What The Heck is… The Internet of Things?

24.10.2013 15:49

What The Heck is… The Internet of Things? By Bernard Marr


Some say The Internet of Things will be bigger than the Internet! Let me just pause for a second and say two things: firstly, what a stupid name for such an important development, and secondly, how can something be bigger than the Internet if it is part of it? Anyway, now I have got this off my chest, let’s look at what it really is and why people are making huge claims about it.

Basically, The Internet of Things describes the fact that many everyday objects, from diapers to self-driving cars, have (or will soon have) the ability to send and receive data via the Internet. In fact, during 2008, the number of devices connected to the Internet surpassed the number of people using the Internet. Today, we have over 10 billion connected objects in the world and by 2020, this is predicted to rise to 50 billion.

So, what does that mean for us? It means that we will have more data than ever before, indeed, we will soon have data about most things on the planet. To put this into perspective, the same amount of data that was generated from the beginning of time up to 2008 will soon be generated every 10 minutes – and the rate is accelerating faster than a drag racing car on steroids.

This huge increase in data means we can use it to create a smarter world, where buildings sense and predict temperatures outside and adjust heating or air conditioning systems inside, where cars will drive themselves, where electricity and water grids self-diagnose problems, where your alarm clock monitors your sleep and wakes you up at the right time so your body doesn’t feel tired and where your baby’s diaper tweet you when it needs changing. A futuristic vision? No, all of these things are already here today.

Here are a few more very real examples of what The Internet of Things can do today:

  • Wearable devices like the FitBit, UpBand and others collect data on how many steps you take, how well you have slept, how many calories you have consumed and much more. I believe that the next big push for the Internet of Things will come from Smart Watches – Samsung and Sony have already released theirs, and I believe versions from Google and Apple will follow soon. These devices will collect data on almost anything – your geographical location, your speed or your body functions - and will be able to use this data for analysis in their apps (synced to phones or tablets)
  • We can use wearable devices to monitor our health, our weight and our wellbeing. Other companies are now working on pills with in-built sensors, so when you swallow them, they take information from the inside of your body and submit it to devices such as smart phones. These pills will be able to alert you to any medical problems - just imagine a pill that senses the onset of labor in pregnant women and automatically informs their doctor and midwife.
  • We can already buy sensor mats that you place under your baby’s mattress to monitor their health. It detects breathing patterns and heart rate and alerts you if anything is wrong. Just imagine how many tragic cot deaths could be avoided that way.
  • Sensors are everywhere. Our oceans are full of sensors that track sea temperature and currents. There are a number of companies that put sensors into farmland to track its health and predict the right level of fertilizers required to obtain an optimal crop. Your toothbrush can sense how well you are brushing and send the analysis to your smart phone so you can learn and improve.
  • In my house, my security alarm is connected to the Internet and will alert me about any intruder. My bathroom scales are connected to the Internet and not only monitor my weight, body mass index and heart rate, but also the air quality in our house. I have light bulbs that link into my wireless network, which allows me to control them with my iPhone. I have sensors in my garden and indoor plants that send me a message to my phone when they need watering.
  • In the world of sport, we now see basketballs that collect data using 200 inbuilt sensors. The ball then sends the data to your smart phone where you can get an in-depth analysis of your performance as well as advice on how to improve your game. The same is now available for golf clubs, fishing rods, bicycles etc.
  • Our cars are already full of sensors, cameras and processors, but the pinnacle is Google’s self-driving car. The Toyota Prius (fitted with Google’s self-driving technology) is already licensed in California, Florida and Nevada. The car uses on-board computers, sensors and cameras to drive automatically and has already clocked up many hundreds of thousands of miles accident-free.

As you can probably tell, I love all of this and see endless opportunities for business, science and governments to exploit this new data tidal wave. Just imagine what will happen when you connect all these devices in even smarter ways - when your refrigerator knows what items are past their use-by date and re-orders them for the next shop; when your smart watch makes an appointment with your doctor because it has detected some abnormalities; when buses wait for a delayed train to arrive or finally when your alarm automatically adjusts its wake-up time because your early morning appointment has been cancelled overnight.

I even like the idea of the digital diaper - not because I need a tweet to tell me that my little one has done a ‘Number Two’ but because the next generation of these diapers will automatically analyze the urine and alert me to the onset of any infections even before any physical symptoms appear.

I hope this article has made the often fuzzy concept of The Internet of Things clearer. Please let me know what you think - what smart appliances or applications would you like to see?