The Internet of Things (IoT) is being hailed as the next megatrend in technology, with some describing it as ‘the third wave of the Internet’. It has the potential to change the way all of us interact with the physical world, and has repercussions for businesses, governments, consumers and basically anyone who deals with technology. It’s natural that this has already facilitated some real innovations in the world of IT. Here are the top 5 trends in the Internet of Things that we recommend keeping an eye on.
1. Self-Driving Cars
What was once a luxury in science fiction movies is now starting to be seriously considered as a real possibility in the not too distant future; some companies have actually announced that the necessary technology is just a few years away. Many of the major tech and automobile companies are working on it, including Google, Microsoft, Uber, Amazon, Mercedes, Bosch, Nissan and Audi. Uber aims to convert its application into becoming a fully autonomous service, and intends to be cheaper than car ownership.
Self-driving cars are a good example of IoT, as they are supposed to contain multiple sensors that communicate their presence and observe their immediate environment. For now the technology for autonomous cars can only be seen in prototype vehicles, but companies such as Google and Toyota are planning to get self-driving cars on the market by 2020.
2. Smart Appliances
Though smart appliances are to be found everywhere in technology trade shows such as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there haven’t really been any products that have broken through into everyday usage. The biggest advance in this rapidly expanding market has been the Nest Learning Thermostat, a smart thermostat created by Nest Labs. The company was founded by former Appleengineers Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, which is reflected in the thermostat’s classic Apple combination of a simple minimalist interface belying advanced technology underneath. The company has since been acquired by Google, and is now a Google property.
There are plenty of features on offer in the Nest Learning Thermostat, but by far the most noteworthy is the one that’s part of its name: its capacity to learn. The thermostat determines your routine through observation, and adapts its functionality based on this information, so that you never have to programme it. The efficiency that the Nest Learning Thermostat offers can save you money on heating and cooling – Nest assert that their product can save users up to 20% on energy.
Another way IoT could change domestic life is through whole-home solutions. Companies such as Crestron are creating bespoke systems so that users can manage their security, energy use, lighting HVAC and entertainment systems from a single application on a tablet or mobile device. Apple, not one to shy away from a market with giant potential, has announced the release of HomeKit, a platform intended for developers to use for creating device-controlling apps for smart homes. The goal is to provide a single platform for the whole industry to facilitate growth and innovation.
3. Smart Cities
Half of the global population currently lives in urban cities, a figure that is expected to rise to two thirds by 2050. This means that 2.5 billion more people have to find the necessary housing, employment and transportation in their respective cities. Cities today are already overwhelmed with traffic congestion, pollution, crime, waste problems and inefficient lighting that eat up energy budgets. This is a challenge that IoT can rise to, alleviating the hazards of this impending mass migration.
Smart traffic management can prevent more traffic jams, as real-time data can tell drivers which areas are less busy. Traffic lights with embedded video sensors can adjust their greens and reds according to where the cars are and the time of day, reducing both congestion and smog; cars waiting at red lights burn up to 17% of the fuel spent in urban areas. Monitoring vehicles and pedestrian levels can enhance driving and walking routes. Smart parking sensors can inform drivers of available parking spaces. Streetlights can save energy by only turning on when a car is approaching.
Sensors have the potential to save cities a lot of money in unnecessary maintenance. Infrastructure could be built to be able to draw attention to any issues, and residents can report damages and problems through smartphones.
4. Smart Aviation
IoT provides us with the technology to prevent airline disasters, so there should really be more of a drive for the airline industry to quickly implement these solutions. Airplanes do collect data on fuel efficiency, location, altitude and maintenance issues, and have done for a long time. However, this data is usually only processed after the plane lands. Thanks to advancements in connectivity and data processing software, aviation could easily benefit from the IoT network and real-time data. This technology could override the pilot in crisis situations or provide the location of aircraft more frequently, and could have prevented disasters such as Germanwings or Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
However, there is progress being made. Sensors in plane engines can now detect emerging problems, partly by measuring the temperature of a jet engine’s exhaust, and can connect with pilots and ground crews whilst the aircraft is still in flight. IoT has also improved the fuel efficiency of aircraft by measuring fuel use in the air, and making modifications such as moving the wing flaps to reduce drag and save fuel.
5. Smart Agriculture
Though we don’t immediately associate farmers with high-tech gadgetry, those who work in the agriculture industry adopt whatever means they can to improve their yield. As farms get bigger, they become more and more difficult to keep track of, so farmers are turning to data-gathering Internet-connected devices to assist them. Some farming equipment such as certain new solutions from John Deere can now collect vital data such as air and soil temperatures, moisture, wind speed, humidity, solar radiation and rainfall. Smart watering systems can improve water efficiency by sprinkling precisely the correct amount in the correct places, and can detect leaks in water pipes.
These are just a handful of the many areas in which the Internet of Things is solving problems and revolutionising the way in which we interact with the world. A future of interconnected devices is closer than you think.