What the IoT is the IoT?

With the unveiling of the highly anticipated Apple Watch (www.apple.com/uk/watch/) on March 9, the Internet was awash with stories about the so-called ‘Internet of Things’. You couldn’t scroll an inch without running into #IoT. But what exactly is the Internet of Things?

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Coined in 2014, the term refers to a network of physical objects and machines (‘things’) which encompass electronics, sensors, connectivity and software, that enable these ‘things’ to communicate with us humans, as well as with manufacturers and other devices, in order to provide enhanced features. Simple machine-to-machine communication is old school, with IoT we now expect our devices to communicate and absorb information from us, as well as from each other, our friends, the Internet – and even our washing machines.
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Yup, soon your washer/dryer will be calling you on your phone when you’re out. Samsung’s Smart Check automatic error-monitoring system is meant to detect and diagnose problems, providing troubleshooting solutions direct to your iPhone or Android; LG’s HomeChat platform allows its owners to monitor their wash’s progress on their phone; and Whirlpool’s new machines can connect and communicate with your thermostat.
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While getting updates from your tumble dryer mightn’t sound like the most exciting development, this move towards life on a ‘smart grid’ – where all our appliances can communicate with and adjust to each other – could make our lives much easier. With Hive (www.hivehome.com) you can already control your heating from your phone, saving you money by making sure you’re not heating an empty house – now imagine if your heating could communicate with your bathtub, music system and tumble dryer, letting you come home to a warm house (playing your favourite playlist), a hot bath and a freshly dried towel.

If all this sounds a little trivial, there’s also serious potential for IoT within the realm of health and medicine. Wearable devices, such as the soon-to-be-released Watchie (www.watchie.com/), will allow Alzheimer sufferers to be located, wherever they are, increasing their safety while providing peace of mind for family and carers. Diabetes sufferers could soon be helped by Google, who have partnered with Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis to develop Google contact lenses (googleblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/introducing-our-smart-contact-lens.html) which will be able to measure glucose levels in wearers’ tears and transmit this information wirelessly to connected smartphones. If these lenses can communicate with a pump administering insulin, millions of diabetes sufferers’ lives could be revolutionised.
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Here’s to a future where all our ‘things’ can communicate wirelessly to improve our lives! Let’s just hope we don’t lose the remote…