In the first of a two-part series, Lucas Pinz, senior technology manager, PromonLogicalis, looks at evolution of the Internet of Things - the technology ecosystem that will enable it and the tangible benefits it will deliver – and points out that this new, hyper-connected reality is almost upon us.
It’s morning. Your alarm rings but it is ten minutes later than your usual wake-up time - the clock has allowed you to sleep a little longer, having checked your flight to Porto Alegre online and learned there’d be a 30-minute delay. You get up, dress and in your kitchen an alert reminds you to take your medicine. If you forget, the medicine bottle cap will send you a further reminder via text message. On your way out of the house, your umbrella flashes a blue light indicating a 90% chance of rain. You grab it and head for the airport. On the way, an app on your smartphone says your bus will arrive in 1m20s, so you don’t have to get a taxi or drive. When you arrive in Porto Alegre you check in with FourSquare and, at home, a device lets your family know you’ve arrived safely at work.*
That might all sound like science fiction, but there is no fiction here. All the products and services required to make the scenarios outlined above a reality already exist. What’s more, this connected reality is not limited to the daily lives of individuals – as predicted by David Hillel Gelernter, Professor of Computing Science at Yale University, in his book Mirror Worlds.
Gelernter imagined “looking at a computer screen and seeing reality – an image of a city with all traffic patterns identified; or an image representing the real time situation of an entire company”. To him, these representations were called Mirror Worlds and would be available to everyone. Through them, it would be possible to explore the world with unprecedented depth and detail without having to leave the house.
The Internet of Things is already with us
More than two decades after Mirror Worlds was published, the Internet of Things (IoT) is starting to bring Prof. Gelernter’s predictions to the real world. Indeed in March 2012 my colleague Ian Cook wrote that, while it all seems a little far fetched, the reality is that we already have an ‘Internet of Things’.
We all have in our pockets the basic element of the Internet of Things’ construction kit - our smartphones, which carry more computational power than the largest computers of ten years ago. Cloud-stored apps are essential to making sense of the Internet of Things, to enabling new business models and consumption patterns – and we’re already living in an Application Economy era. By the end of 2014 alone, 77 billion applications will have been downloaded. Then there is connectivity, without which there is no Internet. We’ve come a long way, but there is still much to do. Operators still have work to do in implementing 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi networks with the quality required by IoT. Sensors represent the missing piece in our IoT puzzle. IoT will require millions of sensors, smart applications and convergent networks – to collect data from our daily lives, from our cities and organisations, so that it can be visualised and used, in an instant. But make no mistake, these sensors will be deployed – and it is easy to see how they can deliver tangible benefits on a large scale.
Take traffic and parking. It’s estimated that 30% of heavy traffic in large cities is caused by people searching for parking spaces. Now, imagine knowing before you even leave the house not only where an available parking spot is, but reserving and paying for it with credit card. This is already happening in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Singapore and others.
Apps, cloud, connectivity, smartphones and smart sensors: this is the Internet of Things’ ecosystem. Much of this infrastructure is in place, and real life applications are already possible. And the ‘Mirror World’? Well order a product online and the better couriers will allow you to look at your computer screen and see reality – where the package is on Google Maps, who the driver is and the time of delivery - at which point the mirror and your reality converge.
The questions we asked two years ago were ‘What value can we derive from engaging with IoT?’, followed by ‘How do we do it?’. The question now must be, ‘Are you ready for it?’
* Based on the book Designing the Internet of Things, by Adrian McEwen & Hakim Cassimally