Everyone is talking about IoT…but what exactly is it?
IoT is an acronym for ‘the Internet of Things’. ‘Things’, as I’m sure you may have thought, does not sound particularly tech savvy compared to many of the world’s current pioneering technologies, however I assure you that IoT is the omnipotent master of all devices. So much so, in fact, that many are in fear of its’ potential influence.
In a nutshell, IoT is a network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data. In effect, everything can talk to everything and there is no limit to how far the network can span.
On a small scale, this means that micro networks can be established in the home. Often referred to as Smart Homes, this IoT technology allows homeowners to control and automate heating, lighting, ventilation and security, as well as home appliances such as washers, driers, ovens and refrigerators that use Wi-Fi for remote monitoring. Most systems generally consist of switches and sensors connected to a central hub, which can in turn be controlled by a smartphone app. Warm the oven up as you’re five minutes from home, turn off the bathroom light as you head to your next meeting – a smart home claims to be both convenient and energy efficient.
On a larger scale, macro networks are beginning to be established in cities. Often referred to as Smart Cities, the vision is that IoT will enable cities better management of their assets. For example, IoT could tell you the location of the nearest available parking space, and notify you when your time is up. Smart bins can notify crews when they are full, allowing them to send rubbish trucks to areas where they are most needed and Leeds University has even led a £4.2m project to create a fleet of robot repair workers that can spot infrastructure problems before they become disruptive.
Intelligent Transportation Systems
IoT also gives rise to Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). These systems boast ideas such as driverless busses and trains, claiming that they will enable a faster, more frequent and reliable service as well as boosting capacity on the lines. In 2014, Transport for London unveiled 250 driverless tube trains, explaining that their current tube trains are only operated by the driver in emergency situations. These trains should come into service from 2022.
As with any revolutionary tech breakthrough, IoT is causing a stir.
Many are in favour of its remote access and energy saving abilities, while others suggest that only some forms of IoT will be energy efficient. According to experts, smaller scale IoT networks will store data in the cloud and hence won’t have a big impact on energy consumption, whereas applications that require rapid data access and response times – such as health monitors and autonomous vehicles – will need data to be stored locally and therefore efficiency gains from offshoring of data storage could diminish.
People are also worried that IoT’s ability to cut humans out of certain processes could not only lead to job losses, but also to serious accidents. For example, on the subject of driverless trains and busses, many worry that these I-transport machines could change the interactions that characterise urban life. Rick Robinson, IT director of smart data and technology at Amey asks: “Are pedestrians and cyclists sharing street space with automated vehicles going to feel more or less safe if they can’t look into the eyes of the driver and understand whether they’re about to stop to let them cross? These are very basic things, but they have a huge influence on the vitality of urban environments and what takes place within them.”
What the future holds
IoT is a technology that still needs time to unfold. But with experts estimating that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020, it is certainly fast evolving. Enjoy switching off those lightbulbs while you can folks, it’ll soon be a story to tell the kids about!