“It is not enough that I rule only humans, now I must reign over non-living things” thought Internet. Thus, emerged IoT or the Internet of Things. In simple terms, IoT refers to things (or devices) connected to each other over the internet to communicate.
The all-pervading internet’s foray into various areas that impact human life is incredible. Though there are concerns of security and privacy, the IoT is here to stay and dominate the way we look at things. The credit for coining the term IoT goes to Kevin Ashton an innovator way back in 1999.
When ARPANET – the first model of the internet was developed in the late 1960s, the intention was to allow scientists to communicate and share files, notes, or mail over large distances through telephone wires. We have matured a lot since then, both in terms of technological capability, as well as ambition and expectation.
The internet is no longer just viewed as a tool to complete simple tasks such as long distance communication, but as a part of the very social fabric that binds humans together. The internet is capable of many great things. From raising donations for charities, planning and executing disaster relief, to planting over 23 million trees in a year, the internet has done it all. However, all these feats were performed primarily by humans, and were assisted by the internet to facilitate their actions or to bring global publicity.
This segues to how the internet no longer requires active human interaction to assist or aid its function. Devices today can communicate among themselves without (or minimal) human interference. We are talking of course, about the IoT. The phrase refers to the connection of things, or devices, to each other via the internet. IoT is revolutionary in the comfort, use-cases, practicality, and functionality it provides. The applications for IoT are endless. From smart homes to hospitals, insurance to factories, logistics to government, IoT has uses everywhere.
The Ocado group operates warehouses for groceries in England that uses hundreds of robots on a large grid to pick up items from inventory for each order that has been placed. The robots communicate with each other to ensure they do not collide with each other while moving around in a mesmerizing, but also efficient way of packing inventory. Amazon warehouses are also famous for employing robots to keep track of, and sort through inventory.
The concept of Smart Healthcare is already in vogue. Various devices that save human lives such as heart monitors and blood pressure sensors are used in conjunction with notification systems to alert healthcare workers or doctors in case of adverse changes in a patient’s condition. IoT is also used to monitor condition of patients in real time by doctors who many not be in the same room as patients.
The pandemic has also seen this technology being implemented in remote patient monitoring, vaccine cold chain monitoring, and in other aspects of healthcare management.
The insurance landscape is already changing with the advent of fitness trackers, smart watches, and smart phones. Real time data can be tracked, and customers can be advised about the insurance options. The data generated from these smart devices can be used to create personalized plan for the customers which can result in effective pricing and better service.
IoT is not confined to healthcare and insurance sectors alone. Machines can communicate with others regarding raw materials or other resource availability in inventory in the manufacturing industry. Production can also be tempered with consumer data and consumption rates to increase efficiency and flexibility among factories in the industry.
IoT has already forayed into the transportation sector. The scope again is very wide. Enhanced customer experience by providing real time data and location tracking will improve the satisfaction levels and ensure better journeys. Insurance industry tying up with transportation to offer customized insurance based on real time travel data is already a reality.
What we are looking at is in one single cloud of all the sectors connected by tiny sensors that communicate which each other. Better traffic management, reduction in pollution, ease of parking, communication etc are the possibilities using IoT. The transportation sector has a huge potential to leverage from this technology.
The possibilities of using IoT by Governments are huge. Weather data, public transportation, benefit schemes, power management, public safety are some areas that can use IoT to solve problems. Prediction of weather conditions, natural disasters, pandemic and floods will save millions of lives around the globe. Some countries have effectively used AI during the current pandemic to track the location of infected people and to impose quarantine so as the curb the disease.
According to the Government of India Draft Policy on IoT, the number of devices connected using the internet exceeded the population of the world way back in 2011. The government’s initiative in using IoT to make cities smarter spreads its wings in the areas of safety of women, waste management (smart trashcans in US informs garbage collectors when they have empty the cans), smart parking, water management, and smart lighting to name a few. The Government of India is also interested in developing the agricultural sector using IoT. Monitoring soil density and moisture, temperature, patterns in land conditions are some areas in which IoT can help in this sector.
Development in technology is often a double-edged sword, and IoT comes with its own challenges. With the rise in cyber attacks round the world it is imperative that security is given high priority. Robust security measures are the key for sustainably availing the benefits of IoT.
Hacking is also a very real threat in this field. It can lead to large breaches in security, violation of privacy, and can cripple large systems or industries and bring them to a grinding halt considering the amount of reliance that is placed on IoT systems.
Connectivity, availability of spectrum, standardization, compatibility, and interoperability are some other issues that we need to overcome with respect to IoT.
Regardless of these issues, the benefits of IoT far outweigh the challenges we face with its adoption. It has always been a dream of humanity to achieve high levels of convenience and efficiency in our every endeavor and IoT offers us a chance to be closer to this dream than we ever have been before.
However, we must also be wary of the potential adverse effects of the large-scale adoption of such technology and must have contingency plans available to minimize loss or damage.
(The author Dr .K.V. Sriram is Associate Professor, Department of Humanities and Management, Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, and the views expressed in the article are his own)