Has the time for the Internet of Things finally arrived?
Loosely stated, the Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a network of objects that are embedded with software, sensors, and electronics. These special electronics allow devices, vehicles, buildings, etc. to collect and exchange data, and accomplish tasks that were previously impossible.
We've heard about the IoT for years. But as this technology evolves at increased speed, the line between science fiction and reality gets thinner and thinner.
I reached out to friend and fellow writer Neil Hughes, who is host of the popular The Tech Blog Writer Podcast and was recently chosen by LinkedIn as one of its top voices in technology. Neil's one of my go-to sources for keeping up with new technology trends, and he recently wrote about the IoT tipping point.
Here are some highlights from our conversation:
1. Amazon's Alexa is bigger than you think.
Like you, I poked fun last year at Amazon's hokey marketing for its new digital assistant, Alexa, and its (her?) companion device, the Echo. But it turns out that Amazon might get the last laugh after all.
"Sitting around your home answering questions, offering weather reports, or updating to-do lists is only a tiny part of Amazon's ambitions. According to a recent announcement by Ford at the 2016 CES, one of the world's largest automakers set out their vision to add Amazon's digital assistant to its range of vehicles. This will enable drivers to talk to devices in their home while equally offering the ability to start their car or check vehicle stats from the comfort of their favorite armchair.
"As Amazon's Alexa enters more and more third-party products, there is a growing realization that the company might have actually performed a stealth maneuver to corner the smart home market--without anyone even realizing."
If you were wondering why in the world Apple and Google would be getting into the automotive business, this might start to explain things.
2. A clear leader is yet to emerge.
"Traditionally, shiny gadgets and gizmos have been aimed at early adopters or geeky tech fans and were just too complicated for the mass market users who just want to plug and play," says Neil.
"Mainstream users want things 'that just work,' with little interest in the technology behind it.... The Apple HomeKit, Samsung's Smart Things, and Google's Brillo are all stepping up their game to offer a Jetsons-like experience that will see innovation revolutionize the average home and beyond, as smart cities also become the norm."
The major players will be competing for partnerships with companies such as SensorSphere. Packed with an HD camera, this Wi-Fi connected robotic ball rolls around your home, controlled by your smartphone. Besides serving as your eyes and ears (and resembling the lower half of BB-8, everyone's new favorite Star Wars droid), SensorSphere can monitor your home's temperature, humidity, and internal air quality from wherever you are.
As more and more items (light bulbs, kitchen appliances, door locks) get connected to the IoT, competition will continue to increase.
3. You'll save money.
In an era of big data, we collect, analyze, and adjust so we can continually improve performance.
As Neil points out, it's only a matter of time until we do the same things with our homes. Imagine "dashboards detailing energy and water consumption to highlight where savings can be made by merely tweaking those lifestyle habits that could be costing us more than we realize," he says.
Wouldn't it be great if the smart home could actually help you live smarter?
4. The biggest issues haven't been solved...yet.
Despite all the advancements, most people's concerns center on security. If major companies with multimillion-dollar budgets can get hacked on a regular basis, why should I hand over the front door keys to anything connected to the internet?
Not to mention the damage a software bug could cause when dealing with a kitchen appliance, water faucet, or thermostat. (Recent events have confirmed those fears are completely valid.)
But it was only a few years ago that people were afraid of online banking, and look at where we are today. Which leads many to believe that major integration of the IoT in the home is simply a question of when.
If you're not thinking "now," the answer is probably sooner than you think.