Internet of Things – A Challenge of Imagination

Internet of Things – A Challenge of Imagination

By Sanda Berar

“Everything connected” is arguably the hottest topic in the technology world right now – even if universal consensus has not been reached on what “everything” is. Key trends like ubiquitous connectivity, low-cost sensors and cloud computing are driving the changes and will eventually impact all the objects around us. More metadata is captured by sensors and everything gets connected, from the watch to the pill bottle.

We are in the very early stages, but Cisco, Ericsson, GE, McKinsey – all predict an enormous growth – 50B devices connected to the internet by 2020, 1T by 2035. Gartner predicts that over the next five years the IoT will shift from buzzword to mainstream.

These connected smart devices are already a reality as they start to be integral part of the objects around us. Today’s impetus behind the user adoption is efficiency and productivity: smart home monitoring and control systems with the promise of energy efficiency, (fitness) wearables with the promise of a better health and increased personal productivity, smart tooth brushes that improves our tooth-brushing efficiency and smart tags with the promise of never having to waste time to search for your keys, and so on.

More than 69% of US consumers say they expect to own an in-home “Internet of Things” appliance (such as a thermostat or refrigerator) in the next five years, according to a recent report from Acquity Group. About 30% of US consumer already own or plan to purchase one in the next two years. Some 7% of the US consumers say they already own a wearable IoT device, and twice as many expect to do so by 2015. We are “halfway”, to understand and meet IoT’s potential.

The objects are getting smarter and smarter but (most) are only “half” smart, not completely autonomous or capable of learning and adapting. We have thousands of smart and connected devices, but there is a long way to “everything” connected. For example, when the smart fire alarm goes off in your home, it will not just beep, but send alerts to all household phones. But why wouldn’t it talk with the gas appliances in the house to shut them off and make a call to the fire-station?

Furthermore, there is still a disconnect between the potential huge impact on people’s quality of life in the next 10-20 years and people’s understanding of these new “smart connected things” and their actual benefits in the day-to-day life. What will they be able to do more? How will they help improve my life? Why would I ever pay so much more for a “smart connected” fridge or watch or lighting system, when the “dumb, un-connected” one serves its purpose.

IoT technology and the ecosystems around it could enable significant changes in the way we live our lives – from the very mundane day-to-day things to changes in the social and environmental sustainability, from the way we shop to the way we do our work and travel, from education to energy use and so much more. Today 99% of the world is still un-connected. Amazing things can happen when we connect the unconnected.

But in order for this to realize, we need not only advancements in technology, but also advancements in system’s usability and fit to people’s actual needs. We need for people to get engaged and make the most of the opportunities brought by the technology. For the visionary future of IoT to take shape, we need to allow our imagination to drive us.

Smart devices or smart people?

We are thinking today how to build smart devices. Nest, Google’s smart connected thermostat learns the environment and your habits and in about one week is able to personalize its features to you and dynamically adapt to the context. How about devices that would help people to better adapt to the context, to react faster to a change in environment? What if the teacher in the classroom does not need to have doubts anymore – “Is this lecture proceeding well or are all my students bored to death”? What if the sensor data from the smart connected desks in the room can be collected to give to teacher an average of the “class engagement” so they can adapt the speed and tone of the lecture?

Today we have our smartphones, the best example of how smart and connected our devices became. When we are looking into buying our next smart phone – we are searching for one even smarter. More processing capacity, they “think faster”, have more memory, a better “vision” with higher and higher camera resolution, improved audio system with dual-sensor array microphones and more. What we would really want is for us to become smarter. To have better memory. To see or hear better. Would the smart connected wearables of the future help me to become (or at least appear) smarter, more knowledgeable, to have a better vision or hearing?

Smart homes or smart family?

The smart home systems of today allow us to control lights, appliances in the home, save energy, and monitor who enters and leaves the house. Still what we are really struggling with is not how to control our lights, but how to take control of our lives. How to manage the crazy mornings when I need to prepare the kids for day care and school and still be on time to work. Preferably without forgetting my laptop bag at daycare. How to make sure my son does not forget to eat his snack when he comes back from school and is alone at home, even though I am stuck in a meeting and can’t call to remind him. Or that I know exactly what I need to buy when I am in the grocery store, even though I am forgetful and not organized enough to make lists. How would smart connected things of the future help us to take control of our chaotic lives?

Smart environment or smart life?

With today’s technology we can monitor pollution levels, track the movement of water, calculate soil movement and send out proactive alerts. But the actual potential of IoT’s impact on helping us to understand and better manage our environment is still unleashed. We can’t control the natural disasters, but maybe by understanding better the impact we have on the environment we can instigate a change in our collective habits for a “healthier” Earth.

The value of the IoT wearable fitness devices is to constantly keep reminding of good habits, to penalize and reward appropriately; they have enjoyed quite a market success, as people are driven by the desire to become better, healthier. Maybe the same principles could be applied at a larger scale, and the IoT devices could be designed to take advantage of humanity’s underlined desire to live in a better, healthier world.

IoT-related technology is a powerful tool for rethinking many of the aspects of our lives. Furthermore the “smartification” of objects, and the new forms of interactions they’ll give rise to, might have an impact on our social behavior. In a world of “everything connected” we will have the possibility to do many things differently. It is the creativity in finding this difference that will lead to the breakthrough in the Internet of Things.

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