The “Internet of Things” (or IoT) has been something of a buzz term in technology for a couple of years now, despite the fact that it’s usually mentioned in only the vaguest ways. Many are familiar with the maddeningly unspecific IoT commercials from tech companies that basically make the concept sound like some sort of futuristic super-Internet, but a lot of us are still somewhat unfamiliar with what the IoT actually does or means.
For those who haven’t really looked into the specifics, the IoT is more or less the concept by which different devices with WiFi capabilities are connected to one another for purposes of improved efficiency and data collection. And for many of us, it’s already impacting day-to-day life.
Perhaps the most widespread use of an IoT concept is the transition toward in-home fitness and health tracking. You may not even realize it yet, but the fitness tracker you wear on your wrist or even the smartphone you carry in your pocket can be an IoT tool working to better your health. Indeed, as this Dupress article put it, a fitness tracker is merely one node, “resting on top of communications, analytics, policy, and even behavioral infrastructure.” We recognize wearable fitness trackers as being able to provide us with statistics regarding our activity levels, our sleep patterns, and in some cases even our pulses or blood glucose levels. That’s the tool aspect of it all. The IoT integration means compiling these and other pieces of data over time to automatically generate a comprehensive picture of a person’s health, resulting in relevant fitness and nutrition advice, accurate warning signs, etc. We’re not quite there yet, but make no mistake-this is where your fitness tracker is taking you.
The other area in which many of us have already put IoT devices into place is home management or as some prefer to phrase it, the development of “smart homes.” It’s certainly nothing new to have automated technology in place in homes. You may have had a timed security system for years, and you may be used to controlling everything from the TV to the fireplace with a single control panel. But this Green Peak list showcases the full range of potential in-home IoT devices, including thermostats, lights, motion sensors, door and window controls, environmental monitoring, etc. And the exciting thing is the idea of all these devices working together, without human input. For instance, an environmental monitor can react to temperature changes and adjust the thermostat as needed to suit your preferences (which the system can come to learn); a motion sensor can detect when you wake up in the morning and send a signal to start heating or cooling the downstairs, or even to turn on your morning news through the TV. The idea is for the whole environment to tailor itself to your life, and we’re not far from practices like these being in place.
But in measuring the impact of the IoT, it’s also important to recognize that much of its impact may touch our everyday lives without actually being visible or overtly apparent. One of the clearest examples of this sort of impact is in the shipping industry connected to major companies that we rely on regularly. As explained by this Networkfleet post, IoT practices in shipping can enable business owners and fleet managers to use vehicle diagnostics, GPS tracking, roadside assistance, and other features to keep fleets moving with optimal efficiency. This is something you and I would never notice in a given day, but it’s in all of our best interests for major companies and influential industries to operate as smoothly as possible. Optimal shipping practices can even lead to reduced costs and lower consumer prices, depending on the business.
In short, the IoT is already very widespread, and it’s gaining influence and capability simultaneously. It is not a vague or obscure technological concept that’s difficult to grasp, but rather a very real development that will affect countless aspects of culture, business and lifestyle. And if you feel it isn’t relevant to you just yet, remember to keep in mind everyday IoT products and services like these:
Fitness Tracking – As described above, fitness tracking through the IoT goes well beyond the sensors in your fitness band or smart watch. We’re moving quickly toward a setup that results in users gaining a full picture of their day-to-day health, and a lot of the functionality is in place already. By linking band or watch sensors to an app in your phone or computer you can learn your habits, track your progress, and gauge several aspects of your own health.
Alarm Clocks – Expanding on some of the smart home ideas discussed above, there is now talk of alarm clocks that can use information about your commute to work (or wherever else) to wake you up at the appropriate time. These devices can sync up with GPS, weather, and traffic apps and determine how much time you need to get where you need to go.
The Ivee Sleek alarm clock is a great example of a connected clock for your home, though it’s hardly just a clock. Much the way smart phones do far more than make calls, the Ivee Sleek is does much more than tell time. According to Ivee it is “the first Wi-Fi voice-activated assistant for the home that answers questions, obeys commands and controls other Internet-connected devices.” It’s designed to function as a tabletop clock with the added benefit of 33 voice-activated functions and is capable of controlling a number of other home automation devices like the Nest thermostat (Ivee is a Nest Partner), Hue Lights, or WeMo-enabled devices.
Toothbrushes – This is a smaller concept, but a great example of how IoT applications in personal health go further than fitness tracking. Smart toothbrushes can report back to apps and programs to analyze how well you’re cleaning your teeth, essentially keeping you honest with this day-to-day health task!
The Oral-B Pro 500 connected toothbrush makes some pretty big claims such as:
-Removes 300% more plaque along the gum line than a regular manual toothbrush
-Clinically proven superior 3D Cleaning Action oscillates, rotates and pulsates to break up and remove more plaque than a regular manual toothbrush
-Rechargeable with 5 modes: Daily Clean, Gum Care, Sensitive, Whitening, and Deep Clean
-Senses when you brush too hard with pressure sensor alert
Refrigerators – This is another product that falls under the “smart home” umbrella. Basically the idea is that your refrigerator will be able to sense when you’re low on certain supplies that you stock regularly, and then automatically put those supplies on a grocery list on your phone or computer.
Samsung and LG both recently announced new connected fridges at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January. Samsung’s Family Hub Refrigerator has a 21.5-inch Full HD monitor and stereo speakers, and is so-called because it will give access to other smarthome devices that work on the same standards as the company’s SmartThingsplatform. Additionally, you can bring up recipes on the monitor and thanks to an interior camera you don’t even need to open the door to see what’s inside.
Meanwhile, the LG Signature Refrigerator features four doors with a panel on the right-hand door that allows you, like Samsung’s offering, to see inside the fridge without opening it. The LG model also has darkened glass which you can tap on, using the “knock-on” feature, to turn the light on inside.
Shopping Assistance – You may already experience some shopping benefits like special coupons or rewards points by downloading the apps for stores you frequent. But as the shopping experience adapts to the IoT, you’ll soon be gaining automatic assistance through the same apps. Thanks in part to bluetooth beacons in retail, stores are now able to send notifications to shoppers, helping them find their way, making recommendations based on purchasing history, etc.
Those products and services show pretty clearly that the IoT isn’t some large, obscure system whose impact will be intangible. Rather, it’s a change that you can take full advantage of in everyday practices.