When new technology arrives, it can initially look like it’s not doing much. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to about the current state of the IoT. Consider the mainstream arrival of the Internet in mid 1990s. It was first seen as an interestingly new way to publish and find information.
However, there was no inkling of how it would grow and evolve over the next 30 years and change the way people communicate, shop, bank, work and play. IoT today is where the Internet was when it started. Over the next 30 years alongside AI and robotics, IoT will change everything about how people live, work and play.
Yet, until very recently IoT was still seen by some as just a bunch of hype. IoT applications were being rolled out, but the benefits were all but invisible to anyone outside of those applications. That was until the devastating COVID-19 pandemic arrived and the size of the invisible IoT revolution started to become recognized.
IoT in action
One of the earliest indicators of COVID-19’s spread in the U.S. was a wave of abnormal temperature reading data from millions of smart thermometer users. The company behind this leading device in the U.S. had long published a Health Weather Map on its website that anonymously collated temperature readings and in doing so was effectively identifying COVID-19 hotspots before anyone was aware they had begun.
Hospitals worldwide also quickly recognized that to prevent COVID-19 surges, part of the solution lay in IoT.
IoT is being used to minimize patient to staff contact using far greater remote monitoring of patients and enables scarce hospital equipment resources to be used more effectively. IoT suddenly become part of the front-line battle against COVID-19.
Prime examples of IoT devices that are being used include battery-powered wireless pulse oximeters that measure blood oxygen levels and AC plug-in wireless hubs and Bluetooth stick-on beacons that enable hospitals to track and quickly locate key equipment such as ventilators.
COVID-19 has also created a major issue for employers who now need to convince their employees that it’s safe to return to work. The IoT industry was quick to come up with various solutions, such as a range of Bluetooth and ultra wideband distance and contact trackers. These can be used to help reinforce social distancing measures and enable rapid contact tracing and testing should an employee become infected.
What the IoT response to COVID-19 has served to do is finally bring home the benefits of IoT in a way that simply hadn’t been that compelling to the majority of the population before. However, many are beginning to realize that IoT can be used to fight against many of the most pressing challenges the world faces.
For example, IoT solutions are instrumental to reducing greenhouse gases and waste. In Portland, U.S., cellular IoT wireless technology is helping prevent an auxiliary coal-fired power station being fired up by streamlining local grid demand from domestic electric water heaters.
In Oslo, Norway, a simple thing such as emptying public trash cans when full avoids unnecessary collations to avoid full trash cans. The smart public trash can trend is catching on fast in cities around the world, according to GSMA. Shared public bikes and electric scooters are also great way to reduce car traffic. These have only been made possible using IoT to locate the scooters via GPS or cellular data
In addition, people can now install smart chargers for electric cars that limit charging of a car to off-peak hours only. This keeps electricity costs down and avoids the need for spikes in power grid demand.
The future of IoT
Today, IoT is just starting to shed its invisibility cloak and demonstrate its true potential in an ever-increasing list of applications. By true potential, I mean IoT’s ability to make the world a better place and raise living and working standards in every single part of the world.
Change is never achieved without inconvenience. When it comes to IoT, the efficiency, automation, convenience, cost saving, safety and optimization benefits are simply too compelling. Yes, there are still numerous privacy and security concerns that will need to be addressed and resolved; and they will be. But the way I see it, an IoT revolution is well underway. One that is no longer invisible.
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