The “things” in the Internet of Things (IoT) is as broad in meaning as the word itself: It could mean clothes (smart garments), fitness devices (like Fitbit), smart cars, beacons, homes, and more—including smart cities, given that the Spanish city of Santander recently spread 12,000 sensors above and below ground as part of a test project to “smarten” up.
The goal with IoT is producing devices that are connected to the Internet and to each other to help us make better decisions. Companies are churning away with IoT products to the point where Gartner projects that there will be 26 billion IoT units on the market by 2020 handling more than 50 trillion gigabytes of data.
These are impressive numbers, but the real value of IoT is not in device volume to rake in revenue or in simple ubiquity like we have with smartphones today.
It’s in the sensors.
The sensors in these IoT devices are what make them smart in the first place. Sensors pick up data and transmit it. That is what happens right now with sensors attached to smart garments to track how people move when they lift weights or run, or devices that gather data about heart rate or other body functions. As the IoT market grows, sensors will track other forms of data—and not just about people. Sensors will affect the supply chain, machinery in factories, and more, including consumer behavior. Currently, companies rely on traditional quantitative research methods and factor in behavioral data based on Internet use. But with devices functioning as a portal into tracking what we really do—whether at work or at play—the data obtained will be crucial.
And that data itself may produce a new market of organizations to parse that data so that we can use it, whether it’s to change how we produce or ship products or how we use products once we get them.
Of course, we’re still a ways off from this point. One important obstacle is that the IoT market is still quite fragmented, with all kinds of players competing for their pie slice. As part of that fragmentation, we don’t really have a standardized communication protocol. Since all the sensors in these devices don’t all speak the same language, we’re not going to have an optimal data flow through a more thoroughly connected world.
But this obstacle probably won’t be in place for long, especially as smart “things” become more a part of our daily lives and thus produce a direct need for clear communication between the sensors that make these things smart in the first place.
And as those sensors start transmitting more data, it’s likely that we’ll see devices take over certain tasks that will allow employees to focus on more important things. That will improve productivity, and we’ll see “smart” companies enjoy an edge over those that are less smart. In fact, maybe in 10 to 15 years we won’t even be talking about IoT—we’ll be talking about IoE, the Internet of Everything.
David Hofer is executive director and board member of Intercomp USA, an independent franchise electronic components distributor for aerospace and military, automotive, consumer electronics, and medical device manufacturers. For more information, visit the Intercomp web site.