And this one is all about freedom, flexibility and convenience – or maybe the rise of the machines.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is not a trend. It is the future. The phrase itself describes an imminent state where everyday physical objects identify each other, learn about each other, communicate with each other, and work together with minimal human interaction.
Special chips, sensors and wireless capabilities are already connecting these objects so they can act in unison. This is the dawning of a brave new world where devices have a singular consciousness, and are intelligent and self-aware. With the introduction of the latest internet protocol, IPv6, there are now enough IP addresses to give each object on the planet its own unique number. Think of it as an ID number for communication systems. Now, every device will have one.
Driven by a growth in intelligent and deep analytics, the rise of cloud computing and the availability of faster, more accessible and cost-efficient Internet, the IoT is slowly turning the world of physical machines and objects into a large, interconnected information ecosystem.
How large? Studies suggest that connected devices already outnumber the world’s population by 1.5 to 1. Add everyday objects to the mix, and you have a new global population that far exceeds our own – and presents innumerable, previously inconceivable possibilities.
Okay, so what are the practical applications of the IoT? Because the concept is still in its infancy, it can be tough to really imagine exactly how the IoT will change the world, our lifestyles, the way we work and play.
Let’s start by looking at it from a business context. Imagine computers independently gathering the information they need to tell when parts need replacing or products are defective. Imagine them independently keeping track of stock and placing orders – completely eliminating waste or human error, and preventing financial loss.
From a consumer perspective, consider how computerised new cars have become. Embedded computer chips can tell the driver everything he needs to know about his car – even alert him to faults before they occur. They can help him park, help him navigate, and, as is already being seen in the trucking industry and Google’s driverless vehicle prototype, drive without any human involvement.
To put the numbers into perspective, analyst firm Gartner predicts that by 2020, the number of devices on the IoT will be a staggering 26-billion. And Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index shows the amount of devices connected to IP networks in 2016 will be nearly three times the global population.
In the coming years, expect more interconnectedness. Each device you use – your electronic communication devices, your appliances, your car, your lighting – will be fitted with a sensor allowing it to communicate with you and other devices.
Context-aware applications will take it a step further. They will be able to adapt your environment to your mood – even at the office. If you are tired at work, your lights could grow brighter and your MP3 player start to play upbeat songs; the coffee machine might turn itself on for a much-needed dose of caffeine.
Data analytics and intelligence will come into their own. The amount of data that companies will collect from the various connected machines will give rise to a new kind of business intelligence, affecting all business functions from business strategy to customer service.
IoT is also set to dramatically increase productivity. Location-tracking will become so seamless, you will know where everything is at all times, ultimately saving cost and time, and reducing waste.
Companies will also have the ability to be greener than ever before. ‘Smart grid’ technologies, through the use of digital tools, will be able to control and minimise the use of power, and even bring in alternative sources of energy, such as solar and wind.
Without a doubt, IoT will forever change the way we live and work on a day-to-day basis. For many, it will increase quality of life, boost productivity, inspire us, and generally improve our performance.
The robotic future envisioned in literature and films is now becoming reality. Fasten your seatbelts.