Imagine a world where billions of objects have sensors to detect, measure, and assess their status, all connected over public or private IP (Internet Protocol) networks. This world of interconnected objects will have its data regularly collected, analysed and used to initiate action.
It will provide a wealth of intelligence for planning, management, policy and decision making. Important information is pushed out to machines, to individuals, and to organizations of every type, including governments, anywhere in the world. Then other machines or people on the network will be able to take action automatically.
This is the ‘Internet of Things,’ or IoT for short, and it is well on the way to becoming a reality.
In the world of IoT, even cows will be connected. A special report in The Economist titled “Augmented Business” described how cows will be monitored. Sparked, a Dutch start-up company, implants sensors in the ears of cattle. This allows farmers to monitor cows’ health and track their movements, ensuring a healthier, more plentiful supply of meat for people to consume. On average, each cow generates about 200 megabytes of information a year.
According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, “Seven years ago, more than 50 percent of the power distributed by North Delhi Power Ltd. wasn't paid for by customers. A key challenge for power companies is reducing theft by India's poor.” This lead to higher cost of delivering utility services to poorer neighbourhoods because of infrastructure inefficiencies.
IoT, because of its ubiquitous sensors and connected systems, will provide authorities with more information and control in order to identify and fix these problems. This will allow utilities to operate more profitably, giving them extra incentive to improve infrastructures in poorer neighbourhoods. More efficiency will also allow for lower prices, which, in turn, will encourage those taking services for free to become paying customers.
The world’s population is aging. In fact, approximately one billion people age 65 and older will be classified as having reached “non-working age” by the middle of the century. IoT can significantly improve quality of life for the surging number of elderly people. For example, imagine a small, wearable device that can detect a person’s vital signs and send an alert to a healthcare professional when a certain threshold has been reached, or sense when a person has fallen down and can’t get up.
Several barriers, however, have the potential to slow the development of IoT. The three largest are the deployment of IPv6, power for sensors, and agreement on standards.
The world ran out of IPv4 addresses in February 2010. While no real impact has been seen by the general public, this situation has the potential to slow IoT’s progress since the potentially billions of new sensors will require unique IP addresses. In addition, IPv6 makes the management of networks easier due to auto configuration capabilities and offers improved security features.
For IoT to reach its full potential, sensors will need to be self-sustaining. Imagine changing batteries in billions of devices deployed across the planet and even into space. Obviously, this isn’t possible. What’s needed is a way for sensors to generate electricity from environmental elements such as vibrations, light, and airflow. In a significant breakthrough, scientists announced a commercially viable nanogenerator, a flexible chip that uses body movements such as the pinch of a finger to generate electricity.
While much progress has been made in the area of standards, more is needed, especially in the areas of security, privacy, architecture, and communications.