The Internet of Things (IoT) can be an elusive, almost cryptic phrase to many people, but what it entails surrounds us every day, and is a significant part of what makes our daily lives and business processes easier, more functional, and more streamlined. IoT exists within manufacturing equipment, CCTVs, robots, wearable devices, air purifiers, traffic lights, and even rice cookers. As such, today, we are living in a fast-evolving world of programmable, internet-enabled objects that make up our increasingly networked world.
Ever since the first days of the Internet, there has been an ever-quickening progression from the time of hulking desktop computers tethered to wired modems to the modern day, where smartphones and wireless devices provide infinitely superior functionality and mobility, all from the palm of your hand – or places even smaller. In this era, however, it’s no longer just the traditional devices that are Internet-enabled.
Now, absolutely everything is being connected to the Internet – from the to-be-expected automobile to things as unlikely as your rice cooker. And, while coming home to a fresh bowl of rice is a luxury not to be missed, the implications of the Internet of Things extends far beyond the home, and into just about every industry and manner of business you can imagine.
A Goldman Sachs report on IoT stated that, “While we are still in the nascent stages of adoption, we believe the IoT opportunity for Industrials could amount to US $2 trillion by 2020. The IoT has the potential to impact everything from new product opportunities, to shop floor optimization, to factory worker efficiency gains that will power top-line and bottom-line gains."
When you take a look beyond the simple applications of IoT, its ability to change the world is staggering, and nothing short of magical. So, let’s take a look at how the whole world is quickly becoming one interconnected network of smart-objects and IoT systems, and what it means for both life and business.
Understanding The Internet of Things
IoT Agenda defines the Internet of Things as, “a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals, or people that are provided with unique identifiers, and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to computer interaction.” More generally, IoT is a technology that allows multiple devices or smart-objects to connect and share information wirelessly through the cloud. When new information is uploaded or added to a smart interface, it can be shared with and sent to other devices.
This allows an object like an air purifier, for example, to be programmed and linked to a user’s phone, and managed as if the user was in the room interfacing with the device directly. With the touch of a finger, the user can use their smartphone while still at work to turn on the home air purifier, and by the time they get home, they can be welcomed to a fresh, clean, low AQI environment.
The Nuts and Bolts of IoT
A complete IoT system requires the integration of a few key components in order to achieve full IoT-operability. The constituent components of an IoT system are: Sensors/Devices, Connectivity, Processing power, and a User interface.
Devices often comprise multiple sensors, but at the most basic level a sensor simply collects data from its environment. A sensor can record information as simple as location or movement, or the input of a user via their smartphone UI. Smartphones, as devices, comprise a variety of sensors, such as GPS, audio, video, etc.
Connectivity is the next step in the IoT process flow, and is the means by which the data collected by sensors and devices is transmitted for processing. This is the point where IoT and cloud technology come together. After data is collected by a sensor, it is then sent to the cloud by a variety of methods.
Sensors can be connected to the cloud via cellular connections, WiFi, NFC, low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN), RFID, directly through Ethernet connections, etc. These differing ways for sensors to connect to the cloud offer different advantages and drawbacks, and are suitable for different IoT applications.
Amongst the options for data transmission, a sacrifice between power consumption, range, and bandwidth is always the question. For example, WiFi is a preferable method for sending IoT data when the amount of data being sent is large, and reducing power consumption is necessary. This, however, comes at the cost of range – something you’ve probably experienced with your own home WiFi network; e.g. you can stream video wirelessly from your home WiFi network to your phone without quickly burning out the battery, but the distance you can stray from your router without sacrificing connection quality is limited.
Data Processing takes place in the cloud after data recorded by a sensor is transmitted by one of the above-described methods. Data processing can be very complex, or very simple – this all depends on the IoT application in question.
An example of complex data processing is something like IBM’s Edge IoT Analytics. In one case, IBM aimed to analyze customer satisfaction in the hospitality industry by combining the technologies behind their Watson Tone Analyzer and Watson Speech-to-Text to capture hotel customers’ conversations with staff.
The extent of data processing an analysis involved in this project was extremely complex. The complexity displayed by IBM in this case – when compared to the more rudimentary data processing of information such as AQI level changes – highlights the range of complexity that can be involved in IoT data processing.
User Interfaces are where the results of data processing become of use to an end-user. Following with the example of an IoT-enabled air purifier, an end-user would benefit from the previous three components of their air purifier IoT system when the AQI sensors in their home air purifier records an increase in PM 2.5 levels. Once this data is recorded, the sensors from the purifier send that data via WiFi to the cloud to be processed. The cloud servers that process and manage the air purifier’s data will subsequently send an alert to the end-user’s user interface – their smartphone – suggesting to the end-user that they turn on the air purifier to cleanse the polluted air.
The Future of the Internet of Things
Amidst the current technological boom, IoT benefits greatly from the interplay of existing cloud and big data technology, conglomerating massive amounts of data from small objects and previously analyzed information. Today, small chips can hold great deals of information. However, as connectivity technology progresses from 4G to 5G, there is an impending revolution in IoT technology and applications. With the upgrade from 4G to 5G, the processing power of smart objects will increase dramatically, and will allow for even smaller objects to connect to the Internet of Things – processing, storing, and transmitting significantly larger quantities of data.
5G will be 5-10x faster than 4G, and will facilitate lower-powered devices to connect, enabling the function of IoT devices on a massive scale. This will allow for the recording, processing, an analyzing of exponentially larger quantities of data compared to today, and will facilitate developments and improvements across all industries, and in all areas of life.
A Business Insider report forecasts that when 5G is fully deployed, it will increase network capacity such that the network will be capable of handling data transmitted by more than 34 billion connected devices across the globe by 2020 – tripling the current number of connected devices. As well, the report predicts that businesses will be the number one adopter of IoT solutions, implementing them to decrease operating costs, boost productivity, expand to new markets, and develop new product lines.
One example of such 5G and IoT adoption will be the drastic effect on the auto industry, where it will increase safety, function, and user experience by enabling the increased IoT-ization of the consumer vehicle. One industry forecast predicts that “IoT will account for 25 percent of the global 41 million 5G connections in 2024,” and around 75 percent of these will be in embedded vehicle connections.
Another related development from 5G will be the enabling of massive Machine Type Communications such as solar-powered streetlights and other advancements in citywide infrastructure, such as AI- and IoT-enabled traffic flow analysis.
With 5G, lower-powered IoT micro cameras will be able to quickly capture and process data from highways and streets to better coordinate traffic lights, decrease traffic, and decrease instances of traffic jams. As well, both of these IoT advancements will have massive effects on supply chains for long haul trucking, optimizing routes, decreasing travel times, and will eventually play a major role in the automatization of shipping and logistics.
These traffic smart grids, often distributed light by light, will be able to collect information about the density of cars in specific intersections and the volume of traffic. The grid interconnects each of the lights and uses a pre-programmed algorithm to assert which light change will best support the traffic flow at the time. One smart grid in Jinan even uses smart solar panels to charge cars as they drive.
In this way, diverse types of small devices can be placed throughout an area of interest to produce a “smart zone”, a region where digital information is transmitted for use. This advancement allows for data to be spread faster and in larger amounts, between multiple smart objects and internet-enabled interfaces.
IoT, Industry 4.0, and China
China’s industries are accelerating forward in Industry 4.0 (the next industrial revolution, powered by technology) with more and more smart factories utilizing IoT-enabled manufacturing elements and AI implementations, while simultaneously, cities continue to develop Smart features.
In 2017, the Chinese government allocated US $14.6 billion towards an Internet Investment Fund. Strong players like Alibaba, JD, and Xiaomi lead innovation in technology in China, which occupies 40 percent of the global e-commerce market. Currently, China is vying for the title of industry leader in Internet of Things, with competition from Singapore, Denmark, and England.
The Chinese government’s mission to produce and sustain an innovation-driven economy has opened up the digital development sector for opportunity. Internet of Things implements leading disruptive technologies like cloud computing, big data, high processing power, and smart interfaces to interlink leading innovation in the technology sector. Smart factories use all of the former-mentioned technologies to combine human, hardware, and software power.
Cloud computing in China is not generally accessible or sought-after for ordinary consumers, but is successfully implemented in public and shared spaces. Smart traffic grids, factories, and police surveillance systems all take advantage of the power of cloud computing to store mass amounts of information. Smart objects can use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to draw conclusions from shared data and make appropriate changes. In industrially-developing cities, this sets a stage for less error, more productivity, and increased access to data.
Factories can work at higher efficiency and use data to review errors or setbacks in the supply chain. Internet of Things allows the flow of information, physical products, and ideas to move more smoothly. In Wuhan, one future police station is to be run completely by AI. The 24/7 station will depend on smart objects to assist in facial recognition, location tracking, and information correspondence.
The modern consumer is focused on instant feedback, and more than half of the world’s population is online. IoT allows large amounts of complicated information to be collected, shared, and stored.
In the healthcare field, IoT is used to connect patients, doctors, and insurance companies. Information from electrocardiogram machines can be sent to computers, which can be directly sent to a clinician’s computer or mobile device. Patients can access their medical records and use interaction-friendly interfaces to download and distribute test results. Smart factories optimize supply chain and inventory processing.
The current industrial revolution has brought life to an era where factories take advantage of disruptive technologies to make great strides. Big data, cloud computing, Internet of Things, and cognitive computing are among the gears required to set smart factories into motion. As these technologies grow in China, more opportunities for innovation will bloom.
Welcome to the World of Infinitely Interconnected Things
The Internet of Things is an extremely disruptive technology which a large portion of the world is already benefitting from every day. In many ways, IoT is one of the most seamless technologies emerging from the end-user perspective, but its effect on industry, especially in concert with AI and big data, is going to revolutionize business models around the world, forcing industry leaders to adapt and thrive in a fully interconnected, internet-enabled world.
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