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How the ‘Internet of Things’ is Changing the World

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The expression “Internet of Things” (IoT) was coined by Kevin Ashton, executive director of the Audi-ID Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In a widely published presentation, he reminded his audience that humans “are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world”. He then went on to say:

If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing, or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best”.

Since then, the Internet of Things has become a widely recognised phrase, which represents countless innovations where objects are connected to the internet in order to increase the efficiency, safety and comfort of our homes, businesses, cities and everyday lives.

A wired society

From a technical perspective, IoT relies on the convergence of high-speed wireless networks like WiFi and Bluetooth, the Internet, and micro-electromechanical systems (mainly sensors).

Ashton’s quoted comment stays within the bounds of common sense by referring to capabilities such as “replacing, repairing, or recalling”. Other commentators, however, have given free rein to their imagination and outlined scenarios of anOrwellian world with smart furniture and smart animals, amongst other things.

How our world will change

IoT does imply the advancement of a wired society. This progression has already started and can be noted with products already in existence and being marketed to us today.

  • Philips Hue bulbs automatically switch on when an authorised person approaches a home
  • British Gas has its Remote Heating Control system
  • The August Smart Lock automatically unlocks a door when an authorised person approaches. Using a smartphone app, temporary access permission can also be issued to trusted family members, friends, or service personnel
  • The Ninja Block home automation kit monitors utilities like air-conditioning and heating, and responds to pre-set conditions. Motion sensors and automatic notification of things like the doorbell ringing are also included.

Research company Gartner predicts that 22 billion devices will be online by the year 2020. To repeat the basic requirements; an object, person, or animal must be given a unique identifier and have wireless access to the Internet. So what are some changes that we’re going to see?

Transport services

Cars and traffic control centres can be fitted with sensors that monitor traffic congestion for the purpose of re-routing traffic to less congested streets. We already know that Google is planning the release of a self-driving car as early as next year. It would require a very sophisticated range of sensors, data analysis programs, and corrective controls to keep such a vehicle safe from accidents.

Monitors can be connected to public or shopping centre parking areas and automatically direct drivers to a vacant slot. Bus, train, and taxi services can be checked for departure times and ticket availability.

Home based healthcare

For elderly or unwell people, sensors can be placed in their home to monitor things like:

  • Level of activity
  • Medication schedules
  • Heart rate
  • Sleeping pattern

Alerts can be sent to healthcare organisations and family members.

Smart buildings, cities, and communities

Utility consumption such as lighting, heating, and water can be monitored and automatically adjusted based on the number of people occupying space in a building, and their precise location.

Maintenance and repair requirements can be signaled to appropriate authorities immediately. This concept has already been implemented. The Korean city of Songdo has been wired, and traffic congestion, pollution levels, and public resources are monitored by computers and managed without human intervention.

Smart homes

The opportunities for building smart homes are endless. Monitors can automatically adjust temperature and humidity, energy consumption, lighting, and door locks. In addition, appliances like washing machines, refrigerators, coffee makers, TVs, and stereo equipment can be controlled remotely or via automatic pre-programming.

Construction industry

Substantial cost savings can be achieved by automating the “just in time” concept of inventory holdings and material deliveries. Additional cost savings can be achieved with error rate reduction and increased flexibility that allows products to reach the market faster.

Retail industry

Strategically placed sensors can monitor the demand for specific food items and automatically adjust ordering levels. Supermarkets experience a lot of wastage with items ordered in excess and thrown out once unfit to be sold. Smart sensors could substantially reduce this type of wastage in retail stores.


Sensors can be placed to notify authorities of impending earthquakes and storms. There are also opportunities for gathering data that measures the health of our planet.

While some people have concerns about the way in which all of this encroaches on their privacy, the IoT does make great sense as long as the intended utilisation is to help build a better society. Some of the more radical ideas, such as smart chairs and pets, we can probably put on hold for the time being.

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