Technology pundits are often given to hyperbole, but when they claim that the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing everything, they may have a point. At least, the IoT is being used in just about everything you can think of, from deeply geeky applications such as industrial sensors to frivolous gimmicks like Wi-Fi enabled toothbrushes.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some of the many, many different IoT use cases that people are actually using—or at least testing.
Fitness wearables: IoT is the key concept powering wearables from fitness trackers to smartwatches, but keeping weekend warriors fit is only the beginning. Elite athletes and professional sports franchises are using IoT to push their performance parameters. At the other end of the spectrum, IoT can track your pet’s location and health.
Medical wearables:The real opportunity, though, is in medical devices monitoring blood pressure and heart rate, for example, and even automatically alerting emergency personnel when they detect problematic readings—or to send help when an elderly person has fallen and can’t get up. Down the road, smart pills promise to share diagnostic information from inside the body.
Vehicles: Connected cars are using IoT to connect everything from engine diagnostics to GPS data and infotainment systems.
Supply chain: Inexpensive, low-power IoT devices track location information for all kinds of items, in warehouses, shipping depots and in transit, not to mention monitoring temperature, vibration and container openings for quality control and insurance purposes—especially of valuable or dangerous items, such as drugs or jewelry (but not firearms, at least in the United States). The technology is even being used to detect storage incompatibilities, delivering alerts when flammable goods are stored near explosive materials.
Homes, offices and lodging: Connected devices include TVs, refrigerators, lights, thermostats, smoke detectors and other sensors, security systems and much more. Hotels have long pioneered using IoT for room keys, and Hilton is now expanding that concept to allow guests to enter their rooms using their smartphones.
Farming: Farmers are using IoT to track equipment location and performance, and increasingly livestock grazing in open pastures. IoT sensors are also determining soil moisture levels to control irrigation systems and minimize water consumption. Vintners even use IoT to track trunk diameter in vineyards to better understand grapevine health and sugar levels in grapes. It’s even showing up to track air quality and toxic gas levels in barns and hen houses as well as humidity and temperature in compost operations to minimize fungus and other contaminants.
Recreation: IoT is being used in golf courses and ball fields to control selective irrigation.
Physical security: Far beyond home security cameras, IoT is also detecting activity in restricted areas.
Industrial safety: Nobody wants a flooded data center, and IoT is being used to check for liquid detection in technology facilities, warehouses and other high-value areas. Beyond that, IoT is also being used in the power and mining industries to monitor radiation levels and poisonous or explosive gases.
Pest control: Want to make sure there are no rats in the attic? IoT is there to help.
Insurance: Instead of basing premiums on group risk factors, such as age or driving experience, IoT is helping companies offer usage-based policies based on mileage and actual driving habits.
Cities: IoT is a key factor in smart lighting grids and more efficient transportation and parking systems, including smart traffic lights that adapt to traffic conditions in real time. (They can even be configured to allow emergency responders and medical teams to synchronize with traffic lights to speed access to critical location—or to change the lights so cars don’t have to wait when there’s no other traffic.) Utility companies, meanwhile, are moving past smart meters to leverage IoT to enable on-demand trash pickup.
Preventive maintenance: IoT is especially useful for figuring out when maintenance is needed for all kinds of high-value equipment, from servers to power plants to giant construction equipment to aircraft and military hardware.
Artificial intelligence (AI): The connection between AI and IoT may not be immediately obvious, but the two work together in many ways. On the one hand, IoT sensors let AI systems experience their environment directly. On the other hand, AI and machine learning make it possible to glean actionable insights from the vast arrays IoT devices spewing out more data than humans can easily make sense of.
The uses for IoT are practically limitless, and new applications are being developed all the time. Along with the incredible opportunity, of course, come challenges in optimizing a technology that reaches deeply into so many aspects of our businesses—and our lives.