There is an interesting old clip on YouTube from NBC's iconic morning talk show 'Today' (also known as 'The Today Show') in 1994, where the hosts and guests quizzically discuss the Internet. Having given out an email address to the viewers for the first time, one of the guests asked “What is Internet anyway?” To which Katie Couric, who was the host then, say, “Internet is that massive computer aid, the one that's becoming really big now.” Still not sure about its nature he further questions, “What, you write to it?”
Imagine writing an article in the early 90s explaining how a new thing called the Internet will soon change everything about everything. Writing about the IoT at this moment is kind of similar. The IoT or the “Internet of things” is an equally revolutionary force as the Internet. Although already in existence, it will be a bigger, even an all encompassing reality very soon.
Explaining what the IoT is can be confusing. In the simplest term, the IoT works by connecting every object that can be connected to the internet and to each other. You may think that is not an especially unthinkable idea, seeing we are already familiar with our mobile phones, TVs and a number of other things being connected to the Internet.
To help you imagine what it would be like, think about a wizard casting a spell to make the things on your desktop animated and able to obey your command, kind of like how Harry Potter does things. After the spell is cast your water bottle comes to life and decides it is running low in water and then walks away to fill up itself. It comes back to your desk full of water.
With the IoT, the bottle will do the exact same work, minus sprouting flexible plastic limbs and walking on them. It will be connected to the Internet and/or other devices and when it needs filling up, it will send signal to a carrier device which will bring water to your desk and fill up the bottle. Whether or not it achieves the end result, ie. filling up the bottle by the help of a moving device is not particularly important. The point is, the IoT will essentially give life to inanimate objects.
Discussions about the IoT have been going on for a while now and experts are trying to grasp how this will impact our lives, as more and more devices start to join the IoT.
Imagine getting close to your home and your lift will know it has to come pick you up. And then walking into your apartment to have your coffee ready and water heater started just in time for your usual shower time. It is unknown at this point if this will improve conjugal life, but it sure will make life chore-less.
Note however, this is not sci-fi, and the technology already exists, only not quite implementable on a mass scale. Cisco, for instance, controls the core functions of its 300 buildings worldwide, including climate, electricity use and security, from four locations. The company foresees a day when an executive driving into the garage will automatically signal the lift to come pick him up and turn on the lights in his office, reports Alec Scott in The Globe and Mail.
Apple, the US tech giant, has already announced 'HomeKit', a software framework that will allow users to set up their iPhone to configure, communicate with, and control smart-home appliances. HomeKit let's users set single command prompts called “scenes”. “So you can create a scene named “Leaving Home” that turns off the lights, locks your doors, and lowers the thermostat,” Apple website informs.
The possibilities of the IoT are exciting, but will be truly astounding when 'smart cities' will materialise. Currently the IoT is being used to reduce gridlock. Smart LED streetlights in San Diego turn on only when a pedestrian or vehicle approaches; the city recently replaced three thousand old streetlamps with sensor-equipped ones to save an estimated $250,000 annually.
In Great Britain a special type of street lamps are being tested with the goal of deterring hooliganism. These lamps turn extra-bright when they detect specific types of commotion like banging and hollering, and then start to transmit a live video feed to the cloud.
It's not difficult to imagine how things like these will evolve to create the future smart city where everything from law enforcement to commuting will be automated and the technologies will be so seamless, they will appear alive.
'No accidents' by design
The automotive industry has been developing smart vehicles for a long while now. Technology is already in place for safe self-driven cars. But with the fully developed and implemented IoT, it is going to deliver the ultimate smart cars that will do a lot more than auto-piloting.
The research firm Gartner has estimated that, by 2020, there will be 250 million connected cars on the world’s roads, with many of them capable of driving themselves. When the technology will be finally implemented in the public sector it will bring about the much fantasized future smart city that sci-fi writers and futurologists have been predicting.
Imagine getting into a bus and it will know exactly where to drop you off. And with all the vehicles able to drive themselves, traffic jam will be a thing of the past. Cisco’s Smart, Connected Vehicles division has projected that autonomous cars could eliminate as many as 85% of head-on collisions. So, it will be finally possible to almost completely eliminate traffic accidents.