I have developed a canny for poking my nose where it doesn’t belong and then write about things that may appear to be none of my business. If you are in doubt just read other pieces here and let me know if you know what my business is.
So what is this new fad?
The internet has been with us for some time now and so is the internet of things, in principle but the major focus until now has been the internet of people (IoP).
IoP can be loosely described as using the internet and its myriad of associated resources to enable transactions (communications, interactions, etc.) between humans.
Internet of things (IoT) then, loosely translates to a shift to or the enablement of transactions between machines or things by themselves with little or no human intervention.
My favorite example is the fridge talking to the grocer’s order collection system, and another favorite is the smart calendar that not only keeps track of users’ plans for the day (or any time period) but is capable of suggesting practical changes based on users’ realities, and taking actions based on a combination of the users’ pre-programmed instructions, insights from her realities deduced in realtime (thanks to AI technology) and a myriad of other circumstantial information – such actions may include hailing a cab, ordering food, changing flight bookings, setting up Out-of-Office messages, booking a table at user’s favorite restaurant ahead of valentine’s day rush, ordering flowers to be delivered on the wedding anniversary.
(And trust me there already exists implementations of these type of simple interactions and even more complex ones and things are going to only get better or plain complex.)
A more complex IoT implementation may be a fully automated auto manufacturing plant (see Tesla’s Gigafactory), or other fully or semi-automated manufacturing processes, fully automated remote sensing stations/projects and robocop.
Why the buzz?
Machines or things were involved in our internet from day one. A pure IoP will be one that does not involve any device that is not naturally available to humans. And from the beginning of the internet as we know it, machines (things) have been involved – like the computers, on which each originating message is created by a human and later consumed by another human.
However, IoT is seeing a growth in adoption and use cases. And this growth is fueled in part by practical needs – the need for businesses to increase profitability (reduce waste, maximize ROx etc.), and allure of convenience to us consumers (why bother with a security alarm subscription when I can keep an automated door man?). And in part by the continuous improvements in technology. These improvements have measurable impacts on the sizes of microchips (those printed/etched circuit boards with loads of transistors and capacitors), which in turn has led to such fantastic developments as powerful but cheap computing power, storage, and intelligence (think: systems on chips, low power devices, embeddable computers, single purpose computers (application specific computers), sensors etc.). The direct effect of these includes:
- Computers can be smaller than ever before possible
- Smaller and smaller computers need less and less power to run (we were going to create a wi-fi (hotspot) network in the University town of Ago-Iwoye, in Western Nigeria, in the middle 2000s whilst I completed my undergraduate studies there – however powering the repeater stations alone made the business impractical)
- Small computers can be put in places that computers have only dreamt of ever visiting
These coupled with creativity (not just marketing savvy) has led to the recent buzz around IoT.
What can you do with IoT?
Depends. But can range between nothing to a massive lot. Depends on who you are and what your interests are.
But here are a few ideas:
- A security system that monitors your front door (or any number of specific locations), analyses the features of people at the door (or the other locations) determines if person lives in the house or is an intruder or a visitor (yes, you need to write a badass algorithm to tell between the home owner, visitor and intruder) and takes some predetermined action – shoot pellets at intruder, tell the visitor to call before visiting next time 🙂 and open the door for without the use of keys for the homeowner or members of the household.
- A kitchen inventory management system that monitors fridge and pantry shelves and then auto-populates a grocery list or place actual orders with your grocer (who then dispatches orders using drones, which using some special authentication process is able to unlock the little pantry door only a delivery drone can fit in – a machine to machine or machine to building interface – to deliver your groceries. The groceries are then sorted by a robotic arm and those that require refrigeration are placed in the fridge and those that belong on shelves in the pantry are placed there and you may not even notice, until the grocer sends you a bill 🙂 ). This use case can can be expanded to handle all kinds of inventory and order management systems.
All of these are off-course oversimplified or high level use-cases, but you get the drift?
Why should you bother about IoT?
For the most part, you don’t need to bother. Except you are a tinkerer and will like to run away with some IoT projects – in which case, I will share with you some of fascinating project ideas (later).
However, on the long run, automated systems will be used for mundane, repeatable, mindless tasks. And jobs that can be easily automated will be. Jobs like those of the postman (hey drone), the factory worker (hello robots and robotic arms), software developer (hello singularity), banks (hi ATMs), traffic cop, taxi/Uber driver (hi autonomous vehicles), executive assistants (hello Siri/echo/google home/Microsoft whatever and online calendars/address books etc.).
And on the longer run, jobs that require some smarts will also be automatable, if the notion that machines can learn and manage/improve their own instruction base (software). Seen Ex-Machina? Its a creative take on what may be possible.
Should you be scared?
Yes. But even better, be prepared.