Every once in a while a topic or area of technology crops up that's the "talk of the town," so to speak. The topic that's in vogue at the moment is the Internet of Things, or IoT, or Internet of Everything, as Qualcomm likes to say. The idea of having everything connected to everything is quite intriguing and opens up a wealth of opportunities.
When this topic came up a few years ago, the common example was, "if your refrigerator knew that you were low on milk, it could send a signal to the grocery store, and they could have your items waiting for you." Or worse, "if your scale could talk to your refrigerator …," well, you know the rest.
But now there are some better examples -- really. One that I like is the concept of wearable computing. I stick my Fitbit into my pocket before I go out for a run and when I get back, the data from my workout is downloaded automatically to my PC so I can track my progress (or lately, lack thereof).
How about the Internet-enabled watch? It's only Internet-enabled when you pair it with your phone, which, presumably is somewhere in your pocket, your bag, or on your body. That Internet connection lets me see information that would otherwise be on the phone's display without having to take the phone out of my pocket. It's a small time savings, but it's a convenience.
On my daughter’s college campus, when her laundry is ready to be moved from the washer to the dryer or the drying cycle has been completed, she gets a message on her phone. That's pretty useful. Or more so, she can get an alert when there's a free machine.
Another useful application of this technology is what's referred to as crowdsourcing. That means that we take information from a group of people, in some cases without their knowledge (sort of), to provide useful information. For example, if you had the right sensors built into the phones of a group of people in a similar location, you could provide really accurate weather reports in real time. If I want to know what the weather's like in London, my app would ping all the equipped phones in that city, and return the information. The same can be said for traffic reports. This occurs with a few apps today, but it's a manual process.
Now take the IoT to a more industrial setting. Having machines on a factory floor linked together has always been possible, and has been around for a while. But the IoT connections are far more simple and can be accessed from anywhere you can access the Internet. Hence, the operations manager doesn't have to pull out his laptop anymore to check on production. He can check on his iPad or his smartphone. Again, it's a small savings, but I bet that ops manager is very appreciative.
And that brings up the last point, one that hasn't been fully addressed yet -- the security surrounding an IoT connection. It's one thing when someone can hack into your laundry cycle, but it's totally different when we're talking about an assembly line, or even a hospital network. It's a subject that’s getting a lot of attention, but still has a way to go.