Social media, mobile connectivity, Candy Crush—these things are old news. There is a bigger, badder technological revolution occurring: the Internet of Things, aka the IoT, in which everything from appliances to cows to us is online. This may seem like something out of a science fiction novel, but make no mistake, it’s coming. Cisco IBSG has predicted that by next year there will be 25 billion devices connected to the Internet, and 50 billion by 2020. What does this mean?
The Internet of Things is the idea that in the future, all things will be connected to the Internet via IP addresses and RFID tags. This movement will change how we work, how we play, and how we live. We’re not talking just instant access to all of human kind’s collective knowledge, but the creation of a world where everything can be quantified, tracked, and analyzed, hopefully in service of making our lives better. Here are seven ways the IoT will change how you live.
Smart homes are arguably the area where the IoT is already making its biggest impact. Energy-efficient appliances, thermostats that allow you to control the heat from your mobile devices, and comprehensive home monitoring systems that let you turn on and off lights and appliances from remote are just the beginning. With smart lighting systems, you can turn the lights in your home into multifunctional devices, like kitchen alarm times and email notification systems. Smart appliances can tell you when you are out of milk, while smart washing machines can let you know when it’s time to pick up laundry detergent. And these are just the technologies available now.
The Internet has already created multiple revolutions in education. Classrooms today are filled with learning technologies, and online simulations mean even hands-on subjects like chemistry can be taught effectively online. The IoT will advance education even more by turning the entire world, quite literally, into a digital learning environment. Once you start to think about it, you realize the applications are endless. Imagine students trying to learn a foreign language—all they would have to do is scan the RFID tag on an object to learn its name, hear how that name is pronounced, and have it used in a sentence.
The healthcare industry will also be completely revolutionized by the Internet of Things. Individuals are already using wearables like the Fitbit to track and improve their personal health, and some devices, like Bluetooth-enabled insulin pumps, already send data about diabetic patients’ blood glucose levels directly to their doctors. Possible future developments include sensors under the skin that can monitor patients’ vital signs, monitoring systems in the home that can go off in case of medical emergencies, and even improved appointment scheduling systems based on real-time data about doctors’ availability. As the U.S. population ages, these solutions will help balance out the increased demands that are expected to be put on the already stretched healthcare system.
Self-driving cars are already being road tested in Nevada and California. But beyond that, connected vehicles will lead to less traffic, fewer accidents, and less pollution. They could also help you find the best routes and the best parking spaces no matter where you are going. Then what would you have to complain about?
If you think the Internet has changed your buying habits, just wait until the IoT comes along. Retail is set to make a killing from targeted advertising, not just on your computer and your phone, but as you are actually walking through a store. Connected things will also enable businesses to improve their supply chain management and change their offerings and their pricing dynamically based on real-time supply and demand.
City planning and management
Wired cities could confer many benefits, including better control of traffic flows, the ability to remotely monitor the state of the infrastructure, and energy savings on streetlights and other utilities. Songdo, a city in South Korea, is leading this charge—with RFID tags on everything, the city is the first in the world to be totally wired.
Even our food will be a part of the new all-connected world. Texas company Vital Herd is working to make an “Internet of cows,” which is not a livestock social network, but rather a new way for farmers to monitor the health of their herds. Vital Herd is developing a device, which is inserted into a cow’s stomach and sends information back to the farmers. The food industry can also benefit from smart crop monitoring, climate control, and food safety systems.
The Internet of Things isn’t something that will one day be “turned on” and change the world. Rather, it is a network that is growing every day as more objects and devices are becoming connected. The change is already happening. Just look around.