By Daniel Lee | 4th November 2015

    Undeniably, many if not all modern electronic devices are becoming intertwined with the Internet and IT, continually blurring the line that separates software and hardware, making them almost inseparable. These connected smart devices are spurring the next digital revolution, changing the consumer and business landscapes across a wide range of industries and leveling the playing field between rivaling companies as they compete to provide products and services with the best value.

    A smart device refers to an electronic device that is connected to other devices and networks via protocols such as Bluetooth, RFID and WiFi, with the ability to operate autonomously and interactively to a certain extent. The Internet of Things (IoT) refer to the increase of communication between sensors and machines, powering a new wave of ‘smart’ devices that offer an unprecedented level of data gathering , analysis and intuitiveness that adds value to our everyday lives. With IoT just starting to gain momentum, a world of possibilities are unlocked across a whole range of industries, set to spark a new wave of disruptive products and competition between businesses.

    All this talk about the IoT, but what are their potential problems, impacts and applications? In this 2-part series, I talk about all things IoT and how they might potentially affect our surroundings and daily lives:

    In the City
    Looking at IoT applications in the city; have you wondered how IoT might improve problems in the city such as traffic congestion, pollution and power consumption? Firstly, traffic conditions can be closely monitored to minimize traffic congestion with preemptive measures in place to avoid accidents. Street lights can potentially be automated to save the city considerable amounts of electricity. City maintenance staff can be notified in real-time in the event of public service malfunction, i.e. traffic lights, parking meters, signboards, public transportation etc. The city’s environment can be closely monitored to facilitate quicker response times by public service departments such as the fire and police departments. In terms of pollution, water monitors can alert city officials in the event of illegal dumping of toxics into the sewers, improving water quality and general public health. Ultimately, the IoT have the potential to result in a cleaner and safer city, increasing the productivity of its inhabitants.

    In the environment
    A critical application of IoT in the environment is the ability to detect disasters and sources of pollution before they do any permanent damage. Toxic emissions, harmful chemicals and other hazardous materials can be effectively tracked and monitored to minimize their impacts to the environment. Disasters such as forest fires, earthquakes and tsunamis can also be detected in advance to prevent them from spreading to neighboring parts and causing the loss of lives. In Spain for example, air pollutants are reduced via the use of smart parking initiatives and in Amsterdam, Smart Street lights are imbued with sensors that utilize motion sensors to save energy. In Amsterdam, other innovative uses of smart objects include smart trash cans that tell haulers when to remove waste.

    At Home
    At home, IoT can be used to automate appliances and allow you to remotely control them, such as the oven, fridge and washing machine. Imagine a fridge that knows when you run out of milk and proceeds to order more for you, a washing machine that can be operated from your mobile phone with all your clothes washed and dried before you arrive home, or a TV that recommends movies and channels based on your viewing habits and reminds you when your favorite show is about to come on. IoT can also be used to deter impending thefts by detecting one quickly and activating anti-theft measures efficiently.

    At Work
    IoT allows for greater automation in the workplace, resulting in increased productivity. Safety is enhanced through improved monitoring systems. Supply chain and inventory can be better optimized and manufacturing processes can be remotely managed. In a factory, machine diagnosis is conducted in real-time to minimize downtime. When dealing with hazardous materials, toxic emissions can be monitored to prevent harm to workers and the environment. In the office, energy usage is optimized with the use of sensors, i.e. Microsoft and the installation of a network of sensors at their Richmond, Wash campus to improve energy efficiency.

    As we can see, the potential applications of IoT are staggering, and sure to impact the world around us considerably. There might potentially be huge changes to existing infrastructures, as well as the building of radically new ones, i.e. smart cities, buildings, transportation systems. Devices that have become so familiar to us such as the refrigerator, oven and rice cooker will receive makeovers, opening up exciting new ways of interactions between devices and their users. Let’s now look at the impact that IoT will potentially have on both the consumer and business landscapes:

    Consumer Landscape
    Needless to say, the implications of IoT, wearable and smart devices are massive for both consumers and businesses alike, opening up a world of new possibilities for increasingly innovative and intuitive products. Consumers stand to benefit from the burgeoning of these products as they are deliver more value than ever before, able to perform a wider range of functions and are feature-packed as compared to renditions of similar products from the past. Take a watch for example, which used to be made solely of mechanical parts with the sole purpose of telling time. Fast forward a decade, and the humble watch has evolved into a smart device encompassing a wide spectrum of functions such as a heart rate sensor, wireless sync capabilities, data analytics, location tracking, smart wallet payment etc. These wearable smart devices are part of a new wave of IoT products to hit the retail shelves, urging companies to rapidly evolve, introducing and adopting the latest and greatest technologies in order to keep up with the competition.

    Business Landscape
    This in turn however, makes it harder for companies to monopolize the market as their products and service offerings are now forced to shift to and compete in a broader industry in order to maintain competitive advantage, attract new customers and retain current ones. For example, a company that used to make home appliances now have to make ‘smart’ appliances that are able to connect to the internet via WiFi that includes features such as automation, usage tracking, reminders and alert system, temperature and energy regulation etc. The same company now find themselves competing in a broader ‘smart home’ market and an even broader IoT appliances market.

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    Stay tuned for part 2 of the same topic.

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