The internet of things (IoT) has long been the Holy Grail of technology firms. Heralded as a utopian network of gadgets that seamlessly connect with one another, the internet of things is the realisation of a long-held dream the sees the birth of a truly networked world.
IoT has only recently become a reality, thanks to the integration of Wi-Fi in most everyday gadgets and devices. Wireless technology, along with faster broadband, allow devices to communicate with other devices, creating a global network of electronic things that share data and information with each other.
How does the internet of things work?
Electronics are increasingly packaged with wireless connections, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, along with small computer chips and even digital storage. These can link to local networks, such as a home Wi-Fi network, so they can talk with each other. A basic example, is a Bluetooth printer that connects wirelessly to your home network, so you can print directly from your computer without using cables.
IoT takes this further – using more complex computer reasoning to automatically connect to other devices in response to circumstances. For example, a mobile phone might use its GPS and map software to give an automatic traffic update when you get into your car, then text another mobile phone to let that person know you’ll be late. In another example, your car, as it approaches home, sends a message to your connected home devices to turn up the heating, switch on the lights and even start the kettle boiling.
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What is the benefit of the internet of things?
While it’s convenient to have the heating and lights on when arriving home, it’s access to connected information that holds the real promise of IoT. With data being shared and analysed, our connected devices can help shape future developments. For example, connected cars can monitor traffic in real-time, rerouting around congestion – and also help town planners create more effective road systems based on data from connected cars.
IoT also helps our everyday lives – and the environment. For example, our smartphone knows when it has left the range of our home network as we walk away from the house. It can check if we’ve left the lights on or an electronically controlled door unlocked, and then turn off the lights or lock the door. Our connected fridge will be able to monitor what we eat and what we tend to throw away, and adjust our food shopping list to reduce the amount of food we order to avoid waste.
Is the internet of things safe?
IoT relies on sharing information about our location, activities and lifestyle with companies and the government. There are privacy concerns about data falling into the wrong hands or being used to trick users into scams.
Critics are worried that IoT could allow malicious hackers to control physical objects with real world consequences. For example, a hacker taking control of a connected car could wreak havoc if they were able to control the steering or speed of the car.
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Is the internet of things here?
In terms of a fully connected world where fridges, kettles, phones and cars are constantly chatting with each other, IoT is still a long way off.
However, location-aware services on mobile phones, and new technologies such as British Gas’s Hive for controlling heating over the internet and Apple’s HomeKit, which controls domestic appliances, are on sale. And a new generation of smart cars – and soon-to-launch driverless cars from companies such as Google – will connect physical things in a way never previously possible.