Beds, Bulbs and Basketballs: What’s Next for the Internet of Things

Share By Sachin Shenolikar

The term Internet of Things has been bandied about quite a bit recently in blogs, news articles, on TV, and on Twitter (#iot).

There’s a mystique to the string of words. Internet of Things. They sound cool and futuristic and… well, kind of confusing. How can there be an Internet of something? And what are these “things”, anyway?

Real Business spoke with tech analyst Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies about exactly what IoT is and how society is rapidly evolving into a place where nearly every object is connected to the Internet.

RB: How would you define the Internet of Things?

Bajarin: It’s devices that we would consider appliances or non-computing — thermostats, coffee pots, refrigerators, TVs — gaining value in the digital age by having a [Internet] connection. That would either be via Bluetooth to your phone or over Wi-Fi. You can interact with them, manage them, and use them in unique ways.

Where do we stand right now as far as the progress of IoT?

Bajarin: It’s the super, super early days. We’re just starting to see things like connected door locks take off. [Connected] thermostats haven’t sold incredibly well, but we have things like light bulbs that you can control with your phone to change their color. It’s growing at an exponential rate. Cisco’s estimate is that by 2020 we’ll have 50 billion connected objects in use on the planet. So that’s where we’re going.

How do feel about IoT? Are you skeptical or excited?

Bajarin: I’m super-optimistic. We’re moving toward a world in which pretty much every piece of electronics will connect to the Internet in some way. Even some things we haven’t considered to be electronic devices are getting a connection. There are [now] basketballs with a microchip in them that give you coaching advice on how to make a shot.

We’re in the first inning of this, as manufacturers and consumers are figuring out what they want. But it’s a very, very interesting future because we’re going to have billions and one day trillions of connected objects. It’s going to completely change the world.

What about the security concerns when everything is connected? Is your personal information going to be in, say, a tennis ball?

Bajarin: Security is certainly going to be an issue. It’s one of the least talked-about things when we talk about Internet of Things. There’s certainly a lot of data that’s going to exist out there that you don’t want going in the wrong hands. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one that the people who build these connected platforms are going to be in a position to solve.

Security is something that’s going to have to evolve in line with the Internet of Things. It can’t be something where we get to 2020 and there are billions of connected objects, and then somebody decides to solve security. It needs to be worked on right now.

Are there other IoT issues that aren’t being talked about much?

Bajarin: The other major issue is that right now is there’s no way to share data or get information across relevant devices. If you want to interact with your thermostat, you have to pull up the app. I may want my thermostat to be connected to my smart bed, so if my bed knows I’m getting hot in the middle of the night it can crank the temperature down based on my sleeping body temperature, or vice versa. That’s going to take a whole new degree of interoperability between these devices.

You said around 2020 is when we’ll start seeing this in a bigger way. What about in the longer term? At its peak, what will the Internet of Things be like?

Bajarin: We’re talking about trillions of connected devices. We’re talking about a smart grid on the city with connected lamp posts, connected street signs, things that will be measuring air quality, things that will be measuring radiation in cities near nuclear reactors. The scale of how far it goes is quite significant. If you think of all the things that can be connected — door locks, windows, streetlights —at some point in time, most things that plug in will connect [to the Internet] in some way and some things that don’t plug in will get benefits from being connected. The number just balloons in quite a significant way.

Is that going to be overwhelming?

Bajarin: Humans adapt, but it has to be done in a way that’s valuable. The management of all that data can certainly be simplified. Platforms and systems could manage and aggregate that data. For the Internet of Things to be successful, those who are playing in those markets have no choice but to solve those problems — or else it won’t go anywhere.

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