IoT devices are ubiquitous — Google Home, FitBit, Tesla Cars are all large-scale examples of IoT implementations. So why is it still important?
Because, there is a long way to go, around 30 billion connected devices are expected by 2025. Think of walking into an airport and getting auto checked-in because of the smart door, or street signal shutting slow/fast basis the pedestrian walking speed.
There are endless possibilities, before we get into the current and upcoming applications, let’s understand the IoT holistically.
Basics of IoT
The Internet of things (IoT) describes the network of physical objects — “things” — that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems — as per an article written by Oracle.
Elements of IoT
The physical objects mentioned above can be almost anything - tennis racquet, speaker, door, wall, sweatband, car, or even a large industrial machine.
The second most important part of IoT is Chip(s) — A processor. It enables the device with power, sensors, connectivity, and intelligence.
It acts as a platform to plug-in elements for various functions and hence acts as the core of the IoT.
The multifold increase in IoT devices has led to a rapid increase in the demand for Chips. For the longest time chips were made for mobile, computers, and tablets. While 50% of chips are still produced for these devices Automobile and Consumer Devices (Google Home, FitBit) now contribute to 20% of the production.
The constant demand, trade wars with China, and the supply chain breakdown have caused billions of dollars of losses for cars, Playstation, and other device manufacturers because of the severe shortage in availability of the chips.
Being the central part of the connected world, Chip making is one of the most lucrative manufacturing businesses of the decade.
Sensors enable devices to interact with surrounding events. Motion detection and data collection are the main uses of sensors. Other sensors include atmospheric sensors, pressure sensors, and optical sensors. Today, Sensor size has been reduced to its minimalistic possibilities using nanotechnology, making it possible to sense hundreds of things in one device.
While it's an assumption that IoT devices connect with Wifi or the internet using 4G, that’s limited to consumer devices.
Industrial and many other applications look for other low power requirement options like Bluetooth, NFC, and RFID. LPWAN — Lower Power Wide Area Network is used extensively in new age IoTs.
Software, the brain — where smartness lies, has helped IoT become relevant for humans. From complex logics to learning human interactions to running advance statistical models for business decisioning all have been enabled by the connected software.
Computing in IoT has led to a new term — edge computing. It is the ability of the machine to take decisions, not at a central location but at the data gathering unit itself. Taking decisions on the edge!
The Arduino 101 board runs Intel’s Curie chip with a 128-node neural network to enable edge computing!
One of the biggest bottlenecks in the IoT growth story is Interoperability. In factories, we need the IoT device that tracks human movements to communicate with machine movement detectors for overall safety. Similarly, if the retail industry is to allow quick checkout the optical detector for buyers, payment systems and inventory-on-shelf detector need to communicate to enable a pick-and-carry shopping experience. The device manufacturer needs to go beyond building a standalone IoT device rather understand and enable the final outcome for the consumer by allowing quick integrations with other devices of the ecosystem.
Data security lapses have become everyday news, the most recent being the theft of CCTV video data of US, Jails, Parking lots, etc. The leapfrog growth in chip manufacturing and IoT assembling has meant substandard security protocols and weak links at multiple touchpoints. As enterprises join the bandwagon, the data transfer and communication between systems need encryption and decryption framework to make it a success.
With growing consumer devices, the question — how much information should be shared has taken the center stage. Companies will have to comfort the consumers with detailed explanations of how their data will be used.
Selling customer data has become a revenue stream for many device makers in the cutthroat hardware manufacturing space, it has become an accepted norm to sell devices cheaply in lieu of the data.
On a separate note, data sharing has also sparked the debate of workplace privacy, are we entitled to privacy at the workplace? Is tracking movements a breach of privacy? If yes, to what extent?
The debate on these questions is far from settling.
Google, Amazon, and product companies can hire the smartest of the lot and even train their engineers but what about enterprises that have just started to adopt IoT.
Additionally, the factory personnel needs to adjust to the new working norms to enable the IoT device to do its job. Employees avoid wearing helmets in closed environments disabling the IoT enabled helmet to collect information. Many such change management challenges occur.
Similarly, companies need folks for installment & maintenance, data gathering, management & analysis, and decision-makers who can use the outcomes of the analysis.
IoT installation comes with the need for a host of facilitators and hence enterprises need to hire accordingly.
Applications & Impact
Personal & Home
Though Alexa and Google Dot have become common main room devices, there are many other household devices getting connected — Door, Temperature controls, AC, TV, Fan, Geyser, etc.
Wearables obviously have caught the fancy of all be it for fitness or monitoring sleep or controlling other devices on tip of the finger.
Healthcare devices for the elderly, kids, and pregnant women (movement trackers, medicine timer, body fluid & temperature trackers, disease specific body contraction/change trackers) is reducing human assistance and fatalities.
Innovations like car tyers with pressure sensors and smart luggage are social media trends and clear differentiators for companies in the mature markets.
Enterprise & Industrial
Employee happiness trackers and network safety using fingerprint sensors are the low-hanging high volume projects.
While niche high value impact is in factory monitoring, mine labor safety, hazardous chemical leak detection, cargo tracking, route optimization, service interruption detectors, factory asset tracking to name a few.
Govt (Cities, Infrastructure, etc.)
Government owned companies can use IoT for efficiency, maintenance, and tracking purposes. Tracking of natural resources and animals in national reserves has helped dependency on human resources and also allowed remote and around the clock tracking.
Remote health-care delivery, informed transportation, and last mile reach of many such services have now become possible.
Smart cities with efficient and automated power transmission, transportation services, waste management, public safety maintenance systems are being built across the world.
Others & Outside
IoT for increasing farm yield, washroom water & light use efficiency are seeing buyers. The one that stands out is “Ocean of things”.
Market & Companies
In 2019 the market size of IoT was $250B and it is expected to grow by 2027 to $1400B. Smart cars, smart health, and smart cities are going to lead this trend. Which in turn will increase the demand for products & services of internet, cloud, and hardware (cables & chips) providers.
Cisco is perfectly placed between hardware, software, and connectivity. These three core offerings have enabled it to become a one-stop-shop and leader in the market.
Cisco, Siemens, Bosch lead the enterprise side of IoT while Google, Amazon, lead the consumer space. Car manufacturers and niche players in Home IoT, Smart cities, etc. will change the market leader chart in the coming decade.