Internet of Things (IoT)

Smart sensors and the internet of things

Far from the connected lightbulbs and thermostats that have come to define what most people think of the Internet of Things (IoT), the idea of having multiple devices always connected and talking to each other has more far reaching and exciting applications for business and infrastructure than in the consumer sphere.

As a technological buzzword, IoT has come to mean any connected device, and whilst millions more of us are choosing to connect up our lights, heating, speakers, and other less conventional devices like coffee machines or toasters to our home networks, this kind of interoperability is simplistic when compared to how the technology is being implemented by governments and businesses around the world.

Nonetheless, the idea behind each of these networks is the same – you connect up a number of different sensors, which collect and transmit data over the internet to a central processing resource that performs and action based on that information. In the home, this could be as simple as turning on the lights as soon as your phone comes within Bluetooth range of your property, or switching off the heating as soon as you walk out the door – all of which can increase efficiency and save you money whilst also making your life easier. On an infrastructure level, however, the savings can be huge.

For example, within a city by simply turning on the street lights only once light levels drop below a specific level and switch off when light levels increase again. This has the dual benefits of not only making the timings more efficient, so reducing energy consumption with the lights only on when required, but it could also automatically switch on the lights in fog or other situations where light levels are unusually low – keeping the streets lit and safer for citizens.

Meanwhile, in factories that manage to find a supplier for sensor technology within their budgetary constraints, they can tie together multiple sensors to better monitor their production lines and how well their equipment is functioning. A simple light or temperature sensor alone could report a variety of false positives about equipment failure, but combining them together with other sensors such as for vibrations it would be quick to determine that something is not working correctly.

As more and more sensors are tied together, the volume of the data being received and processed is constantly increasing and the sophistication of the reports continues to rise. However, it is critical that these sensors all work together in unison – and currently that is not always a given. Whilst the Internet of Things has improved interoperability in recent years, manufacturers are still yet to agree on a single open source protocol that will work in all situations.

Once manufacturers finally agree on a single open standard, we should really start to see investment in IoT soar, as companies and businesses around the globe see the technology as a way to reduce their costs and improve their infrastructure capacity by making it all more efficient. If the globe is going to meet its climate change targets in the decades to come, IoT is going to be one of the ways we get there.

Image by Dometorres