The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interrelated devices that have unique identifiers and can autonomously transfer data over a network. IoT ecosystems consist of internet-enabled smart devices that have integrated sensors, processors, and communication hardware to capture, analyze, and send data from their immediate environments.
IHS Technology predicts that there will be over 30 billion IoT devices in use by 2020 and over 75 billion by 2025.
Real-world applications of IoT can be found in several sectors:
By 2020, the smart healthcare market value is predicted to be US$ 169.32 billion. The major application of IoT in healthcare has been in remote health monitoring or telehealth.
- Remote monitoring is especially useful for the elderly, immobile, chronically ill, or people living alone. The technology uses IoT-enabled daily monitoring devices such as blood pressure monitors, heart monitors, or blood glucose meters to collect relevant data and make it accessible to the physician. He/she can, thus, closely monitor the health of the patient and intervene when required.
- Philips e-Alert is an IoT-enabled tool that monitors critical medical hardware such as MRI systems and warns healthcare organizations of an impending failure, preventing unnecessary downtime.
- IoT devices tagged with sensors can be used in hospitals to keep track of medical equipment such as nebulizers, wheelchairs, and defibrillators. The real-time locations of medical staff can be similarly monitored and analyzed.
- IoT devices are invaluable in hospitals for infection control, pharmacy inventory management, and environmental monitoring such as temperature and humidity.
- Health insurance companies may find data capture by IoT-enabled wearables useful for detecting frauds and validating claims.
Wearables like FitBit that tracks several health parameters, AmpStrip that monitors heart rate, smart watches that detect sleep apnea, and smart glasses to help the blind are greatly changing the way the healthcare industry functions.
2. Smart Home
Smart homes are residential buildings that use internet-enabled devices to remotely monitor and manage home appliances and facilities, such as lights, thermostats, kitchen appliances, lawn irrigators, security cameras, and speakers or televisions.
Smart home technology is also known as home automation or domotics. As a part of IoT, smart home devices and systems work in collaboration with each other by sharing usage data and automating actions based on the preferences of the home owner.
- Smart lighting systems, such as Hue by Philips Lighting Holding B.V., are able to detect when people are present in a room and adjust the lights accordingly. Similarly, smart bulbs are an IoT product that adjusts lighting based on the availability of daylight or runs on settings programmed by the home user.
- The Nest Learning Thermostat, a smart thermostat, created by Nest Labs, allows users to remotely control and monitor the temperature of their homes. The device also learns the preferences of its user and adjusts itself accordingly.
- Smarter Coffee is a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled coffee maker that integrates with various home automation systems and supports voice assistant features, apart from being controlled with an app on the user’s phone.
- The Nest Cam IQ Indoor by Nest Labs is one of the best smart security cameras available today, allowing homeowners to monitor their homes while they are away. Smart cameras can detect the difference between robbers, visitors, and pets.
3. Industrial IoT
The Industrial IoT (IIoT), also known as the industrial internet or industrie 4.0, employs big data technologies and machine learning to exploit machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, sensor data, and automation technologies that are already in place.
The greatest benefit of IIoT is predictive maintenance i.e. it enables IIoT systems to gather real-time data, analyze it, and derive predictions on when machinery is likely to fail. This helps businesses to take corrective action early, saving money and time. Ability by ABB, a robotics firm, uses connected sensors to monitor the condition of its robots.
Other applications of IIoT are:
- Remote monitoring and control of operations using network-connected sensor data (Honeywell Connected Plant)
- Better internal collaboration using machine learning, augmented reality (AR) technology, and digital twin technology (AVEVA, an engineering and industrial IT company)
- Complete digital transformation i.e. changing a business model to incorporate digital technologies (Mindsphere by Siemens)
- Improved productivity and streamlined operations using sensor-integrated machines and tools and wearable technology like industrial smart glasses (Factory of the Future at Airbus, a European aircraft manufacturer)
- Inventory management (Magna Steyr, an automotive manufacturer, uses a Long Distance Just in Sequence (LD-JIS) tracking solution to deliver the correct parts at a specific time in the production chain to minimize inventory.)
4. IoT in Agriculture
A report by Zion Market Research states that the global smart agriculture market is expected to reach US$ 15,344 million by 2025.
- Cropio is an end-to-end farm productivity management system that allows farmers to remotely monitor their agricultural land and plan and carry out farm operations efficiently. It uses sensors and other devices installed on the farm to connect the farmer with a hand-held device.
- Cowlar, a smart neck collar for dairy cows, helps farmers monitor the temperature, activity, and behavior of their cows. SCR by Allflex is a similar offering.
- Semios and Arable offer crop management solutions that help farmers assess the health of their crops, detect diseases, and monitor soil health in real-time.
- Growlink and Farmapp are agriculture technology companies that offer greenhouse automation services which use M2M technology, big data tools, and mobile applications to help growers monitor and track crop parameters like soil health, weather conditions, crop infestation, and abuse of agrochemicals.
- Weather stations are one of the most popular smart agriculture devices—they collect environmental data using sensors and store it on the cloud. This data is analyzed to enable precision farming i.e. detecting variability on the field and managing it to optimize yield. Examples of companies offering smart agricultural sensing systems are Pycno, Smart Elements, and allMeteo.
5. Smart Grids
Smart electricity grids use smart meters or advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) to collect data about the power usage of consumers and adjust electricity flow accordingly and optimize consumption. While the technology is yet to be widely adopted due to the prohibitive setup cost and security concerns, advances in artificial intelligence technologies can help overcome the data challenges of the smart grid.
- LIFE Factory Microgrid, a demonstrative smart grid project, shows how a full-scale industrial smart grid can benefit industries that want to reduce their environmental impact.
The U.S. Department of Energy has initiated the ARRA Smart Grid Project, which aims to “modernize the electric power grid.”
6. Smart Retail
Mckinsey estimates that the potential economic impact of IoT on retail environments ranges between US$ 410 billion to 1.2 trillion per year by 2025.
- Automated checkouts, such as those in Amazon Go stores, use IoT devices to reduce cashier staff requirements and improve customer experience.
- Beacons for real-time in-store promotions are small devices that run on Bluetooth to send alerts to smartphones in the vicinity. Estimote creates colorful beacons that send push notifications about products and promotions when it detects a nearby user. Such proximity marketing is also practiced by Macy’s, Timberland, Lord & Taylor, Urban Outfitters, and CVS.
- Smart Shelves have IoT-enabled weight sensors, RFID tags, scanners, and readers to determine when products are removed, when they are misplaced, and when stock is running low. It helps inventory management and detects in-store theft as well.
- Aislelabs enables in-store layout optimization by tracking in-store foot traffic and other parameters using sensors, Wi-Fi data, and mobile apps. This information is used to analyze customer behavior and plan retail layouts better. ShopperTrak, RetailNext, and Euclid Analytics are other platforms that enable stores to monitor and analyze footfalls.
- Lowe’s uses OSHbot, a robot employee, to help customers find certain products, give information about promotions, and keep track of inventory. Similarly, Target uses robots to track inventory and free up human employees take on more complex, value-added tasks. Other in-store robots are Tally from Simbe Robotics and NAVii from Fellow Robots.
7. Connected Cars
While “driverless cars” may still be a long way from becoming an everyday reality, advances in Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) technology will enable cars to communicate with each other and with systems such as traffic lights and fuel stations.
- Volvo intends to offer a self-driving car by 2021, which will approach Level 4 autonomy by using a system called Highway Pilot. It uses laser sensors and mapping technology to autonomously navigate on major highways only. Level 3 autonomy is already available in cars like Audi’s A8.
- Uber and Alphabet’s Waymo are in competition to develop their own fleet of self-driving cars.
- General Motors plans to start production of the “Cruise AV,” a car without steering wheels, pedals, or manual controls in 2019.
- Tesla’s Autopilot feature is now a part of its Full Self-Driving Capability suite which is meant to enhance the autonomous driving capabilities of its cars on city streets.
Automotive telematics involves tracking driver behavior for various purposes, such as learning where and when people drive and determining accurate insurance premiums.
Digital technologies have invaded nearly all industries, thus IoT has found immense relevance. Despite security concerns and privacy issues, organizations observe that IoT has the potential to tremendously improve their business.