The internet of things or as it’s also known, IoT isn’t new: tech companies and pundits have been discussing the idea for decades.
At its core, IoT is simple: it’s about connecting devices over the internet, letting them talk to us, applications, and each other.
It scales up to include smart cities – think of connected traffic signals that monitor utility use, or smart bins that signal when they need to be emptied – and industry, with connected sensors for everything from tracking parts to monitoring crops.
Is it safe? Can the internet of things be secured?
Everything new and shiny has downsides, and security and privacy are the biggest challenges for IoT.
All these devices and systems collect a lot of personal data about people – that smart meter knows when you’re home and what electronics you use when you’re there – and it’s shared with other devices and held in databases by companies.
Security experts argue that not enough is being done to build security and privacy into IoT at these early stages, and to prove their point have hacked a host of devices, from connected baby monitors to automated lighting and smart fridges, as well as city wide systems such as traffic signals.
However, hackers haven’t, for the most part, put much attention to IoT; there’s likely not enough people using connected appliances for an attack against them to be worth the effort, but as ever, as soon as there’s a financial benefit to hacking smart homes, there will be a cyber-criminal working away at it.
It can therefore be said that, IoT is relatively safe. However, there’s no guarantee, and so far not enough is being done to ensure IoT isn’t the next big hacking target.
How will the internet of things affect business and work?
This all depends on the industry: manufacturing is perhaps the furthest ahead in terms of IoT, as it’s useful for organising tools, machines and people, and tracking where they are.
Farmers have also been turning to connected sensors to monitor both crops and cattle, in the hopes of boosting production, efficiency and tracking the health of their herds.
The examples are endless, and all we can predict is that connected devices will likely creep into most businesses, just the way computers and the web have.
What does the internet of things mean for healthcare?
Smart pills and connected monitoring patches are already available, highlighting the life-saving potential of IoT, and many people are already strapping smartwatches or fitness bands to their wrists to track their steps or heartbeat while on a run.
There’s a host of clever connected health ideas: Intel made a smart band that tracks how much patients with Parkinsons shake, collecting more accurate data than with paper and pen;
Sonamba monitors daily activities of senior or ill people, to watch for dangerous anomalies; and people with heart disease can use AliveCore to detect abnormal heart rhythms.
Healthcare is one area where more data has the potential to save lives, by preventing disease, monitoring it and by analysing it to create new treatments. However, our health is also one of the most sensitive areas of our lives, so privacy and security will need a bit more preventative medicine first.
Is the internet of things real?
Surprisingly, it’s tough to answer. Technology is full of marketing and hype – it’s often difficult to decide early on whether an innovation is truly ground-breaking or not.
But the internet of things is one of those wider ideas that isn’t dependent on a single project or product. The idea of connected sensors and smart devices making decisions without our input will continue.
A decade from now, everything could be connected or perhaps only bits and pieces with specific benefits, such as smart meters; and we may call it IoT, smart devices or not call it anything at all, the way smartphones have simply become phones.