Remote-controlled thermostats and security cameras, monitored, environmentally controlled doghouses, wearable heart monitors and connected cars. Welcome to the Internet of Things (or IoT for the acronym fans and buzz-word set).
Mention the Internet of Things and many will either look at you blankly or think of it only as smart appliances that promise to bring a whole new level of convenience to our lives; but digital connectivity is also generating new models of health management, public safety and disaster prevention.
Beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge, for example, there are more than 800 supporting steel and concrete structures monitored by a CSIRO-designed system of 2400 sensors that gives road authorities a heads-up on any potential damage.
Using machine-learning based predictive analytics, authorities can continuously assess the data collected and provide an early warning of problems before bridge users are affected.
Advanced technology and connectivity such as this is just one way the IoT is already ushering in a new era on an industrial scale.
Many industries may apply the Internet of Things in this way, as a safety switch, collecting and analysing data to predict and hence prevent a crisis. Preventative measures are usually far less costly than mopping up after a disaster, so it’s in everyone’s interest to act early.
The managing director of IoT at global start-up accelerator Startupbootcamp, Trevor Townsend., describes IoT as connecting objects to make them “smart”.
“All things have a whole bunch of information about them – where they are, what the environment is like around them, how they are being used,” he explains. “It’s opening up new opportunities and finding new insights that weren’t previously available.
“It’s also using information that’s easily or cheaply collected to predict what’s going to happen – people can use that to put preventative measures in place.”
One sector set to see a major incursion of IoT technology is health. Through the use of wearable technology such as smart watches and health-monitoring gadgets, medical professionals can gather, share and examine critical health information, known as patient-generated data. It has the potential to transform the health system through the insights it offers into population health.
Townsend points to medical technology company Medibio and its potentially life-saving use of patient information from smart devices.
“They use consumer feedback to try to predict whether people are going to have mental health episodes from the way they sleep and from a whole bunch of information coming from their lifestyle devices such as fitbits and smartphones,” he says.
“The impact IoT will have is quite profound. We’re moving into a world where lots more is possible, where there’s a lot of simplicity, a lot of benefit and a lot of cost savings.”
The energy sector was an early adopter of IoT. Smart meters read a property’s energy use and allow utility companies to access real-time readings rather than send workers from door-to-door to read meters.
In the agricultural industry, farmers can harness the power of technology to identify the best crop varieties to increase yield, track stock movements and monitor water use. This data could cut costs through reducing laborious manual tasks and make farming a smarter, more efficient industry.
However, there are some concerns IoT will pose security and privacy risks. But like anything new, Townsend says, the fears are worse than the reality.
“Security issues with IoT are real, but are overblown a little bit,” he says. “Just as there were worries about the risks of cloud computing that everyone’s since accepted, yes, there are some issues with IoT, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.”