Most of us remember the “Star Trek” television series. It was like IoT on steroids. By wireless technology and voice commands, screens came alive, doors opened, fully prepared food was delivered. And who can forget those little communication devices pinned to their shirts and that amazing transporter?
Amazingly, a lot of this technology is now a reality today. We have personal assistants that will play the music we want, tell us the weather anywhere in the world, answer any questions we have about people, places, and history. We are about to have driverless cars, and our smartphones can control a myriad of things remotely.
As amazing as IoT is, it is still in its infancy. Already, though, it is disrupting a number of industries. Here are a few of those industries.
Anyone who purchases car insurance from a major carrier has the option of installing an IoT device in their car that will transmit driving activity and behavior back to the carrier. Those who choose to take this option receive a discounted rate.
Driverless cars, while cool, will not be the most important benefits to come out of IoT technology. Still, when perfected, there will be greater safety for occupants. Add to that the ability of a “connected” car to find the best route depending on traffic and road conditions and there are also environmental benefits.
Other innovations relative to cars are pretty amazing. Tesla models are now equipped with the ability to receive upgrades wirelessly. Recently, in fact, the company automatically “pushed in” an update that raised the suspension and thus the height of cars after they reached certain speeds. And Toyota is in the process of designing a car whose interior and exterior can be changed through a few clicks on its onboard computer.
Looking at the larger future picture, however, we have to consider driverless rail systems along with immediate notification of hazards and dangers and resulting automatic “corrections.” And the use of all of this technology by the commercial transport industry as well will be both more efficient and cost-effective.
Speaking of commercial transport, many have laughed at Jeff Bezos, who envisions drone delivery of small packages, we are actually not too far off from such technology. A Swiss company, Matternet ONE, recently announced the production of a large commercial drone which the Swiss postal service is now evaluating for postal delivery. And consider the benefits of drones to transport emergency supplies to victims of natural disasters.
Still looking ahead, design engineers envision smart roads and highways that will do such things as sense snow and ice and automatically turn on embedded warmers to mitigate those conditions.
This industry is perhaps the one that will benefit the most from IoT, from both provider and patient perspectives.
Currently, the most popular and well-known benefit of IoT technology is in wearable devices that patients use in their homes. Such devices monitor blood pressure, heart rates, blood sugar levels, and, most recently, provide ultrasounds. The information is transmitted to care providers in real-time, along with built-in automatic alerts to those providers when something is wrong. This technology saves both patient and provider the need for regular office visits for checkups, and will also alert providers when a patient needs to come in or go to the hospital.
In terms of preventive care and wellness, devices such as Fitbit can measure body movements throughout the day and transmit that information to the user’s smartphone or other devices, where it can be analyzed and daily routines can then be modified for optimum fitness.
The future? Robotic surgery is on the horizon, providing greater precision. Currently, there is the da Vinci Surgical System, featuring a 3D vision system and tiny instruments that move in far better ways than the human hand. Surgeons are in control, of course, but they can perform far more precisely than ever before.
VR and AR technology are already in use in operating rooms around the globe, and its uses are still being discovered.
In the past, it has been difficult for specialists to communicate with their peers around the globe. This has been somewhat mitigated through established translation sites that can quickly translate research and even conversations among specialists. The next step, however, will be instant machine translations that can occur in real-time, as specialists discuss patient treatments and protocols. Devices, connected to smartphones, that can have any conversation immediately translated into a foreign language will allow global healthcare providers to take advantage of their peers’ expertise.
From home appliances to clothing, IoT is beginning to play a significant role in consumer life.
- Appliances, such as refrigerators, furnaces, and air conditioners can now be controlled remotely. Lights and water faucets can be turned on and off. The benefits for consumers are greater energy efficiency and peace-of-mind, especially if they forgot to activate security systems before leaving home.
- Retailers are using IoT tags (called Radiofrequency identifiers) to track inventory so that they can ensure the correct supply of goods they sell.
- In-store retailers are tracking customers in real-time as they browse through their stores. They can send push notifications of special offers as customers consider items for purchase; they can track browsing and use the information to improve store layouts
- Shoppers can use NFC-equipped cards to make payments without any card-device contact.
- In the near future, consumers will have “smart buttons” around their home which can be pressed to order items for delivery – a button for laundry detergent in the laundry or remote activation of a button in the refrigerator to order food items that the refrigerator says are low. Connecting consumers to physical stores and e-commerce sites via IoT may well be the next era of retail.
While not an industry per se, local governments are beginning to see the benefits of IoT technology
- Streetlights are already automatically programmed to turn on and off
- Cameras are used to track auto and pedestrian traffic in order to provide better improvement planning
- Parking meters are read remotely
- Utility meters are being installed which are read remotely, eliminating the need for human readers
- Green spaces are watered using remote devices based upon weather conditions
- A number of cities in Europe are experimenting with connecting to smart cars and informing drivers of open parking spaces, to alleviate the continual drive around in search of them
- In the future, pedestrians will enjoy sidewalks that are kept dry and ice-free through embedded heaters.
While we may not be living in the full era of Star Trek just yet, we are getting there. It is impossible to predict all the places IoT will take us in the next couple of decades, but the technology will definitely take us where “man has not gone before.”