What is IoT?
The term IoT refers to “Internet of Things” as even though it may sound as a vague concept due to the simplicity of the world “things”, it could not be better defined. Because IoT encloses a very complex and modern concept that refers to the Internet of everything and anything — ergo things. Technological advances in the last decade have proved that in this particular case, the word “things” is not a vague use of the english language but rather a precie decision (even though linguistic experts would have the hairs in their necks stand) — because we have demostrated over and over again that Internet can be present in everything and anything, from the obvious tech devices such as smartphones, computers and tablets, to unthinkable devices such as tools, baby cribs, flower pots and pet feeders.
Given the ever-increasing number of connected devices, the IoT continues its path of evolution, adding different layers to the data that is already being shared and processed, and giving rise to sophisticated algorithms that result in improved levels of automation. (https://www.trendmicro.com/vinfo/us/security/definition/internet-of-things)
Why has IoT become more relevant as of lately?
The presence of Internet in our daily lives allows for an interobject communication in which information is constantly shared. And one of the most important discoveries that this technology has introduced to the business world is that information is power. More precisely, user data. The more detailed and specific the data a business owns of a user, the more precise it’s selling marketing could be and therefore a significant increase in sales and a more accurate marketing investment. This allows for budgets to be better distributed an used, less unsuccessfull campaigns and more faithful customers. All three points any business would like to ace.
For the common user, the people, a strong presence of IoT in everyday objects represents a better overall user experience, as well as a more secure and personalized interaction and knowledge of their usage. This includes for example, a more personalized news input, shopping suggestions, track of sports habits, automated appliances, automated grocery shopping, and much, much more. A seamless communication is possible between people, processes, and things.
What technologies have made IoT expand?
While the concept of IoT has been in existence for a long time, and has slowly been improving, a collection of recent advances in a number of different technologies has made it possible to apply these technologies to everyday objects at a significantly faster pace than ever before. Some technologies that has made this possible are:
- Lower cost sensor technology, that allows it to be sold at a lower price and therefore more accessible for manufacturers to buy and implement in their products. Sensor technology simplifies automatization and sensory activated actions, a big aspect of IoT.
- Connectivity that allows more efficient data transfer thanks to improvement in the internet hosting and protocols network.
- Cloud computing platforms. The increase in cloud based platform availability enables both the users and the businesses to access cloud stored information for better interconnectivity between devices as well as a larger storage infrastructure that allows for more access and less management.
- Machine learning and analytics, which increases the speed in which businesses can access and analyze data. Machine learning is a very popular field in full growth in the IT industry, that is improved every day and has no aparent limits as to how much it can tackle, pushing the boundaries with every advance.
- Conversational artificial intelligence (AI). Artificial intelligences are mimicking the human mind more and more every time, being able to learn habits and conversation, carrying out a more natural language processing and realistic dialogue. AIs have been implemented into IoT’s in affordable and attractive home goods. The massive use of these intelligences helps in the speed at which the AI’s can learn and improve daily.
What Is Industrial IoT?
In the provious paragraphs I have referred to the use of IoT mostly in the household and by businesses targetting the common user. But, since IoT can literally be applied to anything and everything, it also has a big presence and has been part of advances in the industrial field. This is known as Industrial IoT or IIoT for short, and refers to the application of IoT in an industrial setting. Its use is mainly in automatization, sensor control and synchronization with cloud based technologies. Wireless automation and control has allowed for machine to machine communication, creating faster communication and production, less space for error and a parallel data analysis that lets the production be changed or adapted during runtime. This reduces the place for errors and spoiled production as well as an improvement in costs and therefore overall revenue. Processes can be predicted and errors prevented way faster than without the technologies.
Technologies that are used in IIoT are sensors, machine connectivity, cloud based databases, wireless connections, automatizations, Artificial Intelligence and more.
“The IoT world is very rapidly changing and so you need to keep your landmarks in sight and stay open to integrate what is useful for you, change what can be optimized;” (Jens Beck, Director of IIoT, Analytics and Innovative Cloud Services at Canada-based Syntax)
What industries can benefit from IoT?
Even though everything and everyone can benefit from IoT, some industries can further benefit from the implementation of IoT. These are the businesses that would find a benefit in adopting sensor devices, machine interconnectivity, wireless connections, cloud based databases and Artificial Intelligences.
Some examples are:
Manufacturing: The manufacturing industry can defenitely benefit from the implementation of sensors and wireless connectivity between the machines. Sensors can measure production, send alerts to base in case of failure or inconsistencies, check equipment, measure amounts of produce. Wireless connections can trigger protocols in any case, be it once a process is done or in case of failure as far as security goes. This all can be done way faster than with traditional processes and therefore allows companies to reduce operating costs, get better runtime, assess and detect failures quicker and optimize resources.
Automotive: The automotive industry stands to realize significant advantages from the use of IoT applications. In addition to the benefits of applying IoT to production lines, sensors can detect impending equipment failure in vehicles already on the road and can alert the driver with details and recommendations. Thanks to aggregated information gathered by IoT-based applications, automotive manufacturers and suppliers can learn more about how to keep cars running and car owners informed.
Retail: As incredible as it sounds, even the retail industry can benefit from the implementation of IoT in stores. IoT applications allow retail companies to manage inventory, improve customer experience, optimize supply chain, and reduce operational costs. For example, smart shelves could be implemented with weight sensors that create alerts when stock is low, track sells, movement of items around the store during a normal business day and mucho more. Also sells can be matched with the buyer and send personalized newsletters according to the items bought and therefore improve the user experience as well as probably increase the overall sales.
These are just a few examples, yet implementations can be found in every and any business and industry.
How is IoT changing the world? Real examples of IoT implementation:
There is no better way to comprehend the real impact of IoT than to show real examples of improvement by the use of it in different industries and businesses:
- Amazon Echo and Google Home — Smart Home: AI voice assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are some of the most popular connected devices in consumer IoT. Users can talk to voice assistants like Alexa for help performing a variety of functions including playing music, providing a weather report, getting sports scores, ordering an Uber, and more. This improves the comfort and overall experience of the users in their homes, and provides extremeley valuable information to the respective owners of the service, in that they can get to know their user, compare users with one another to further study their market and offer better targeted products and services.
- Fitbit Charge 3 — Wearables: The Fitbit Charge 3 tracks your steps, floors climbed, calories burned, and sleep quality. The device also syncs with computers and smartphones through wifi to transmit your fitness data in understandable charts to monitor your progress. This allows users to share the information over several platforms of their preference in order to use the information gathered for their benefit to further improve their overall health lifestyle. Fitbit on its part, can analyze tendencies to also improve their products considering the needs of their users.
- Barcelona — Smart Cities: The Spanish city is one of the foremost smart cities in the world after it implemented several IoT initiatives that have helped enhance smart parking and the environment. This has a huge impact on the environment since it allows the citizens to carry out a more conscious lifestyle and learn about the green practices that can be implemented in the city. Also traffic may be reduced, trash, resources better distributed and overall have a cleaner city, and at some point, world.
The examples and uses are endless, yet there is no doubt that the expansion is exponential.
“The World Economic Forum […] estimates that there will be 41 billion devices capturing data on how we live, work, move through our cities and operate and maintain the machines on which we depend.” (https://www.cmswire.com/cms/internet-of-things/7-big-problems-with-the-internet-of-things-024571.php)
These numbers seem astronomical and unmeaseurable, and this huge growth brings with it inevitable uneasiness that highlights some of the drawbacks of IoT.
Drawbacks of IoT
Unfortunately, as awesome and modern as IoT sounds, it is not all perfect as it seems. The speed at which the advances occur does not allow for everything to keep up, and therefore there are many drawbacks that come together with the wonderful advances.
One of the biggest issues, as with everything technological, is data breaches. Having easy access to data is wonderful if used correctly. Unfortunately, the users’ private data is more exposed than ever too given the amount of devices to which the user is entering information and the vulnerabilities of these devices. Statistics show some worrying figures: 12.7 million Americans were victims of identity theft. A credit card number is the type of information that was most compromised, followed by a debit card number.
Data breaches are extremely dangerous and can be very damaging to both the user and the company where the information is stolen from. Companies also fear them and can lose the trust of their clients for good if the cyber attack came via their website pages.
The riskiest devices are said to be: smart toys for kids, off-brand IoT gadgets and second-hand smart devices. Also, any other device which is left with the default login information (example: username: admin, password: admin) no matter the brand, is also considered a huge vulnerability to all kinds of cyber attacks.
You might think that it may be not that dangerous that one of your gadgets is hacked, but since IoT is based on the interconnectivity between a big amount of devices, if a kids toy is hacked and it is connected to your home wifi network, then every other device connected to that network becomes vulnerable to the attack, and what began as a simple car track hack, may end up in a major computer breach.
Another drawback is the dependence IoT has on the internet connection. The communication between devices is fast and easy, as long as there is an internet connection that serves that connection. If for some reason the power is out or telecommunications are down and your whole house is smart and internet dependant, then you will probably not be able to carry out simple tasks such as locking doors or shutting blinds. Also, something less drastic, but if the connection is for some reason slower than usual, then user satisfaction decreases fast, since the users are used to extremely fast connections and downloading times. Fortunately, downtimes don’t occur often, yet when they do, the impact is huge.
Finally, another big drawback is the power and knowledge the users are giving big companies. At first with email addresses and cellphones, the information the users were giving was mostly contacts and usually business communications. Nowadays, with the strong presence of IoT in the user’s daily lives, companies own enormous amounts of intricate and detailed information about their users, such as the extent of their relationships with others, their faces, location, schedules, fitness habits, sleeping schedules, food preferences and much, much more. Nowadays, information is power, and the owners of bit IoT providers are having way too much of it by users who are willingly handing out the information without reading the Terms and Conditions.
In conclusion, I believe IoT is incredibly useful and provides a lot of benefits and improvements for everyone involved. Better use of resources for businesses, lower overall costs of production and loss, improved user experience, better customer satisfaction and even positive environmental impact. Yet, as with everything technological, when used with bad intentions the drawbacks can be huge. I believe that as users we have to be aware of the consequences and what we are willingly providing businesses with, since we are being part of the change and there are not many studies that show the real impact all of this can have in our lives and futures.