What happens if technology doesn’t keep up with the IoT?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a very broad term.  I guess that’s to be expected when one of the terms used in the name is as generic as “stuff”, but there’s a good reason for that.  The IoT is more of an idea than an actual technology — the idea of connecting multiple devices through the use of sensors and the Cloud.  As an idea that’s currently being tested all around the globe in many different industries, one must wonder how successful it really is with our current level of technology.  If I were to give it a build, I’d call it Internet of Things Alpha right now.

Why are we in the “Alpha” phase still?

Alpha is used to describe the earliest workable build.  It’s definitely not ready for release and has a lot of testing and improvements still to be made.  Now, before you go thinking this is the Internet of Things fault, it isn’t.  Believe it or not, our tech just isn’t keeping up well with everything the IoT can be.

The best example of this is a recent trend — the little smartbox listening systems like the Echo.  Last year, a colleague of mine bought one with every expectation that this little device would save a few minutes each day by checking bus times, setting calendar reminders, and even doing the odd “googling” when she needed it.  At first, it worked pretty well!  It did the tasks she needed and she was satisfied.  Today, she’s selling it.

When I asked why, as I’d thought it was working great for her, she said she just never really used it except to check bus times.  The reason she gave was because she had to keep asking the same thing to get a result.  It rarely understood her.  It’s no fault of the IoT here that the Echo, but the technology around it.  Even though the device had the capability to do what the user wanted, it just couldn’t understand.

What’s working in the IoT, then?

Simple is better.  Currently the biggest successes within IoT-enabled systems are the less complex devices.  These include things like baby monitors, thermostats, locks, and various production-assisting systems in companies.  They work well because they’re building on technology we’ve been using for decades over technology we’re still developing and improving upon.

Don’t get me wrong, newer tech can definitely still be useful, but when it comes to the IoT, there’s a lot left to be developed and going to far too fast might just come back to bite a smaller company in the end.

The truth of the matter is that the IoT is already proven.  It’s a system that works and has many benefits in the years to come, but we need to focus equally on developing our other technology along with the IoT.  All the sensors in the world won’t help if your device thinks you’re saying “sandwich” rather than “search for”.

Blockchain and its connection to the Internet of Things

When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), hearing about new technologies related to it is nothing new.  Every month, there’s some advancement with this company or that which influences or affects the IoT in some way.  While blockchain might not be new, it’s a widely unknown technology.  But even so, it might just play a key role in much of the development of IoT.

What is blockchain anyway?

Blockchain always makes me think of those spammy chainmail emails you get from coworkers you don’t like and wish you could block.  It’s a fringe technology, but undeniably an important one and surprisingly easy to understand.

Blockchain allows digital information to be distributed easily, quickly, and without a centralised location.  An easy way of understanding it is to look at Google Drive Documents, which is a perfect example.  If I were to create a document (blockchain) I could share it around with a link which would allow others to edit the document accordingly.  I could even allow some to edit while others can only view the document.

The document is updated in realtime and therefor changes are seen instantly by all involved parties.  This makes for easy collaborations, especially when the previous way required constant sending of word documents to various parties who then sent them back with revisions.

Blockchain is an especially robust system because it isn’t housed or stored in any one place.  The information is stored throughout the network which helps to make it both secure and difficult to corrupt.

How does this relate to the Internet of Things?

Well, since the IoT is based all around the immediate transfer of information through sensors and data compilation and then analysing that data, I think you can start to see the similarities between the two.  Connecting these devices through a low-cost, low-maintenance system like blockchain becomes a very viable strategy for many different types of companies.

In fact, some firms are already relying on the combination of these two technologies.  Sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation are just a few to name.

Through the use of blockchain, we might be able to further even automation technologies.  While a bunch of robots shooting around a warehouse might sound like chaos, the truth is that these two technologies are what take what would be chaos and bring order and efficiency to it.

Building a safe, reliable network to work on is an important task and a difficult one.  With the help of blockchain and the IoT, creating a flexible system just feels a whole lot easier.

Where exactly is the IoT Technology right now?

When talking of the Internet of Things, often we hear about what it will soon be capable of.  Whether we’re talking about city infrastructure, consumer devices, or even improving efficiency in processing and manufacturing, there’s always the question of what can be done right now and what’s being done.

We’re in the early stages right now.

If the Internet of Things were a human, it’d be somewhere around toddler age.  It’s just now starting to get its feet planted firmly and is expected to be running around like a rabid monkey soon.  Enough with that analogy though, let’s talk about where the IoT is shining right now — manufacturing.

Manufacturing is one of the few places where the IoT is either already being used or already being planned around.  85% of global businesses surveyed have said that they’ll be adopting IoT technologies by 2020.

Business leaders across nations firmly believe that the IoT is going to be changing their businesses significantly and are looking to capitalize on the opportunity.  Their data needs vary from customer insights, fast analysis, improved operating efficiency, and more.

What’s the big deal with the IoT all of a sudden?

The big deal is big data.  We’re living in a world where your local barber knows what toothpaste you bought last week.  Nearly every company out there is gathering some data or another.  Some of it’s from you, some from their machines, and some from their employees.  The fact is that a lot of companies out there have a lot of data to sift through and there’s no better sifter or data collector than the IoT.

The way the Internet of Things works is that it takes data from sensors and sends it through the internet to the cloud which can then be analysed and used in a variety of ways.  Sounds simple, right?  It can be!  Or it can be the most complex thing you’ve ever laid eyes on.

Some systems might only need a few sensors or a few inputs of data, but most, especially those global companies, are going to have hundreds if not thousands of different data streams coming in every day.  There’s just no way that any technology other than the IoT could handle such a load, which is why it’s shining so bright right now.

So… what is the future looking like then?

It’s looking big.  It’s looking really really big.  With all the different sectors that the Internet of Things is expected to enhance, we’re going to have a bit of a technological revolution on our hands.  Out with the old and in with the new.

We’re going to see a big boost in productivity and efficiency in many of the manufacturing departments.  Shipments of merchandise and materials will be coming and going faster, systems will be enhanced, and even employee lives and schedules could be affected positively.

As for the consumer side of things, you can expect… a lot.  With any new technology there will be a few problems.  One of the biggest out there right now is security, which is struggling at the moment when it comes to how the IoT works.  But once those issues are resolved, you can expect to find yourself in a much more user-friendly world.  Better traffic, better advertisements, and potentially even cheaper goods.  After all, if manufacturing is more efficient and therefor less costly, they’ll likely pass those saving on to you.

Making Moves in the IoT

We’ve experienced hearables, wearables, touchables.  Just sneeze in the wrong way and you might end up changing your alarm.  What’s next?  Smellables?   I’m happy to say I doubt any company is going to be looking down that avenue for their next idea.  What is being looked down though is gesture-enabled devices.  No, you’re Kinect isn’t going to make a comeback.  I’m talking about being able to control your smartwatch without touching a thing or augmenting your virtual reality devices.

Google’s ATAP has spent several years developing Project Soli.

Project Soli is the name of this new technology that’s aiming to change the way we interact with devices on a daily basis.  It uses a miniature radar to detect touchless gestures in a way similar to how bats navigate.  The sensor tracks sub-millimeter motion both accurately and at high speeds.  Through the addition of specific gestures, users will be able to control devices in different ways.

For a simple understanding, it’s quite similar to sign language.  Rather than a single ‘sign’ being a command though, it requires movement.  For instance, to turn the volume up on your smart watch, you might need to pinch your fingers together and move them up.

How does it work?

Project Soli works by emitting electromagnetic waves in a broad beam.  Objects within range will scatter the energy and reflect a portion of it back towards the radar.  Every movement of the fingers is tracked backwards through the high-quality and diversified information capturing.

 

What can Project Soli be used for?

Any device within reach, really.  Soli isn’t a huge machine or a complex sensor, it’s a chip small enough to fit into a watch which uses only a small amount of energy.  It’s not affected by light and even works through most materials, so the sky’s the limit so to speak.  It can be used in everything from watches to cars to most other IoT devices.

For developers of IoT devices, this is one of the first technologies that is almost designed to work together.

Soli is expected to start shipping later this year and is already accepting a small number of companies to develop.  Levi’s is just one of those companies.  Their plan? To stitch the chips into their clothes for Project Jacquard, a unique endeavor intended to make clothes themselves into a type of smart-device.

Whether gestures are going to be the next big thing or the next big flop remains to be seen.  As a lover of all things tech, I am certainly going to be keeping a close eye on Soli .

 

Making a Mark in Marketing

The Internet of Things has been making a splash in all sorts of unexpected industries.  From city infrastructure all the way down to baby monitors, its affecting our world in a way that’s not been seen since the internet.  Its next venture?  Marketing.

Real-time Marketing

Marketing is one of few industries that changes minute-by-minute.  Consumer perception is a difficult thing to understand and what worked last week might not today.

A recent survey stated that over half of top global marketers expect the Internet of Things to revolutionise the marketing world by 2020.  Why?  Because data is everything, and there’s no better data-gathering tool right now than the IoT.

The IoT is able to gather data in real-time in devices where it was previously unattainable.  It can analyse customer buying habits, help garner insight into how consumers choose a product, and even help expedite customer service.

How IoT Changes the Game

How something is marketed can change at the drop of a hat.  For instance, let’s look at a simple product like eggnog.  It’s a seasonal item and therefor selling in June is unlikely to garner many sales, and so it tends to come out around Christmas.  Now, let’s say there was a huge egg-scare and people are suddenly avoiding eggs.  What happens now?

Without the IoT, businesses are slow to respond to this trend.  Eggnog sales are down, but most companies don’t know why.  They keep it on the shelves and end up losing potential customers.

With the IoT, the system recognizes that Eggnog sales are down… but what’s this?  Egg-free eggnog sales are up.  The system was able to analyse this trend in real time and within a day, the business has started prioritizing egg-free eggnog.  Sales stabilise for this business.

Consumer behavior is an ever-changing beast.  Thanks to the IoT, this beast is a lot more tame.  It can help with a lot more than just egg-scares, too.  Knowing why one product is bought over another is just as important when it comes to marketing.  Was the price too high?  Was the product not in the right color or size?  Sure, you could ask the customer all these questions, but with the IoT, it’ll be able to predict the answers based on data received.

It can also help with targeted ads.  Social communities are an important part of social media and focusing efforts towards these communities to reach prospective customers is extremely helpful.  Determining emerging trends with one group of people would help you to sell the same type of product to other similar groups.

Being able to answer the why’s of consumers is the number one job of any marketer.  Being able to answer in each moment allows marketers to adapt instantaneously to new trends.  As it happens, the Internet of Things is the tool required to do both on a global scale.

IoT: Skillset Required

When it comes to the Internet of Things, there are certain skills required to be able to implement and maintain it.  Go to far, and you’ve got an overly complicated system that few can use and has many redundant features.  Don’t set up enough and you simply won’t have the data you need to make an impact in your business.  The IoT is a very delicate system and as such, requires people that understand it fully.  Unfortunately, those people are few and in high demand.

Most businesses just don’t have the skills.

A recent survey of mid to large-sized companies showed that the vast majority of businesses are interested in implementing IoT features.  That same survey also showed that few are actually ready to deal with the change.  The biggest problem?  A stark lack of skills.  Only 20% of companies interested in IoT said they were confident they had the skills needed to implement their IoT plans.

Security, support, and data specialists are among the most demanded.  With such a high demand though, having people in-house has become a challenge for many.  In fact, nearly 75% of businesses said they had plans to outsource at least part of their IoT workload.  When a skillset is in such low supply and high demand, there’s really no other option.

What skills are needed in the IoT?

For starters, you need to be able to understand technology, how it works, and how to embed systems accordingly.  Understanding the capabilities of machines, what’s needed, and where its needed is key to efficiency and a key part of being an IoT expert.

You’ll also need some knowledge of networking, computer programming, and cloud computing.  Communication is what keeps the IoT alive, and these skills allow your sensors to do just that.  With cloud computing, you’re able to handle the massive amounts of data being sent much more easily.

A background in big data can help, too.  You have to remember that your sensors are going to be sending huge amounts of data out.  Being able to analyse and interpret this data is absolutely necessary when working in the IoT.

Lastly, network security is a huge addition that can help.  Making things work properly is great, but keeping them safe is just as important.  With scandals such as the attack on Dyn, you’ve got to be very careful on how you’re sending and receiving data.  Knowing a bit about cyber security is a necessity when it comes to working on the Internet of Things.

When it comes to a game-changer like the IoT, it’s not unexpected to have such a big demand/supply disparity at the start.  A different set of skills is required for it than has been for most other jobs, and training for it takes time.  As it stands, outsourcing and offering training programmes is a company’s best bet for breaking into the IoT-era.

Tackling the Usability Issue in the IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most rapidly evolving sectors in the tech industry. By 2020, there’s expected to be almost 25 billion working devices throughout the world. Data from coast to coast being transmitted constantly between one another, analysed, broken down, and acted upon. It’s no surprise that this rapid growth has left a little to be desired when it comes to usability. Luckily, some companies are tackling that issue head on.

Integration

“There’s an app for that” is a saying that’s grown in popularity over the last few years, and for good reason. Chances are, whatever you’re looking for, you likely could find an app for it. Need to find your phone? There’s an app for that. Need a good, local restaurant? What about food delivered? You need it, your phone’s got it. The same is likely to be true for many IoT-enabled devices.

Without a way to interact with your device on an instantaneous level, you’re severely hindered. Imagine you’ve got a smart home. You’ve got smart lights and a smart clock installed in it. For these items to be useful, you’ve got to have a way to interact with and change certain settings. For instance, what wattage you’d like your lights at in each room, the brightness, etc. The same is true for your clock. If you’re out for most of the day, it can rest during those hours.

Creating a ‘hub’

Having one place where you can do everything is just as important. Companies are starting to focus more on “one-stop-shopping” and for you, and the IoT, that’s a great thing. The more the IoT grows, the bigger an issue this becomes. After all, I wouldn’t want to have to go through a dozen different apps or portals to make changes to my clock, lights, car, and everything else.

By putting all of these different apps in one place, you get a fast, reliable, singular place to tend to all your needs at once. Just look at our phones. Twenty years ago, they were simply made to make calls. Ten years and they were for calls and texts. Now, they’re a multimedia device for anything from journals to searching the web to playing games. The same, in time, will be true of the Internet of Things.

Creating new partnerships between companies

Creating that hub discussed above has a big impact on companies, too. By having to collaborate between each other, two companies which might’ve never needed to interact before could very well form a strategic partnership. How does the consumer?

For one, costs will go down. If a company has less work to do thanks to this partnership, they can decrease their prices. Less time spent developing also gives more time to other issues like improvements, bug-fixing, and user-friendliness.

It can also lead even further to new technologies all together. When companies begin sharing information and working together, huge strides can be made. Just look at the space industry if you don’t believe me. Boeing, Lockheed, Orbital ATK, and SpaceX are sharing knowledge and other resources to all reach a common goal.

The more the Internet of Things grows, the more crucial each of these points become. With 2020 just around the corner, there’s no signs of the IoT slowing down. Consumer-focused devices are an important step in the right direction.

Smart Hotels: Your Home Away From Home

We’ve all heard about smart homes, but what about smart hotels? Automation is a big factor in efficiency and when it comes to one of the single largest industries in the world, hospitality is no different. So how and where can the IoT help?

It can help improve customer satisfaction

The IoT is a powerful tool because of its flexibility. It can be used in any number of ways. For instance:

A web portal which a user can log into can help them control certain things. Easy check-in/check-out changes, searching movies before they arrive, and making sure requested features are there before arriving.

That same web portal could be used to set the temperature of your room for your arrival. Something that might seem like a small feature, could be the difference between going to one hotel over another.

It could even be used to order room service at any time, set alarms, open and close blinds, or even unlock the door for visitors without ever getting up.

It can improve costs, too

With features, like those seen above, helping you customers, it means less work for employees to do. That’ll leave those employees to do work in other areas, cutting the cost of employees needed.

It can also help cut heating and cooling costs, as vacant rooms won’t be using the system. If you take things a step further and connect sensors to the balcony door or windows, you can even turn off the air conditioner when the window is open or door is open.

One of the biggest things it can do for any hotel though is to lower the cost of improvements. The fact is that most hotels right now are not the top of the line, but that doesn’t mean they can’t become that with a few improvements.

For instance, most hotels come with a phone for calling reception. Well, what if that phone had more uses? It could help deliver important instructions for an emergency or an introductory message when a guest checks in.

Know when and where to improve

In hospitality, you can’t go too far. After all, most customers still prefer the experience of talking to a real person at the front desk, in the kitchen, or on the other end of the phone. Automation is a great tool but overuse can be detrimental in an industry focused on the human experience.

Improving your service and efficiency is a great use of the Internet of Things. Trying to remove the employees in lieu of more technology, however, is not. If in doubt, think about what an average Joe would want in a hotel. Chances are, he doesn’t want that hands-free body-washer you were planning on installing in all the showers.

IoT: Collaboration Required

In the past century or so, the world has gone through vast changes.  Much of the world and land borders have settled and we’ve had a wave of peace between the biggest nations.  Nationalism has been replaced by globalism, especially across Europe.  That same sort of national collaboration is needed for the Internet of Things to be successful in the days to come.

It’s all proprietary, now.

With all the new technology coming out from companies across the globe, each with their own coding language and practices, you can’t expect them to be able to send, receive, and understand other device’s data without help.  And if devices can’t understand each other, any data sent and collected becomes useless and the IoT fails.

The reason most companies want to keep their information secret is to have a leg-up on their competition.  Unfortunately, when it comes to the IoT, this inability to cooperate between companies hurts us all.

Expanding the Network

Think of the Internet of Things as a spider web.  Just a strand from one device to another isn’t very helpful.  As we add more lines, the weave becomes more intricate (companies start talking to each other and sharing information), our devices are able to communicate more and more.

Information needs to be shared between companies for the Internet of Things to succeed.  Companies have got to start coming together and talking to each other or we’ll just have a hundred different single-strand “webs” with little purpose past connecting a couple devices.

Global standards are another way to go, though.

Giving companies a set of rules to adhere to for information transferring could work.  After all, if every company agrees to adhere to the same guidelines in data collection and receiving, then devices talking to each other would be no problem at all!  Companies don’t have to give out their secrets anymore.

Of course, this too will come with risks.  For instance, security might be sacrificed for global coding standards.  Once hackers know exactly what to look for in the code, they’ll always find a way inside.  And with how sensitive the IoT is already to hacking, it could lead to some massive attacks.

In reality, there’s never a perfect solution to please everyone.  Even now, we’re having trouble implementing smart traffic lights, something one might initially think is simple.  In the real world though, there are hundreds of different types of cars and dozens of on-board computers with different code in each.  Collaborating with that many companies is a huge endeavor, and the same will be true with most projects.

Google throwing its hat into the IoT ring

As you’ve likely realized in the past decade, Google has been expanding far beyond being a mere search engine. From their very own browser all the way to having their hand in a number of educational tools and now, even the Internet of Things. IoT Core is Google’s response to the growing interest across the globe in the Internet of Things.

What is IoT Core?

IoT Core enables its customers to analyze and manage their connected IoT devices. With access to Google’s powerful Cloud, it can access devices with Intel, ARM, and Marvel processors. It will also be fully compatible with Android Things. In other words, it’s a place you can store the controls for multiple devices. This way, you can have everything in one place and control it all with just a few clicks.

When’s it coming?

As of right now, there’s no release date available. That’s totally normal, though, as it was only just announced last week. By all accounts, the service is still under development. It seems that they’ve got much of the pieces for the Core, but haven’t yet put them all together.

You can access a free trial right now or even sign up for their private beta by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.

More Whales in the Sea.

Don’t think they’re the only big company out there working on the IoT, though. Amazon and Microsoft have both been aggressively promoting their own IoT services for the past few years. In fact, Google’s only now throwing its hat into the ring, so it’s a step behind.

With the IoT market expected to reach numbers as high as £1.12 trillion by 2020, they’d be crazy not to.

Want to read more?

To see more about the official announcement of the IoT Core, click here. It’s got all the info they’ve announced to help you get excited for when they release.

If you’re looking to join the private beta, you’ll want to click here.