines can be analyzed to detect and isolate maintenance problems. And predictive software already on the market can anticipate which trees are most likely to fall and take down lines. Cisco builds pipelines lined with sensitive fibers that can sense leaks and radio for help right away. For aging pipelines, GE has developed software that collates seismic data, topographical details, population density, and hospital and school locations to help make maintenance decisions on an ongoing basis or in emergencies.
# 6 – Smart Transportation: More with less and better ROI
All of this saving, wow! What are you going to do with the money sloshing around in your account? Take a vacation of course. And again, use the services of the IOT. Never lose luggage again (electronic tags). Never land at the hotel to find out its over-booked (the IOT pre-warns you). But best of all, never have to wait interminably between train and plane connections. Sensors installed in tracks and in trains allow trains to be scheduled far more efficiently than the legacy light-based systems; this is already happening on the New York subway on some lines, where 26 trains can be run in the same time that used to allow for only 15 to do so. Which means less waiting time for you, and lesser risk of missing a connection. Speaking of which airlines, some of the most evolved animals in the transportation jungle, have been trying to perfect their scheduling for decades, with a degree of success. GE’s tool which calculates fuel use inflight and subtly moves the wing flaps to reduce drag also allows planes to cover their journeys more precisely, not to mention saving the airlines a good 1% of their fuel bills (savings which, wait for it, do NOT get passed on to you but to the airline’s shareholders; gotcha there, didn’t I?). But the IOT also has the potential to remotely commandeer the plane if a disgruntled pilot locks out the crew and tries to crash the plan, and thus avert the kind of tragedy that occurred with the Germanwings plane. And the IOT could also use the data that is being generated in the plane about defects and faults in the plane and alert the cabin and ground maintenance crew to prepare corrective measures.
It should be obvious by now that love for internet of things is such an all-encompassing concept that not even a series of blogs could even begin to do justice to its potential. It has implications in industry, manufacturing, agriculture, environment and crime prevention. And it also has the potential to become intrusive to the extent that the state knows and controls your every action and thought. It is a tool that can be used for good, and for bad, depending on the hands it will land in. It monitors you, for your own good, and for the malicious pleasure of the deep state. So if you’re scared enough of its Orwellian potential to the extent of giving up it benefits, you’d better get going with that cabin in the woods. Unconnected from the IOT.
Except, of course, the drones can still see you while you wash in the stream, and beam it to whoever wants to know why you’re not on the Internet of Things.
We, at MarkiTech, can help you with an independent and unbiased point of view due to our deep understanding of both the technology and business. At the end of the day, we can speak on your behalf and help you roadmap towards success with IOT trend.
Written and concieved by Khurram Jamil Butt aka KJB, Content Manager, MarkiTech
Edited, conceptualized and research done by Nauman Jaffar, CEO, MarkiTech
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