No longer a mirage but increasingly a paradigm shift, that newest of new technology trends known as the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to promise the kind of interconnected world that all too soon may come to retrospectively pinpoint the internet we experience today as but the dress rehearsal for the real thing. That the IoT will progress to deliver disruptive, innovative business models for the future is already beginning to gain a kind of a priori acceptance.
As to what exactly is the Internet of Things is one of those questions that receives a slightly skewed answer each time it is raised. This of course has everything do with the fact that the technology driving the concept forward is a rapidly moving goalpost and thus, by extension, is the definition of IoT. So let’s just say that IoT is the networked interconnection of objects through identifiers such as sensors, RFID (radio-frequency-identification) tags and IP adrresses. This then makes it possible for these objects to conduct 2-way communications not only with us but also with one another (M2M – machine to machine). Practically almost any object you can envisage has the potential to be upgraded from everyday to 'smart': heating systems, wineracks, billboards, pacemakers, clothes, even trees or the food you eat. Already every new car sold has its own IP address allowing owners to communicate with the car from their smartphones and through a mobile-optimized website.
This new sensor-embedded technology will also create a hierarchy of object functionality, ranging from objects merely able to identify themselves up through to more complex operations involving gathering, displaying, transmitting and processing with smart objects at the top of the chain capable of delivering a service without human intervention. It is the expected slew of commercial opportunities resulting from the optimisation of both data capture and communications capabilities presented by this new networked infrastructure of enhanced connectivity that ultimately will transform many key aspects of how we interact with our working and living environments.
Just as to when IoT is actually going to happen, well effectively we’re talking between 5-10 years before the predicted estimate of some 100 billion connected non-phone devices is with us. Yet in many ways IoT is here already and has been for some time. Within bottom-up niche markets there is already a significant archive of products and projects employing tools such as the iPhone, Processing & Arduino to explore opportunities of connectivity around the home and in transport and the environment. More mainstream commercial examples also include: the release of Ninetendo Wii with its innovative physical interface; the much-cited Nike+ consumer application that enabled users, via a sensor in the shoes, to monitor their running by sending data to their iPhone / iPod ; GPS tracking; London’s Oyster Cards and the Barclay’s London Bike Scheme and, on a more controversial note, billboards employing face-recognition technology to not only anaylse who you are, but what kind of mood you might possibly be in. The most significant commercial realisation to-date has been achieved in the energy and utilities sectors, positioned as they are at the forefront of pursuing a smart approach to the issues of generation, supply and consumption. One of their targets is for smart meters to be installed in all UK homes by 2020.
So what are the forces driving IOT towards fullscale mainstream adoption? Well these mainly fall into two categories. Firstly, technological: 4G; the proliferation of tablets, mobile phones, connected appliances and other smart devices driving up the demand for connectivity; cost reduction – companies such as Cambridge based ARM producing 32-bit microcontroller chips for less than a dollar; release of new cross-application open-source software standards such as NXP Semiconductors JenNet-IP Software for wireless connectivity (too broad an array of networking software variants for different applications has previously served as a roadblock to adoption).
Then you have the socio-economic drivers: investments in Smartgrid and support for reduced energy consumption to tackle both rising energy costs and rising environmental concerns; a growing trend of remote / connected health care and fitness services to meet the challenges of rising health care costs and an increasing ageing population; a home computing revolution that is demanding even more elaborate kinds of services and experiences in the areas of video, data, voice, security and energy management.
From a creative industries point of view, the emergence of the new transactional economy resulting from this exchange of object information will impart numerous opportunities. With their proven ability to innovate, collaborate, to be adaptable, flexible, to break the rules and create the models, to impact all economic sectors, the creative industries are well positioned to exploit this new era of hyper-connectivity to further consolidate their growing economic importance.
To this end The Technology Strategy Board has announced a £5m initiative aimed at accelerating the development of the Internet of Things ecosystem of applications and services and is inviting British businesses and other stakeholders to help shape the programme.
Beginning with a series of workshops and the launch of a 'Special Interest Group' in the Summer, which will be followed by investments in feasibility studies, research & development projects and pilots, the objective of the initiative is to help the UK gain an early advantage in Internet of Things adoption, applications and services development.
If you are interested in taking part in the workshop organised by the Creative Industries KTN on 28 June 2011 at The Museum of Brands, Notting Hill London, please register your interest and we will confirm your place.