Internet of Things: New Technological Revolution
Imagine a bed waking you up in the morning by sounding an alarm. As soon as you stop the alarm and get out of bed, a signal is sent to your geyser, which turns on. While you’re brushing your teeth, your mirror senses your presence and shows you a daily news feed, curated according to your interests. The toothbrush records the daily oral condition report, which is accessible to your dentist. After bathing, you move to the kitchen, where the electric kettle has brewed your coffee to perfection and the grill is ready with your sandwich. Your refrigerator has already placed an order for this week’s groceries. As you get out of house to start for office, all the electronic devices shut themselves down while only the vacuum cleaner mops your floor. You are driven to the office by a self-driving car that chooses the quickest route with least traffic. And just like that, your morning is automated without you having to stress about anything.
Now, the above example might seem directly out of a sci-fi movie. But, if you look closely, some of these ‘things’ are already starting to happen. There are intelligent beds and smart mattresses that wake you up and send your sleep statistics to the doctor; autonomous cars driven by intelligent software exist, as also vacuum cleaners that can be programmed to work at the desired time. Hence, that day won’t be too far away, when the routine tasks of your life like grocery shopping or vacuuming, would be carried out by machines.
What is Internet of Things (IoT)?
You must have heard the word IoT from a tech enthusiast or read it in a blog. According to a report by Ericsson, IoT devices are expected to rise to 18 billion devices in 2022. That is almost 2.5 times than the number of humans on earth! Wow, no wonder this new technology promises to revolutionise human life!
The term IoT was first used in 1985 at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, by Peter Lewis, an engineer and entrepreneur. To quote Lewis, “Internet of Things, or IoT, is the integration of people, processes and technology with connectable devices and sensors to enable remote monitoring, status checking, manipulation and evaluation of trends of such devices.”
In a nutshell, IoT is a system of devices that can communicate with other devices using the internet (or other networks like cellular network like 4G and 5G, ethernet, Bluetooth, etc.). These connected devices are capable of collecting, processing, storing and analysing data to make decisions and take actions. For example, an IoT-enabled ingestible sensor can send SOS alerts to a diabetes patient’s doctor and relatives in case his blood sugar drops to dangerously low levels.
Some of the IoT devices that you use in daily life are smart watches, smartphones, bluetooth speakers, Amazon Alexa, etc. While these are the examples of home or personal automation devices, Internet of Things has applications in the industrial arena too (called Industrial IoT or IIoT), that focusses on increasing production, efficiency and safety while keeping the costs down.
Why is IoT important?
- IoT automates your daily tasks so that you end up saving time and energy and can devote more time for more important tasks.
- IoT devices are also used to enhance safety and security. A closed-circuit camera unit with motion detectors can guard your house round the clock and raise an alarm in case of an intrusion.
- Connected devices like IoT have proven to be aiding productivity and efficiency. Statistics from dataprot.net show that 83% of the corporations that have incorporated IoT into their business models, have shown considerable improvement in efficiency.
- IoT devices are flexible enough to be programmed according to the application that is to be performed. Hence, IoT devices can have applications ranging from monitoring devices (eg. closed-circuit television cameras monitoring systems) to production assembly lines.
- Maintenance of IoT devices is relatively simple and cost efficient. It can be done remotely too, thus saving time and money.
- IoT Technology is a network of other tech such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, etc. These technologies, in the simplest terms, work to provide a machine with ‘intelligence’. This allows machines to make decisions and take actions by themselves, without the input from any human operator. This smartness contributes in making IoT devices faster and safer. Intelligent devices, because they use the latest electronics manufacturing processes, are energy-efficient than conventional machines.
- All these benefits come at a cost. Yes, but the cost of deployment, periodic maintenance and IoT proficient human resource is much lesser when compared to the increase in production, efficiency, safety and savings in energy bills. Due to their connectedness, IoT systems are reliable than their standalone counterparts.
High Impact Real-World Applications of IoT
According to the latest ‘Worldwide Semi-Annual Internet of Things Spending Guide’, global expenditure on IoT shall reach $1.2 trillion by 2022. This outlay almost equals Australia’s GDP!
Although such a whopping amount of expenditure can be attributed to the ubiquitous nature of IoT applications, some areas of deployment could contribute more towards the economy than others.
Let us take a look at three of the high-impact applications of IoT –
1. Reduction in food wastage and increase in famers’ incomes
According to ‘The State of Food and Agriculture Report’ by United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), around 14% of the world’s food production is lost between harvesting and reaching retail outlets. This includes on-farm activities, storage and transportation. The report further states that this wastage is higher for fresh produce like fruits than for cereals and pulses. Percentage of total food wastage escalates to about 21% for South and Central Asia. This economic loss of around $400 Billion can be avoided using IoT tech.
An internet-enabled system that consists of sensors and actuators for monitoring and controlling the ambient conditions like humidity, temperature and pests and rodents, can go a long way in minimizing wastage of food. This system can be further equipped with web of cameras and motion sensors to discourage theft and contamination or adulteration of fresh produce like milk, vegetables, fruits, etc. in cold-storage units as well as during transportation. Thus, with a simple and cost-effective tech solution, billions of dollars’ worth of produce can be saved while routing this money to farmers so as to increase their incomes. Reducing loss of food would also have other benefits like lowering of production costs and promoting environmental sustainability. Thus, an IoT system contributes effectively in improving food security, lowering hunger and poverty and bridging the economic divide.
2. Smart Cities and safety of toxic facilities
According to UN DESA (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs), today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas which is expected to rise to 68% by 2050. The UN’s 11th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. To achieve this goal, the infrastructure in our cities needs to be adequate as well as smart. This can be achieved by making use of ambiently intelligent machines which are adept at rapid decision-making in case of a calamity.
Incidents like the Bhopal gas tragedy, Chernobyl and Fukushima Nuclear Accidents can be averted by making use of a network of highly-sensitive sensors which can detect not only leakages in the plant but can also act as a 24/7 surveillance to ensure the machines are used as prescribed and regularly maintained. Technology can aid or even replace human supervision (in toxic environments) to confirm adherence to standard operating procedures (SoP) at all times. Hence, IoT as a technology is a great enabling force for the UN SDGs, in turn aiding in improving lives of people, down to the lowest rung of the society.
3. Smart Metering in India – A Case Study
Government of India is employing IoT technology in India’s first large-scale smart metering programme. This project, under the Smart Meter National Programme (SMNP), aims at replacing 250 million conventional meters with smart meters, piloting with a few states. Smart meters are IoT devices that use internet as network to allow web-based monitoring, so as to lower power theft and commercial losses, enhance revenues and benefit the environment. This move is being hailed by experts as an important tool in reforming the cash-strapped power distribution companies.
Though some might criticise IoT as nothing but conventional devices connected to internet, you can perceive from the above discussion that it is much more than that. From monitoring and reporting your heart’s health to alerting the authorities of an impending landslide, IoT has the potential to not only save lives, but also considerably improve the quality of life. Hence, governments and general public alike must not shy away from extracting maximum benefit from this tech. Thus, the IoT technology is nothing short of a revolution that promises to augment our lives.
*The views/opinions expressed in the above article exclusively belong to the writer. Tatvita may have different opinions on the subject.*
Vishvali Deo is an E&TC (Electronics and Telecommunication) Engineer by education and Software Engineer by Profession. She believes that 'Technology is a Great Democratising and Equalising Force' and hence is on a mission to make the general public understand seemingly complex technologies in a simple manner.
She is convinced that the root of today's world problems lie in the past, hence she has also pursued post-graduation in History. She has a keen interest and a good grip over Economics, Political Science and Environmental Engineering. She has a penchant for working with Women and spreading Digital Literacy amongst them, with the aim of their empowerment. She also strives to provide Free Quality Education to children and counsels young adults. Besides, she is also skilled at Public Speaking, having won many awards in Elocution & Debate Competitions and Technical Paper Presentations.