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Islands of Connectivity: How IoT Keeps Growing

In this special guest feature, William Webb, IEEE Fellow and CEO of Weightless SIG, takes a high-level look at the IoT hype cycle and where we stand at this particular point in time. William Webb is an IEEE Fellow and the CEO of the Weightless SIG, the standards body developing a new global M2M technology. He is a Director at Webb Search, an independent consultancy, and President of the IET.

Visions of a world set in the future have often revolved around a day-in-the-life of a busy company executive. Technology surrounds them, informing them of everything they need to know: organizing transport, logistics, scheduling – and when they have a spare moment – it provides them with some form of entertainment.

We have come a long way on the road to such a vision.

Intelligent agents such as Siri and Google Now recognize our voices, understand context and provide information and alerts. Some homes have NEST, a learning thermostat, or similar system that allows the home to react flexibly to changing home owner plans.

IoT Hype Cycle and Where We Stand

So, what next? Have we reached the point of diminishing returns or is there more low-hanging fruit to harvest? There has been a ton of hype around everything from the connected toothbrush to IoT silverware. But, they appear to have washed-out, both as the use cases failed to transcend and as security and privacy concerns expose down-sides.

There is clearly much that can be done, though. Homes can have automated security systems with remote monitoring, automated locking and unlocking based on facial recognition, connected appliances that can call for maintenance and optimize performance, flexible lighting to change the mood and much more. Offices are already routinely equipped with electronic locks based on tag-cards, lights that work on motion sensors and energy-optimizing temperature control. Gyms have treadmills and similar equipment that recognize users based on tags or passwords and optimize training schedules, upload heart rate information and other details and could go further in linking to health records and learning from big-data as to which training routines achieve goals most effectively.

What about the world where every item is connected, from cans of food to items of clothing? At the moment, this looks like a step too far. The costs and difficulties of tagging everything are significant and the benefits of being able to automatically know when to reorder that “can of tuna,” insufficient. And in a world where productivity gains may bring us less employment and perhaps more free time, the benefits of saving those few seconds or checking the cupboard or the label on the clothing diminish. Instead, we might see islands of connectivity. Those afflicted with medical conditions might benefit from solutions tailored to their needs. Those with hobbies might want sensors in their golf clubs, running shoes or bicycles. In these cases, cost is rarely a concern nor is there much need to justify the purchase.

IoT Concerns Linger On, For Now

There are downsides, though. Keeping all our devices charged is already a major undertaking. While they mostly manage to connect, occasionally they need re-booting or re-attaching, and when we change our phone or router it can be a major headache. Security and privacy gets harder to manage the more points of weakness exist, and we may have to accept a world where our personal data is mostly public. And when we start to rely on such systems then failure becomes increasingly problematic. Before we leap into a connected world we should make sure we know how to manage system failure and that legal, security and ethical frameworks are solid.

In summary, we should recognize and rejoice at how far we have come, to reflect on the travel experience of 20 years ago without phones, e-payment, and so on. As a testament to the integration and embracement of the ‘Internet of Things,’ readers can check out IEEE’s “A Day in a Connected Life,” a 360-degree interactive website. It lets users interface with IoT devices at home, at work, at the gym and in the car. It’s a reflection of the growing interconnectivity of our daily lives – and – it’s only the beginning.

 

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