While there's an awful lot of talk about the Internet of Things - wearables and smart devices like internet-connected fridges - IoT technologies are capable of changing the world in much bigger ways. Of course, space-age gadgets and futuristic devices that will change domestic life have been an obsession of ours for many years, but IoT offers so much potential beyond smart homes. Here are five areas where IoT is set to revolutionise our lives.
Efficient energy grids that let users contribute
With global energy demand predicted to double by 2030, much more efficient power grids are required - and soon. Fortunately, it's now possible to build smarter and newer grids that sense minute changes in demand and are able to redirect power to exactly where is it needed.
The principle of the 'Smart Grid' revolves around making every link in the power grid network-aware, from the meter in your home to the power station itself. This means that demand for power can be closely monitored, patterns analysed, and power distributed to the places where it is needed, and not misdirected to those places where it isn't required. Additionally, these grids then let those with their own sustainable energy technologies - such as solar panels - to contribute, potentially giving them the chance to reduce their bills. Other utilities are also able to benefit from these principles too - for example, in Israel's water grid there are smart sensors that can detect even very small leaks in the system and alert technicians to where they are so they can be repaired.
Personalised home healthcare for those who need it
Analysts predict that the market for IoT in healthcare will be worth $117 million by 2020. Ageing populations combined with rising levels of chronic disease has put unprecedented pressure on healthcare providers. IoT has the potential to allow patients with long-term and chronic illnesses to monitor themselves remotely in an effective way, without the need for face-to-face interaction with physicians unless absolutely required, reducing strain on healthcare providers while maintaining standards of care.
By monitoring environmental factors and taking actions such as altering room temperature, reminding people to take their medication and go for a walk, IoT devices can empower the elderly and vulnerable to take control of their everyday routine. Weight, blood pressure and ECG can also be monitored remotely, allowing problems to be detected early on and in the moment.
Never lose your luggage at the airport again
The process of getting from A to B relies on a number of different, variable elements. Vehicles, infrastructure, as well as the humans required to operate them all come with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, and with the increasing growth of the global population - more people needing to move around - there is an increasing need to make transport systems more cohesive and intelligent.
One example of the revolution we are about to undergo in this area, being tested by GE, M2Mi, Oracle, Altoros and Infosys, is a Smart Airline Baggage Management system. Using special trackers in bags - or even smart bags - luggage can be tracked from the point at which it is checked in until the end of its journey. This means it can be directed to the right place, regularly weighed so tampering and theft can be monitored, and the entire system can be centrally managed even though multiple airlines, baggage handling companies, airports, security providers and the like - not to mention many millions of passengers - are involved. Instances of lost, delayed or damaged bags are reduced, lowering economic risk exposure for airlines and giving a better experience to customers.
Always-on manufacturing lines to meet consumer demand
The concept of IoT playing a key part in the fourth industrial revolution - Industry 4.0 - centres on the German government's strategy of promoting the computerisation of manufacturing. Interoperable machines, devices and sensors, able to make decisions and perform tasks autonomously can help manufacturers become smarter and more efficient, while workers fulfil more challenging and complex roles, providing intelligent support within these factories, rather than undertaking monotonous, repetitive tasks.
While the idea of using machines in manufacturing is nothing new, IoT technologies are revolutionising how goods are made. For example, KUKA Systems Group, the designer of the first industrial robot, sought to design an automated manufacturing process capable of producing eight different Jeep Wrangler bodies on the same production line without interrupting production flow. By connecting 259 assembly-line robots with a controller, over 60,000 devices points, line-of-business applications, and back-end systems, KUKA has been able to achieve 24-hour production every day for over eight years, producing a car body every 77 seconds.
Working environments that are safer for employees
Millions of businesses around the world will be transformed by Internet of Things technologies working alongside artificial intelligence and machine learning. Processes can be streamlined, strategies assessed and implemented, and tasks automated in order to increase efficiency within businesses.
Deloitte's concept of the quantified employee revolves around monitoring and adjusting all of the factors that affect a worker's performance. This can cover data relating to how they perform at certain tasks, to what times of day they are at their most productive, how well they work in teams, and even whether heating systems need to be adjusted to keep the employee comfortable. While employees could be worried - with some justification - that these systems could be used in a 'Big Brother'-type way, it could equally be used to reward good performance. Meanwhile, the health and safety benefits it could bring to those in dangerous professions - such as firefighters - are undeniable, warning them of potential hazards such as building that is about to collapse.
Roger Bou is Director of the IoT Solutions World Congress, leading global event on Industrial IoT, taking place at Fira Barcelona from 25th-27th October. Information and tickets available here.