Buzzwords are synonymous with the technology world and it seems that the list is ever growing. From growth hacking to responsive design, technology and its applications are constantly adapting. In this transient online world it can be hard to keep abreast of all the emerging technologies.
One such buzzword (or perhaps buzz-phrase) is the Internet of Things (IoT). This is something that vendors are arguing has arrived and is important to the future of internet networking. However, other industry thought leaders and analysts suggest that the IoT may not be quite so prevalent or influential as some thought.
So, then, lets consider the Internet of Things and look at its applications. Perhaps a point of warning here: there are difficult to remedy complications that come along with the Internet of Things.
What is the Internet of Things
Perhaps a definition will help to get us started, or at least ensure that we’re all on the same page. The IoT is a scenario in which objects including animals and people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to automatically transfer data over a network, without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
IoT exists thanks to the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the internet.
In the Internet of Things ‘things’ can be any natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and given the ability to transfer data over a network. So far, the Internet of Things has mostly been associated with machine-to-machine communication in fields such as manufacturing, power infrastructures and utilities. Products with built in M2M communication capabilities are often dubbed ‘smart.’
Connected humans, smart devices
In this world of smart devices and potentially digitally connected humans, it seems that the internet is becoming ever more saturated. However, it’s good to bear in mind that although this technology exists, its application isn’t straightforward.
Currently many home devices that could exchange information can’t because they’re inoperable with other devices. This incompatibility slows down the adoption of this technology and really hampers its application.
In terms of industry or business application for the Internet of Things there are a number of logistical and hardware considerations to make. If you’re installing an automation system you’ll likely be required to invest in bridges. These are separate pieces of hardware that connect with routers; however, as time progresses this purchase may become an unnecessary expense.
The vendors market for automation systems is increasingly saturated and this presents perhaps the third problem. There’s likely to be lots of disruption as protocols are sorted out and settled and until it all evens out (there’s an industry standard) it’s likely to be a lot of hassle to implement any technologies related to the Internet of Things.
Machine-to-machine communication protocols
Groups and vendor are working to promote a range of machine-to-machine communication protocols to alleviate some of the conflict. This list includes Z-Wave, ZigBee, Insteon, Bluetooth Low Energy and the sophomoric team Weightless standard. The companies mentioned are all trying to devise protocols that enable devices such as light bulbs, thermostats, door locks, wireless speakers, security systems, and sensors of all kinds to communicate with one another.
The wireless protocols being discussed all share low energy and low bandwidth requirements. The goal in this instance is to extend battery life for as long as possible, in some cases years. Most of this technology uses mesh networks that enable devices to pass signals to one another.
This extends network range, reliability and redundancy. Wi-Fi is a big influence on this development process and so are 3G/4G networks. The key thing is connecting things and allowing them to communicate and existing infrastructures are being used, alongside new technologies, to make this possible.
The Internet of Things is young
It’s a good idea to remember that the Internet of Things is in its infancy and the technology is currently being utilised in an immature environment. Time, it seems, will tell whether or not the Internet of Things, and its huge increase in technology, is a technology that users want.
The bridge technology that we mentioned earlier is an area that is seeing growth and experimentation. For example, there is the Nexia Home Intelligence software that can connect over 200 home-based products and the Nexia Bridge allows them to be controlled and influenced.
The products rely on wireless communications protocols and the bridge functions as a hub to connect to a home network router. Smartphones and PCs allow users to control those devices either from home or on the move. Users can get this technology for less than £100.
Bluetooth Low Energy
However the communication technology and protocol that will receive the most attention over the next few years is Bluetooth Low Energy or Bluetooth Smart. This technology is one to keep an eye out for. This technology only consumes a fraction of the power of Classic Bluetooth and its applications. Bluetooth low energy technology extends the use of Bluetooth wireless technology to devices that are powered by small coin-cell batteries such as watches and toys.
This will also extend to the traditional computer mouse and really shows the application of much of the IoT technologies is about extending existing life spans and increasing the connectivity and longevity of a given product.
Technology is never flawless, but its potential can always be exciting even if its application isn’t. Currently the Internet of Things is budding but yet to blossom, the problems of device compatibility and data exchange being a prime problem. It won’t be for several more years until homes and businesses are connected internally through bridges.
However with companies making communication technologies that only communicate with its own products, the Internet of Things can’t grow and become universally adopted.
Image: Hans Petter