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.

Risky business working with IoT Tech?

With the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming more and more prevalent in our modern age, you have to wonder whether there’s been more risk as well. After all, having things watching or listening all day every day is certainly a lot different than just when you’re accessing a device.

Cybersecurity is a big deal to a lot of people, both consumer and company, but the fact is that not a lot of companies are really looking into the security of the devices they’re using which are tied into the IoT. From TV’s to toasters, thermostats to baby monitors — these are just some of the IoT-enabled devices that have already been hacked. Even with those risks, it seems companies are only bringing more and more IoT-enabled devices into their homes.

Just how many companies is this affecting?

As crazy as it may seem, a survey conducted just last year consisting of around 1,000 enterprise IT buyers, 71% are already gathering IoT data and 90% plan on increasing their IoT spending for this year.  With those numbers, we can clearly see most companies are definitely investing in IoT technology.

Data tracked by devices include movement tracking, purchases, equipment and supply tagging, and much more. With so much different data being collected from various devices on a minute-by-minute basis, companies would be crazy not to invest.

Even with their multitude of uses for companies of all different areas of expertise, the biggest issue still in everybody’s way is security. As complex as these new machines and devices are, they simply don’t have the appropriate level of encryption or a strong enough password.

What’s being done to counter this?

Not a lot. Companies are wholly unprepared for a cyber attack from an IoT device. A recent study by the Ponemon Institute shows that 55% of IT department respondents say that there is a lack of quality assurance and testing procedures for IoT apps.

With competition so high as companies race to ship out new, exciting products, errors are bound to happen. The fact is that they’re just moving too fast, without enough internal policies, which leads to errors in code.

In fact, nearly 50% of companies believe that they were victims of a cyberattack or security breach thanks to an IoT app. Interestingly, also roughly 50% said they would consider increasing their budget or put new regulations in place if a severe hacking incident took place..

With over 20 billion devices expected to be installed by the end of this decade, many of which will be used by government or businesses, I’d say it’s already time to start becoming more prepares. The hackers aren’t going to wait for you to get around to it, so why should you wait for them?

Helping to build a bigger future with the IoT

Construction is one of the oldest professions we’ve got. Food, water, and shelter — our three base necessities. It’s been around a long time and it’s evolved over those years from sticks all the way to our modern apartments and skyscrapers. As with many things, building is ready to be made better by the Internet of Things (IoT).

Real-time data is a huge advantage in the industry. Constant activity on your site, however large, is made more easily manageable by sensors without needing to be present. An example of this comes from wood. Sealing wood work is best done in an environment with less humidity. Knowing that your site has high humidity today means you can schedule the work for tomorrow and get people working on other projects in the meantime.

Sensor data doesn’t have to be restricted to building, though. It can be used for detecting leaks or breaks in a system, preventing wood warping, and much more. Larger companies who have systems like these in place have actually saved millions of pounds with these small preventative measures.

Another benefit of larger companies, or any company with multiple people on a project, is that the data can be used for many different means all at once. Contractors, drivers, inspectors; given the resources, they can all see exactly what they need to efficiently do their jobs. Tracking a project, and all the information involved, can become such a mess without a good system. Files, folders, and countless amounts of old data leads to mistakes. With real-time updates, the data will be easy to find and easy to make decisions based on.

Networking all this together won’t be easy, though. Networks now need to become faster and more reliable on building sites where things constantly move and take shape. Right now, one solution to that is allowing real-time information to flow through the site using LTE. Flexibility is key in creating a workable solution and helping to make work sites more easily manageable.

As improvements are made to our technology and the Internet of Things, we’ll be able to start determining better start times, work flows, and resource allocation. Communication will end up being improved, along with the efficiency of workers and managers.

In 2020, it’s expected for the construction industry to grow to be nearly £8 trillion. The industry must also grow its returns, though. The IoT is one way to make that happen.

Transportation: Big Problem, Small Solutions

The Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to make impacts in industries everywhere. Flexibility is the key in its design. From baby monitors to city infrastructure, it can be found to fit just about anywhere. One place it’s expected to make one of the largest impacts in our world though, is transportation.

Cars, planes, and public transportation like subways are just a few examples where IoT integration is highly anticipated.

In the United States, traffic congestion is an annual cost of a whopping $160 billion. With ride-sharing, smart public transportation, and autonomous cars, this number could be cut heftily.

Autonomous cars is one solution

Of course, it also comes with a few benefits more than just money in our wallets. Autonomous cars, for instance, can help the disabled become more mobile than ever before. They can reduce that road congestion, using roads more efficiently, as well as increasing commuters’ free time which they could use to nap, catch up on work, or any number of things.

The great thing about this is that nearly everyone relies on some mode of transportation.  Whether you’re taking your own car to work, a bus to the store, or the subway home, it affects us all.  Less people stuck in traffic and shorter commutes means less CO2 being released into the air, too.  Better for us and the environment!

Improving our infrastructure is a must

Congestion won’t just disappear, though. In fact, the root cause of congestion is actually city infrastructure. As it turns out, this too can be much more efficient than the timer system most of us are stuck with. With interconnected smart lights working together with autonomous smart cars, the roads would start flowing more like a river than a barely trickling stream.

It’s a lot easier said than done, though.  In a lot of areas, our roads are simply falling apart.  If we can’t even get the government to fix potholes, there’s little hope they’ll spend the money on smart lights.  Integrating cars into the system as well… let’s just say we’re at least a decade away from this reality.

Ride-sharing is another option

We’ve already got dozens of apps from Uber to Lyft to help. yet less than 10% of workers carpool. Over 50% of people who use ride-sharing apps only use it in special circumstances (read: falling over drunk), while another 26% only use it about once a month.

So what’s the solution to making more people interested in ride-sharing? Many believe it to be public-private partnerships. In short, make them more official. As it stands, even I feel like those apps don’t hold their drivers to a high standard and so I try my best to avoid using them. Experts have even go so far as to claim that with public-private partnerships, they could achieve “100% shared mobility for entire populations”.

The IoT is more than ready to break the mold of our transportation expectations, a mold which is already cracking thanks to population increases and our less-than-stellar infrastructure. Autonomous cars are already being developed by countless companies, while Continental tries to solve our smart light situations. The future is on its way. Reduced costs, carbon emissions, and increased mobility for us all is on the horizon.

Are Hearables and the IoT Affecting Your Privacy?

Security is always an issue when it comes to the IoT, but what about privacy? With so many devices listening in like the Amazon Echo, what exactly is being done to make sure the things you say aren’t being recorded or listened to by someone? The device IS connected to the internet after all, and we all know that hackers can target anything these days.

Well, the truth is that some devices that listen in actually do record what you’re saying. They share these recordings right to the cloud, too. Some of these recordings are because of laws or company policies requiring certain employee-client interactions to be recorded. Others might be for real-time language translations to someone in a different country. Whatever the reason, you should make sure you know what your device is and isn’t sending. A good word of warning is to never give sensitive information out, such as credit card numbers, when using such a device.

So what’s being done about this on the larger scale? Honestly, not a whole lot just yet. These devices have sprung up very fast and regulations haven’t had much time to develop. Questions must be asked though. Should employers be allowed to monitor each and every employee interaction in the workplace? Or perhaps they should be given a certain degree of privacy. But where does that privacy start and end? On another line, should those same employers be allowed to sell these conversations to research firms?

These sorts of questions are difficult to answer, both ethically and legally. Where does one draw the line and what do the answers mean to legality in court? Certainly, if one did wrong and bragged about it or threatened someone in work, it should be admissible, correct? But then at the same time, what if they were only blowing off steam or even joking around and were actually innocent.

With projections saying that hearables will be somewhere around the £4 billion area by 2020, avoiding them may be near impossible, anyway.  For a brief look at what the future of this industry might be, check out this device called “The Aware”, meant to be a headphone with brain and biometric scanning.

The fact is that this technology is already here and has been for a while. Right now, regulations are few and far between. I would expect them to start becoming more commonplace on devices that listen soon, though. Until then, I suggest you err on the side of caution before buying a hearable device. You never know what rule or regulation might start cropping up now that the IoT is becoming more and more real each day.

Time to take the Instinct for a Test Drive!

Vehicles are one of the world’s most used items, and soon, the Internet of Things will be helping drivers. Soon though, may be sooner than you think, thanks to the Instinct Concept.

Just a few days ago, Peugeot, a French car manufacturer, unveiled the Instinct Concept. The vehicle blends self-driving tech, home automation, and cloud-based connectivity to help define user profiles. It pulls in information from wearables, phones, and other connected gear to adapt and improve your driving experience.

It doesn’t just gather information though, it also allows you to connect to those devices from inside the vehicle. You can easily review your calendar, plan things with the virtual assistant, or even check viewing schedules on your television to know what you might want to watch when you come home. There’s a number of different things you could connect and could do, all from inside the Instinct Concept.

Peugeot isn’t alone in this endeavor. A number of other automakers have started designing their own smart cars already.  The key difference with them is that many chose to partner with Amazon’s Alexa. Peugeot, however, decided to go with Samsung’s cloud platform for data collection. With it, as it would be with Alexa, the vehicle will have it’s very own AI.  Using their AI, you’ll be able to easily speak vocal cues to control it in a variety of ways.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a smart car if it couldn’t adapt to your driving needs, now would it? The Instinct Concept has two driving modes and two self-driving modes. Yes, that’s right — we’re finally getting to a place where driving will become obsolete. That’s not to say it will be commonplace any time soon, but the Instinct Concept is a stepping stone to that very thing.

One of the self driving modes, dubbed Autonomous Sharp, allows for the quickest journey from point A to point B. Best used for work, appointments, and the like. The other mode, Autonomous Soft, gives people a view and more comfort. This mode is best used for road trips or exploring a city, or even just naps if that’s what you’re looking for.

Before you pull out your wallet though, know that the Instinct Concept is not yet available for sale. The vehicle has not yet been tested even though the underlying technology has been extensively. Their timeline right now is to aim for a 2020 release, so get excited for the future, because it’s coming at you fast!

Technology and our Environment

One thing we often overlook with technology is nature. Sometimes, we think the two forces are in direct opposition with each other, but that’s not the case with the IoT and in fact, it can actually help in a number of ways from crop management to helping with climate change. It can even be used to build more efficient dams! There are a number of possibilities from infrastructure to commercial that the IoT can help safeguard nature while improving our lives.

Let’s start with infrastructure using dams as our example. As you may or may not know, our dams are used for a variety of reasons from suppressing floods to providing water for irrigation, consumption, industrial use, aquaculture, and hydroelectric power. They work by storing a set amount of water and safely releasing excess so that pressure doesn’t build on the wall, causing it to crack and/or break.

How can the IoT help with this? There are a number of ways! Firstly, a sensor can be used to determine the height the water while another sensor determines the rate at which it’s growing. This will help to determine whether water needs to be released and how much needs to be at what rate. Sensors inside the pipes transporting the water can also be used to determine whether there are any leaks, which could cause catastrophic problems should they go unchecked.

How does any of this help the environment? Any failure in the dam could cause flooding in nearby areas including rivers or residential areas. Any change in an environment so suddenly will absolutely affect things like wildlife and soil. Since these sensors will be transmitting data in real time, there would be a much faster presence on-site should anything start failing which will help to prevent disaster.

If you’re more interested in how a commercial business could help more in the environment using the IoT, then I’ll talk about farming, which is objectively the most natural commercial business out there, and we’ll be starting from the ground up.

Soil is probably one of, if not the, most important things to a farmer. After all, I haven’t seen to many crops being grown on rocks… With a soil moisture sensor, you can determine exactly how much water each specific area of your fields should be getting, but that’s not all. On the market right now there are also sensors which can determine soil fertility — basically what minerals are in the soil you’re testing. These two factors are extremely important in proper crop growth and knowing when to farm what and when to give the field time to nourish itself and renew its soil.

How does this help the environment? Well, we’re not wasting good soil on the wrong plants or good water on an already overwatered onion. We’re also not having to go out ourselves as the process is made more autonomous, giving us more time and resources to dedicate elsewhere or to other crops. Also, with it being able to rain any time, we’ll be able to easily tell our watering systems exactly how much water is needed, meaning we won’t waste a single drop.

As you can see, the uses are varied and widespread, but a small change can help our environment drastically and can even help to prevent disaster. This technology will only become more advanced, too.