An internet revolution is almost upon us and like many technological breakthroughs, it has already begun without much fanfare and is more of a curiosity and novelty than life changing. But before you know it, the avalanche of change will alter the way we live. This new paradigm is referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) or Smart Things. The IoT consists of connecting physical objects, things, together on the internet instead of web pages about things. Sensors will play a large part in this network because that is how information will be gathered and reported. They may be heat, light, touch (movement), sound, etc. sensors that will gather the data and in many cases will have some software to make some determination about when and how the data should be communicated.
We have had sensors and small computers in things that make them operate more efficiently in use in our daily lives for many years now. They may serve a function as simple as a light sensor that turns something on and off. IoT aided devices help retailers attribute sales, keep inventory and serve up live promotions. You may not even know they are there, you just know that your new car gets a lot better gas mileage than the old one. You are totally oblivious to the fact there are many sensors and computers under the hood and in the dash of your car constantly monitoring air temperature, emissions and fuel mixture. In fact, it is not uncommon for a car today to have more computers in it that the first Apollo Space Module. These are only going to increase and become more sophisticated as we will have more machine to machine (M2M) interaction. This will be evident as the push for autonomous driving gains in popularity and one car’s sensors talk to another car’s sensors, or sensors buried in the asphalt of a road or cement of a bridge signals to your car that ice is on the road and it slows down before you are even aware there is a hazard ahead.
We are limited only by our imagination by how these M2M objects will make our lives easier and give us more creature comforts in the future. The real benefit however is elevated when things with all of these sensors are networked onto the internet and become part of the IoT. We have to have someway of identifying these things on the internet and with the advent of IPv6 and its increased addressing capabilities, we can literally address every object on planet earth. Think about the same bridge that alerted your car of the icy conditions. If it were a smart bridge it could communicated to the proper authorities that is has a structural problem and needs to be fixed. You could have a smart refrigerator that senses you are out of milk and places an order for more while sending you a text or email that it has been ordered and will be ready for you to pick it up on your way home from work. You will be able to control and communicate with every device in your home from anywhere internet service is present. We can already do that with some thermostats today which only scratches the surface.
I used to think people had to have TVs to exist. How could you possibly live without one. That was how graphical information came alive to you in your home. Today some people have chosen to not have a TV at all. That necessity has been replaced by the internet. How can you possibly live without it? Especially as we connect more and more objects to it and our lives become more dependent upon the interaction with them.
As with any new technology special challenges occur. Imagine the ever increasing bandwidth needed as we connect billions of these objects to the IoT. Internet security concerns are enormous. Connect anything to the internet and it is immediately a candidate to be hacked and access gained to a network. We have already heard stories about how smart TV’s have been hacked and turned off or on and home cameras have had prying eyes looking into their homes. Organizations have a hard time protecting web pages on the internet, much less objects. There are reports of cars being hacked and taken control of. The challenges are a topic for another entire discussion. I would rather think about the limitless possibilities of the IoT even though the technology will likely race ahead of the security and privacy capabilities.