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Tech Explained: Internet of Things

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Latest in our Tech Explained series, a 2 minute read to bring you up to speed with the concept of 'Internet of Things'.

Purchase almost any electronic device and you may well hear it described as “smart,” “connected” or part of the “Internet of Things”. In fact, it can seem as though everything from toasters to mirrors is now part of the Internet of Things (IoT). But what does that really mean? Put simply, the IoT describes devices that can be connected to the Internet. These devices may be individual sensors, smartphones, watches or even home appliances. The connected device gathers information, which can then be analysed by software and used to help with a particular task. For example, a smart refrigerator might use sensors to “see” that it is out of milk, then send this information to a grocery delivery service so that more milk is automatically ordered.

Most IoT devices are connected on closed networks, such as between a smart watch and an app on your phone. However, IoT software can also allow devices to communicate across different networks. For example, a smart watch might monitor your blood pressure and alert a doctor or a pharmaceutical company when it is too high. In fact, the uses of IoT connected devices are almost endless. On Springwise, we have already covered a large number of IoT innovations. These have included firefighting equipment and windows that tint automatically depending on the weather report.

Although consumer applications of IoT have gained a lot of press, IoT technology is most commonly used in industry and manufacturing. Connected sensors allow the collection and analysis of a huge range of data very quickly. Some common uses for IoT in manufacturing include monitoring production lines, real-time supply chain management, and anticipating when machinery will need maintenance, before it breaks down. The IoT can also bring improvements to city management. For example, smart traffic signals can adjust their timing to keep traffic moving and road sensors could monitor conditions and send alerts to direct drivers to less-congested routes.

As the use of IoT devices grows, so will the need for compatible standards and greater security. Already, hackers have used connected devices to launch attacks on internet infrastructure and to steal user’s data. There are also serious concerns about privacy. When Google bought smart thermostat provider Nest, many assumed that Google was going to use Nest’s data to find out more about what people did in their own homes. Despite these concerns, the number of IoT connected devices continues to grow rapidly. By 2020, it is estimated there will be 31 billion connected devices worldwide (Source: Statista).

What are the implications for industry and individuals of this huge growth in the Internet of Things?