It wasn’t that long ago that the internet, also known as the worldwide web, was a novel and exciting thing. The idea of being connected electronically to information and people was new. Today, we take it for granted. We get online easily and quickly using computers and smartphones. We become impatient if a website takes more than a few seconds to load. What was once a bold new frontier is now yesterday’s news.
The thing about technology, though, is that it is constantly evolving. New ideas and innovations make things possible today that were unthinkable only a few years ago. An example of that is what technology experts are calling the Internet of Things.
Defining the Internet of Things
What is the Internet of Things? A simple way to understand it is to think of it like this. If the internet as we know it is the connection of ideas, the internet of things represents the connection of objects. Take a minute to think about how many of the devices you own talk to one another. Your smartphone talks to your computer and your car. Your computer can talk to your television. All you need to do is provide the right tools, and the objects you own can share information.
The Internet of Things, then, hypothesizes that in the very near future, most of the objects in our lives will be able to exchange information. Such an exchange of data could be revolutionary – and also overwhelming. The sheer volume of information being exchanged will likely be immense.
Today’s Internet of Things
As you might expect given the interconnectivity of technology, the Internet of Things is already having an effect on the way we do business and move through life. Here are some examples:
- Tracking employee movements and office usage. Tech company Enlighted has put this idea to work by installing sensors in their lights. The sensors can track what goes on in an office. For example, they can identify which parts of the office are getting the most use, and at what times of day.
What are the uses of this technology? One thing it can do is automatically turn off lights and machines in parts of the building that aren’t being used. The sensors can also be attached to HVAC systems, meaning that they have the potential to significantly reduce energy costs. The data can be used to determine whether a company requires additional office space or might actually be able to scale things down to save money.
- Retailers can use tracking technology to monitor customers’ progress through a store. It can help them understand shopping patterns, including how long it takes salespeople to approach a customer, and how long customers are in the store before they make a purchase.
- IoT sensors have the ability to track seismic activity and may eventually help provide some warning in the event of a major earthquake. Enlightened wired up two buildings in the Bay Area of San Francisco and found that, when an earthquake struck, all of the building’s motion sensors lit up at once. Moments later, the same thing happened in the second building. If someone had been monitoring those sensors, it would have enabled them to provide the people in the second building with a warning that could have helped them prepare for the earthquake.
IoT technology is still in its early stages, but the potential for the future is virtually limitless.
The Future Internet of Things
As exciting as the current uses of IoT technology are, the possibilities for it to revolutionize the workplace in the future are even greater. Here are some examples of how IoT technology might prove to be useful.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “a canary in a coal mine.” In the early days of mining, workers used to bring live canaries into the mines with them. When dangerous gases began to accumulate in the mine, the canaries would die, buying the miners precious time to get up to the surface and out of danger.
IoT technology has the potential to play a similar, but high tech, role in workplaces. Many industrial jobs involve the use of dangerous equipment and chemicals. Monitoring those things can be time consuming and costly, but the installation of sensors in a manufacturing plant can make it a lot easier – and could save lives. The ability of devices to communicate means that anybody with a smartphone could have access to the information that is now only available to people in the control room.
Because IoT technology relies on wireless connections, the possibility exists that the information collected by sensors could be shared by wearable objects such as glasses. SAP, an IoT technology company, is developing such glasses and envisions them being used by workers in the field. Things like project schematics and data could be projected from a computer in a remote office, allowing instant communication and hands-free access to people who aren’t in the office.
Perhaps the biggest potential use for IoT technology is the expansion of the workplace. Already, there has been a huge increase in the number of employees who work from home and other remote locations. With new technology, it will become easier and more feasible for employees to communicate with one another – and with a central database – without ever leaving the comfort of their homes.
This type of technology has huge potential. Not only might it allow for greater productivity and profits, but it can also help with the burgeoning energy crisis. Instead of wringing our hands about the dwindling oil supplies, we might be able to reduce our dependence on them by eliminating the need for a daily commute. IoT technology makes such things possible.
The Internet of Things has the potential to render the world a more connected and coherent place. The ultimate use of the related technology can make it easier than ever to get aid to remote locations in the event of a large-scale disaster such as the Pacific tsunami that devastated Indonesia or Hurricane Katrina. While some may worry that using such technology will reduce human interaction, the wizards behind IoT technology are already thinking about ways to use it to bring us closer together.