The Internet of Things - in which ordinary objects get smart and connected, making possible all sorts of new services - promises to give us smarter cities, fewer traffic jams, a cleaner environment and a Series victory for the Cubs. (OK, maybe not that last one.)
Trouble is, while lots of technologists and technophiles talk about the Internet of Things as if it were already here, there really isn't any such thing. Not in any true sense of the term.
To be sure, there are plenty of smart gadgets out there that are wired up and broadcasting data to other devices - home alarms, for instance. Cameras. Heat sensors and hydrometers. But as you might have already noticed, we're still a long way from the day when your refrigerator sees that you're out of milk and orders a new gallon, or when your suitcase checks your calendar for out-of-town meetings and makes sure your travel clothes have been washed and folded.
Information and analysis
As the new networks link data from products, company assets, or the operating environment, they will generate better information and analysis, which can enhance decision making significantly. Some organizations are starting to deploy these applications in targeted areas, while more radical and demanding uses are still in the conceptual or experimental stages.
1. Tracking behavior
When products are embedded with sensors, companies can track the movements of these products and even monitor interactions with them. Business models can be fine-tuned to take advantage of this behavioral data. Some insurance companies, for example, are offering to install location sensors in customers’ cars. That allows these companies to base the price of policies on how a car is driven as well as where it travels. Pricing can be customized to the actual risks of operating a vehicle rather than based on proxies such as a driver’s age, gender, or place of residence.
2.Enhanced situational awareness
Data from large numbers of sensors, deployed in infrastructure (such as roads and buildings) or to report on environmental conditions (including soil moisture, ocean currents, or weather), can give decision makers a heightened awareness of real-time events, particularly when the sensors are used with advanced display or visualization technologies.
3. Sensor-driven decision analytics
The Internet of Things also can support longer-range, more complex human planning and decision making. The technology requirements—tremendous storage and computing resources linked with advanced software systems that generate a variety of graphical displays for analyzing data—rise accordingly.
In the oil and gas industry, for instance, the next phase of exploration and development could rely on extensive sensor networks placed in the earth’s crust to produce more accurate readings of the location, structure, and dimensions of potential fields than current data-driven methods allow. The payoff: lower development costs and improved oil flows.
What comes next?
The Internet of Things has great promise, yet business, policy, and technical challenges must be tackled before these systems are widely embraced. Early adopters will need to prove that the new sensor-driven business models create superior value. Industry groups and government regulators should study rules on data privacy and data security, particularly for uses that touch on sensitive consumer information. Legal liability frameworks for the bad decisions of automated systems will have to be established by governments, companies, and risk analysts, in consort with insurers. On the technology side, the cost of sensors and actuators must fall to levels that will spark widespread use. Networking technologies and the standards that support them must evolve to the point where data can flow freely among sensors, computers, and actuators. Software to aggregate and analyze data, as well as graphic display techniques, must improve to the point where huge volumes of data can be absorbed by human decision makers or synthesized to guide automated systems more appropriately.
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