The internet of things (IoT) may sound like it belongs in a sci-fi movie, but it’s already here and impacting our daily lives. But what is the IoT? In essence, electronic devices and home appliances are becoming ‘smart’ – using computer chips and wireless technologies to connect and talk to other devices including smartphone and computers over the internet.
What is the internet of things?
Internet of things in the home
A smart home that’s energy efficient and makes life easier is often the first thing most people think of when considering a future shaped by the IoT. While we’re not yet at the point where our fridges can order a new carton of milk, the impact of the IoT is already evident in our home.
Smart TVs, games consoles, energy meters and home security systems already have the ability to be remotely controlled over the internet. British Gas’s Hive system has an intelligent thermostat that lets you remotely control your home’s heating and hot water from anywhere using an app on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. It works with your existing heating system and as you’re only heating your home when needed, you could save up to £150 per year on your energy bills. Home automation systems, such as Apple’s HomeKit, let you remotely control connected appliances and gadgets around your home, such as turning on the lights before you arrive home or locking and unlocking electronically smart doors.
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Internet of things and health
When it comes to health, the potential of the IoT is far reaching. We already enjoy the benefits of wearable IoT health devices, such as activity trackers from likes of Fitbit and Jawbone, as well as the Apple Watch. These devices can record the steps we’ve taken, calculate the distance walked, calories burnt, and measure how long and hard we exercise – then transmit all this information to an app on our smartphone or tablet. Other smart wearable gadgets can track even more, including sleeping patterns and heart rate.
IoT connectivity is also helping to provide care for babies and the elderly. This includes smart baby sleepsuits that record sleeping patterns and temperatures, as well as care systems that allow you to remotely monitor an elderly loved-one’s health and activities with alerts should they leave their home at odd hours.
Driving and the internet of things
The IoT is set to fundamentally change the way we drive, making journeys safer and less stressful. For example, road sensors will communicate directly to car dashboards about unsafe driving conditions. But even today, smart cars monitor real-time traffic using connected sat-nav systems to reroute around congestion. Other car sensors with connected apps can monitor engine performance, diagnose problems, find parking places and even call for help in a crash. Smart cars will become ever more connected and soon-to-launch driverless cars from companies such as Google are set to change the daily commute forever.
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The internet of things and the environment
The IoT is helping us monitor and reduce our environmental impact, from smart meters that help us use less energy at home to smart bins in our streets that send out an alert when they’re full, so collections are only made when necessary. IoT connectivity is also evident with sensors that detect water levels in our rivers to prevent flooding and sensors that monitor sewage to avoid it being dumped in the sea.
Shopping and the internet of things
The IoT has already begun to change the way we shop, with some retailers using Bluetooth signals from customers’ smartphones to track their journey through a store. Customers who have the retailer’s app on their smartphone can then be offered coupons and promotional material directly on their screens while they’re out shopping.
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