An average person has at least two objects connected to the Internet, and this is expected to grow to seven by 2015, representing 25 billion wirelessly connected devices globally; and by 2020 this number is expected to triple, to a staggering 75 billion.
The Internet of today offers access to content and information through connection to web pages from multiple terminals like tablets, smart phones or TVs. The next step in its evolution will make it possible to access information related to the physical environment through connected objects, capable of sensing the environment and communicating through smart chips using Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID), crucially with or without human intervention – this is the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).
There are two main areas of discussion to bear in mind when talking about the IoT: first, what technological framework will be needed to unleash the potential economic and societal benefits of the IoT; and secondly, how can individuals and companies alike ensure that their rights are respected with the exponential growth of so much data.
From the perspective of society, the potential represented by the idea of the IoT is enormous. Imagine this: if a university lecturer cancels a morning lecture because they are sick, students’ alarm clocks and coffee machines could automatically be reset, giving them an extra hour in bed; if an elderly person forgets to take an essential pill, a warning text could be sent to a close family member, or even to a local emergency centre, to check that everything was ok; or a car may even reroute you around a potential traffic jam automatically.
Your fridge could sense that you were running low on milk, or a bag of salad is coming to the end of its use-by date and automatically talk to your online shopping account via your iPad, ordering a delivery for when you arrive home, informing you via text – the possibilities are quite literally as infinite as an individual’s imagination.
There are already devices that incorporate intelligent elements of the IoT, such as smart meters for energy grids that allow you to view the real time effects of using various electronic devices on your electric bill, and smart televisions that sync directly to your mobile phones or other mobile devices and with the technological restraints of IPv4 now loosed thanks to IPv6 the IoT is rapidly gaining pace. Indeed, the capabilities of the IoT are now only limited only by the ingenuity of manufacturers, software designers and platform providers in how they can make their products intelligent.
We shouldn’t expect that the IoT to happen overnight, and manufacturers need to ensure that the world’s underlying IT infrastructure is ready for the data deluge that the next generation of Internet-connected cars, kettles and washing machines will bring.
Man’s vision has always exceeded his grasp and, it is good that our ambitions continue to exceed our current abilities as it will spur us on to deliver on our imaginations. The IoT promises many possibilities, but one surety is that it will change our everyday lives just as radically, if not more so, than the birth of the commercial web itself did back in the 1980s.