The Internet of Things, or IoT (sometimes called machine-to-machine technology or M2M), is not a new concept. Introduced by British technology pioneer Kevin Ashton in 1999 and popularized by testing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 2000’s, IoT represents the connectivity of objects that are tagged and identified, so that these objects—each with its own ‘fingerprint’—can communicate with one another.
In contrast to today’s computational technology, which requires humans to input data, intelligent devices connected to the Internet of Things will be able to gather data on their own—tracking, counting, sensing, and self-correcting. This type of communication has the potential to create unprecedented efficiencies in almost every aspect of our lives, from urban planning to transportation to agriculture to healthcare to emergency response to intelligent manufacturing.
The IoT will inevitably make our homes even smarter. Want your windows to tell your HVAC system to turn on when the air outside hits a specific temperature? No problem. Want your car to automatically turn on the heat, lights, and music in your house when you’re on your way home from work? Check. Want to be notified if the faucet is leaking, if you left your garage door open, if you’re low on milk, or if you’re over watering your plants? Got it. Want sensors to monitor your health and automatically notify the paramedics in case of a medical emergency? Don’t worry—you’re covered.
The Nest thermostat seems to be the poster child of the Internet of Things. This learning thermostat gets smarter the more you use it, adjusting the temperature to suit a homeowner’s preferences and optimize energy efficiency. The thermostat collects usage and behavioral data, which a homeowner can evaluate to maximize energy savings.
The IoT isn’t just for our homes. When we travel, the IoT will help hotels customize our guest suites, altering temperature, lighting, wall images, and other mood settings based on our pre-programmed preferences.
And the IoT can automate almost every business function to increase operational efficiencies, eliminate waste and stock shortages, monitor production lines, autocorrect manufacturing errors, and issue any sort of notification or alert.
As a result of the Internet of Things, human error and oversight will be eradicated, leaving devices and systems to run, maintain, and even autonomously improve themselves. According to Ashton, in the future world of IoT, we will “know when things need replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they are fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so.” The impact of these intelligent devices isn’t difficult to imagine given that ABI Research forecasts that more than 30 billion devices will be wirelessly interconnected by 2020.
From a sustainability standpoint, the IoT may be the most effective tool that we’ll have to manage our changing climate. As products, systems, and devices become smarter, they’ll have the ability to accumulate and share knowledge about the environmental impacts and consequences of certain human activities.
By reducing the amount of energy and fuel needed to perform tasks and optimizing resource efficiencies, the IoT is expected to help reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 9.1 billion metric tons by 2020 (equivalent to 18.6% of global GHG emissions in 2011), according to a report by AT&T and the Carbon War Room.
Critics of the Internet of Things warn of amplified cyber-attacks and privacy concerns, but blue chip companies like Bosch, GE, IBM, and Cisco are nonetheless making big bets on IoT, forecasting that these sophisticated technologies will not just generate cost savings, but will also contribute up to $15 trillion to the global GDP by 2020, accounting for more than $82 trillion in economic activity by 2025.
We at Green Builder Media are fascinated by the Internet of Things and are excited by its widespread applications. Look for ongoing editorial coverage from us about the topic throughout 2014. In the meantime, tell us what you know about the IoT. Write to me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @SaraGBM.
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