The Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to drive fundamental economic and social change. However, there are serious obstacles to overcome if we are to gain the full benefits of what could be the building blocks of a new technological revolution.
These obstacles are simple to list and hard to get a grip on, and include data volumes, data storage and management, data security and the difficulty of getting actionable real-time insights from the data flows created by IoT infrastructure.
Spelling out the prospects, Mike Gualtieri, of Forrester Research, warns, “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the IoT is just about industrial use cases such as manufacturing or logistics. Perhaps the most interesting Internet-connected device in the age of the customer is the good ol’ smart phone. The smart phone is laden with sensors such as GPS, accelerometer, audio, images, position, and even the touch-screen and buttons.”
IoT sensors, Gualtieri says, “emit live data such as motion, temperature, voltage, pressure, audio, video, position, and the list goes on and on.”
Analyst firm Gartner meanwhile, estimates that there will be 4.9 billion connected ‘things’ this year, rising to 25 billion by 2025.
If we are still in the early days of the IoT revolution, there are already some important and some less obvious applications of the technology.Smart power grids are an example of how IoT could lead to unparalleled levels of sustainability. Intelligent energy systems could monitor usage in real time, and analyse the data to find trends that will help suppliers to optimise energy usage according to demand.
There are smart grid pilots all over the world, but a particularly interesting one is in Austin, Texas. There researchers are carrying out a comprehensive consumer-focused smart grid project. It’s called Pecan Street, and it involves hundreds of homes, schools, businesses and one of the largest supercomputers in the world, as well as the largest concentration of electric cars found in the world.
The IoT infrastructure uses Intel technology for many of its components including the sensors in the buildings and the supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Centre (TACC) at the University of Texas.
The sensor technology measures energy usage in the buildings and then streams that data to TACC. There, Intel servers analyse huge amounts of data, charting usage patterns, visualising data, and helping researchers to discover how they could implement advanced energy management systems.
The Smart power grid is one complex and impressive implementation of IoT. A more bizarre, but equally innovative example is the way the IoT is revolutionising coffee machines.
Costa Coffee’s digital barista is a vending machine that gathers information from people as they buy their coffee, so it can make the right type and combination of products available in a particular location. It analyses the purchaser, working out their individual details (gender, age etc) and preferences (coffee type, aromas), to show them targeted content on screen and even attempting to predict the coffee they’re likely to order.
To do this, it uses the Intel Audience Impression Metrics Suite, a software platform that generates real-time data analytics. Costa is planning to roll out 2500 digital barrister machines in the UK and Europe.
So IoT is innovating a large number of industries, bringing new customer experiences and the sort of service integration that companies could only dream of in the past. The problem is that creates a number of new challenges that inevitably – and quite rightly – fall on the enterprise IT team.