Friday 17 July 2015

The Internet of Things!

"So, what is the Internet of Things and how will it affect me?"

I first came across the Internet of Things back in 2011 when I attended a BCS talk at Coventry University on "cogent computing", this talk intrigued me as it spoke about "dust", a reference to the "Golden Compass" trilogy? No, well, perhaps, actually Yes, well hmmm and haw, No, maybe, erm, dunno"
Throughout the talk, the professor spoke about little computers and sensors/actuators sharing and processing data at a local wifi type level, little data as opposed to big data, and she had rigged a bomb disposal suit with temperature sensors to monitor the user and cameras so that operatives back at the command jeep could see exactly what was going on  so that would have a record of everything that went on, in the unfortunate event that the device exploded.

I actually went to see her a few days later to talk about how this new cogent computing could help with our business of Green ICT and energy efficiency in Data Centres, it was then that she mentioned "dust" in a big way, her vision of thousands, no millions of little nano-sensor units equipped with CO2, temperature and humidity sensors, self powered, and wifi connected, well when you're that small you don't need much energy, linking together in  a mesh type network with perhaps central hubs monitoring and processing larger chunks of data.
She described the science fiction of the past, think Star Trek, and all those scifi films you saw in the 80's, 90's etc being right here, right now, or at least a few years out, but certainly NOT the scifi of the 22nd or 23rd, 24th Centuries, but of the 21st!

So, what is the Internet of Things?

Essentially, it is machine to machine communications, monitoring and measuring and acting upon variances in data, you could call it a glorified Building Management System, but on a far wider and also smaller scale.
You could for instance, make every light in your house IoT enabled, you could programme the system turn on or off  in response to the sound of your voice or even react to a text from your smart phone or even automatically based upon the external light levels.

Going a step further, imagine this, you go shopping, and everything you put in the fridge is IoT'd, each packet would "register" with the fridge central processor and tell it what it was, where it was located and what its ideal environmental conditions were so the produce is kept in the optimal conditions, over the next few weeks the packets still communicate with the fridge and advise when the product has past its "eat by" date and when you go to the fridge to get a beer, it tells you that the Mexican wrap you bought six weeks ago is well beyond its "eat by" date and you should throw it out.

Imagine, if you then linked up to "scoffbot" and it knew what you had in the fridge and the store cupboards and sent you a number of recipes based upon the food you had already purchased so waste could be reduced.

Go further, and imagine that you have a wearable device that is measuring your vital signs in terms of blood sugar levels, nutrients  etc and let "scoffbot" design your perfect dinner based upon what you need and what you've got, the ultimate diet coach, no more weight-watchers here!
Maybe it would even link up with the fridge and the supermarket to amend your normal order so that your diet improves.

Could the IoT be the answer to healthcare?, imagine that the same wearable device is watching for warning signs, in certain cases it could help by adjusting your diet or prompting you to go to the health clinic for further diagnostic testing or even calling for assistance if you keel over after a night on the pop and fall down and break your leg!

The potential of the IoT is massive, it could really change the way we manage our ecosystems for the better, but it does have some drawbacks and challenges and we'll cover those in our next blog, or the one after!