Imagine your fridge sending you a text message to remind you to buy milk because you’re running out or it’s reaching its use-by-date. Or your home programmed to switch the heating on in only three rooms when you are less than an hour away after returning from a holiday.
What about your lifejackets sending your exact GPS live location to emergency services when you fall in the water and calling the coastguards for help on your behalf through the smartphone you left in the glove box of your car.
But more importantly imagine your rubbish bins being fitted with sensors that detect when they are full so waste collections drivers no longer waste journeys on bins that 10% full.
According to Internet of Things (IoT) expert at BT, Chris Sims, thatâ€™s already happening and where IoT growth will happen over the next few years will be in the enterprise space rather than in the home.
According to tech experts at US-based Gartner, the number of smart devices is going through an exponential growth and thatâ€™s only the beginning.
“Aside from automotive systems, the applications that will be most in use by consumers will be smart TVs and digital set-top boxes, while smart electric meters and commercial security cameras will be most in use by businesses,” said Peter Middleton, research director at Gartner.
What is the Internet of Things?
Internet of Things is the perfect coming together of day-to-day objects connected and communicating to each other through the internet.
It is forecast that business to business (B2B) spending on Internet of Things technologies, software and hardware will reach a staggering Â£204bn by 2020 with some 8.4bn connected â€˜thingsâ€™ be in use worldwide today â€“ thatâ€™s one connected device per human being living on the planet.
Yet in three yearsâ€™ time it will explode to more than 20.4bn connected devices. Thatâ€™s almost three each for every man, woman and child in the world.
Regionally, China, North America and Western Europe are driving the use of connected things and the three regions together will represent 67% of the overall Internet of Things market with consumer devices representing 63% of all IoT connected objects in the world.
Jess Carter and Steve Carter are co-directors of Truro-based The Smart Home Company, which specialises in technology in the home from networking and WiFi, security, CCTV, access control, lighting/shading systems, comfort control, multiroom entertainment to home cinema.
The company, which the pair established in April 2016, designs and programs control systems that bring everything together under a single, simple-to-use interface, making our customersâ€™ homes easier to use and more efficient, comfortable, safe and enjoyable.
Mr Carter said: â€œSmart home technology is growing at an exponential rate. In 2016, 80 million smart home devices were delivered worldwide (up 64% on 2015) and predictions are that 130 million devices will be delivered in 2017.
â€œUntil recently, home automation has been a fairly exclusive domain, requiring significant investment and complicated, proprietary systems.
â€œNow IoT has opened the doors to the mass market, an incredibly diverse range of products is changing the landscape of everything we do.â€
Advances in technology, combined with lower costs have resulted in the rapid market growth. The humble doorbell is now a motion-activated device that streams 1080p HD video of visitors (or would-be intruders) to your mobile device and lets you hold a conversation with them from wherever you are in the world.
Smoke detectors can now speak to you in a human voice and send alerts to your phone while your thermostat can learn your behaviour and knows not to heat the house when it detects that youâ€™re not at home.
Mr Carter believes IoT in the home is being powered by the tech giants such as Google and Amazon with voice activated assistants such as Appleâ€™s Siri or Amazon Alexa being configured to control everything in your house.
He added: â€œOne of the most exciting areas of development is in eHealth and assisted living. The IoT has massive potential to help extend an individualâ€™s independence and well-being in a variety of ways.
â€œItâ€™s massively rewarding to be able to provide solutions that genuinely improve our customerâ€™s quality of life.â€
Pool-based embedded software specialist Bluefruit Software are one of the country’s leading specialists in IoT embedded software.
â€œThere has been a rise in the past 10 years in Cloud computing, with people and companies increasingly storing their data on the internet and using smart devices,â€ explains Paul Massey, Bluefruit director and co-founder.
â€œIt is becoming cheaper and cheaper to install intelligence onto day-to-day objects. All these objects start communicating with each other over the internet. Your car, your fridge. You house, your light bulbs.
â€œItâ€™s becoming cheaper to have smart chips in more and more objects. Thatâ€™s what the Internet of Things is about.â€
Mr Massey said it makes sense for a company such as EDF or British Gas to have smart meters installed in peopleâ€™s homes. Smart meters detect when the best time might be to turn up heating in customersâ€™ homes and send meter reading automatically to energy companies.
For companies, not having to send out engineers is a saving while for consumers, the process is seamless and painless.
Mr Massey added: â€œEach of these smart device needs a software to tell it what to do. Itâ€™s like a tiny computer but with often a single function. We write the software.â€
The other area of growth for the Internet of Things is led by businesses and government organisations and that’s where savings and efficiencies will be made.
For businesses, Internet of Things is a way to optimise time, staff and assets while improving customer satisfaction, quality and reducing costs.
Smart sensors are now predicting when a machine needs to be repaired, allow machinesâ€™ self-optimisation, automate inventory management and allow a better management and tracking of their vehicles fleets.
Gas and oil drills are now equipped with gas analysis instruments and can be remotely operated over the internet.
Bluefruit has also been working with several health sector clients writing the software that will tell diabetes treatment dispensers when to inject medication.
Remote monitoring of patients’ health is the sector’s next big step â€“ one the whole industry has been embracing fast.
Imagine your bathroom scales sending your GP information about your weight and automating a call back from a nutritionist with advice on dieting, pregnancy or calling out an ambulance to your home as you are about to have a heart attack.
â€œWith the growth in the embedded software market, we will continue to double in size every couple of years,â€ Mr Massey said. â€œThere are so many sectors Internet of Things relate to.â€
With the IoT market expected to grow to 30.7 billion devices in 2020 and 75.4 billion in 2025, large Blue Chip companies and telecoms giants such as BT or electronics multinationals like Hitachi are getting in on the action to ensure they have the whole demand and supply chain under control and can offer support and advice to other businesses.
Chris Sims, managing director for marketing and IoT at BT believes the next big spike in IoT activities will be the enterprise space. One of the applications has been fitting micro sensors to its data centres to ensure they donâ€™t overheat.
For cities, pollution monitoring, traffic congestion management, air quality, temperatures or more efficient waste management are areas where IoT technologies not only help already but where local authorities such as Exeter City, London boroughs or Manchester City Council are actively working.
Mr Sims said: â€œA city is a geographically complicated space. For local authorities many services are already being outsources, so to improve services and improve the quality of life of residents, we need to work in partnership.
â€œAt BT we use our network to provide an open eco-system as we believe no single organisation should own everything. The idea is that all the data collected from smart city sensors can be accessed by everyone to build solutions that will improve peopleâ€™s lives.
Exeter is one of the first cities in Europe to have launched an Exeter City Futures programme to improve, through better use of analytics, connected devices and citizensâ€™ involvement, infrastructure and quality of life and make the Devonâ€™s capital energy independent and free of congestion.
Internet of Things for cities can only grow as cities spread further and reach higher, bulging as more and more people move in to search for jobs and a better life.
To cope with greater population and energy pressures, increased congestion and pollution, cities will need to become more efficient. Smart cities will become the norm.
Smart cities use Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as connected sensors, lights, and meters to collect and analyse data.
The cities then use this data to improve infrastructure, public utilities and services.
The European Commission expects that 72% of consumers in the European Union will have smart electricity meters installed in their homes by 2020, and 40% will have a smart gas meter.
Amsterdam, for example, has been experimenting with offering home energy storage units and solar panels for households that are connected to the city’s smart grid.
These batteries help lower stress on the grid at peak hours by allowing residents to store energy during off-peak hours. The solar panels also let residents sell spare energy from the panels back to the grid.
Paris started an electric car sharing program called Autolib in 2011, and has since grown the fleet of vehicles to 3,000. The connected vehicles can be tracked via GPS, and drivers can use the car’s dashboard to reserve parking spaces in advance.
London recently announced that it would begin tests on a smart parking project that will allow drivers to quickly locate parking spaces and remove the need for lengthy searches for an open spot.
Closer to home, Mr Sims, who is a member of BTâ€™s South West Regional Board, sees smart bins being rolled out across Cornwall and in other rural areas over the next few years.
He said: â€œWaste collection is very expensive and time consuming especially in rural areas such as Cornwall. But in a short number of years I see smart bins being used that will tell waste collection companies when peopleâ€™s bins are full so drivers no longer go out to collect bins that are 10% full.
â€œIt will save time and money. Be more efficient and will help create a nicer environment for residents too.â€
BT recently announced a new Â£17.6 millionto take ultrafast broadband to thousands more homes and businesses in some of Cornwallâ€™s most remote places.
The third phase of the Superfast Cornwall programme will see the latest Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) technology – capable of delivering speeds up to one gigabit per second (Gbps) â€“ rolled out to more than 7,000 premises by the end of 2019.
The bandwidth infrastructure is essential if more devices are going to be connected to the internet.
Every year, the telecoms giant runs a competition to find companies that creates embedded software devices and recently announced the launch of a new project with See.Sense, an innovative cycling company from Northern Ireland, to provide sensor-enabled and connected bike lights to up to 180 cyclists across Manchester as part of CityVerve, the UKâ€™s smart city demonstrator.
The See.Sense light sensors, known as ICONs, connect via Bluetooth to an app on Android phones. The app transmits anonymised data on the cyclistâ€™s environment – such as the quality of the road surface, light levels, as well as cycling routes, collisions and near-miss events – back to BTâ€™s Internet of Things (IoT) data hub.
BT said that access to the data will help developers turn innovative ideas into applications in many areas, including planning ways to improve cycling infrastructure, and creating policies to promote cycling in the city.
Professor John Davies, chief researcher of future technologies at BT, added: â€œThere are wide range of opportunities emerging from the real-time data collected from the lights and other sources stored in our platform, bringing valuable insights for the cityâ€™s infrastructure and policies, and helping develop a safer and better cycling experience for the people of Manchester.â€
Too much tech?
Mr Carter believes there is a lot of scare-mongering about the risks associated with IoT devices, but insists taking a measured and practical approach to security is the way forward.
He said: â€œThe only way to truly prevent any risk of cyber crime is not to put any aspect of your life online in the first place, but that simply isnâ€™t practical for most of us.â€
Here are some simple steps to improve the security of your IoT devices:
- Enabling all the security features on your devices.
- Keeping your firmware and software up to date.
- Making sure your passwords are secure (e.g.: memorable strings of words, rather than just a memorable word).
- Ensuring that your home network is appropriately encrypted.
He added: â€œItâ€™s important to remain aware of how technological development affects us as individuals and society as a whole.
â€œHowever, there is always two sides to the story. The mobile phone epidemic has been often-lauded as the death of social interaction, but it has also enabled people to keep in touch with each other in ways that were never previously possible.
â€œPeople feared that games consoles would breed a generation of couch potatoes, but the industry rallied against that with games that require physical interaction and promote fitness.
â€œWe just need to take a step back occasionally and ensure that we are using the technology we own in beneficial ways.â€
The EDGE Awards
The first-ever Cornwall Live EDGE Awards â€“ Excellent in Digital, Gadgetry and Entrepreneurialism â€“ launched last week in association with by Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Hub and Skills Hub to celebrate the tech sector in Cornwall.
With the support of some major organisations, like Headforwards , Engineered Arts , Truro and Penwith College and new sponsors The Smart Home Co , we’re looking for Cornwallâ€™s digital superstars, from the school projects and teachers using software, tech, digital and design to new start-ups, digital entrepreneurs, games designers, software developers, website, app and video producers and digital media gurus.
You can nominate yourself, your business, or someone else that you think deserves recognition. Either nominate through our website www.cornwalllive.com/EDGEawards or email email@example.com. Please submit a short one-minute video where possible along with your entry â€“ which can either be a corporate or a simple straight-to-smartphone talking camera piece.
Deadline for entries is October 15.
Here are the categoriesâ€¦
- Most inspirational IT/ digital/ multimedia teacher
- Best school IT/ digital/ multimedia project
- Digital rising star
- Digital entrepreneur
- Best video production company
- Best games developer
- Best community/ social use of digital
- Best software developer
- Best social media engagement initiative
- Best digital media company
- Best website or app
- Best IoT development
- The Edge Award for Excellence