Despite the buzz surrounding the internet-of-things (IoT) today, these technologies are not actually an overnight success. While the term “internet-of-things” first entered our lexicon in 1999, and while the buzz increased when Google started pushing for connected thermostats with its acquisition of NEST in 2014, it is only recently that we are seeing an upsurge of devices actually connected to each other and to the internet.
For example, one of the trending topics in the recent months involves Tesla, self-driving cars, and how these will play with the current state of our road transportation systems. Machines are billeted to be smarter than humans when making judgements regarding road safety. But are we ready to put our lives in the hands of sensors and computers?
In this article, we are presenting four trends that will shape IoT in the medium-term, up until we reach or surpass analysts’ predictions on scale and adoption.
1. We will see an explosion in IoT numbers and usage
Gartner forecasts that by 2020, we will have at least 20 billion IoT devices connected, up from the current 8.4 billion as of ths year. Others are more optimistic with their count: IHS forecasts that by 2025, we will have 75 billion IoT devices connected. Whatever the count, the number of IoT devices have long surpassed the world’s human population, and the numbers are just going to increase.
What is clear at this time is that businesses and individual users are warming up to IoT, and what we need is a strategy to better incorporate these technologies in our lives. There are some challenges, of course, including security, privacy, and cost. Fortunately, today’s startups and enterprises dealing in IoT are forward-looking in the developments they are working on.
2. Blockchains will play a big part in IoT
The idea behind the internet-of-things involves multitudes of devices each having the ability to connect with each other and also the internet-at-large. Meanwhile, the idea behind a blockchain is a distributed and immutable ledger of transactions. This means the marriage between IoT and blockchains is a potentially beneficial one, as it combines distributed devices with a decentralized means of record-keeping.
Streamr, a marketplace for data, foresees that real-time analytics and data sharing would play a big part in our IoT play in the medium to long-term. The company is building its decentralized platform on top of the Ethereum blockchain, wherein the system will use smart contracts in ensuring the security and speed of transactions that involve collecting, storing, and sharing of data from IoT networks.
Being a marketplace, Streamr focuses more on the benefits of gathering and sharing IoT data in real-time, which can have implications in all sorts of industries, from healthcare, to logistics, to manufacturing, and more. Apart from its marketplace, Streamr offers its visual editor and data analytics engine, which enable users to better manage and streamline their data efforts.
All said, the value of blockchains lie in the ability to automatically execute smart contracts and transactions, and this simiplifies having to manage data and content from billions of IoT data points.
3. Retail will be one of the biggest beneficiaries
One of the most well-known applications of IoT is in logistics – these devices involve sensors, movement, and transfers, after all. This means an easier way to track stocks, supplies or materials across the supply chain.
However, there is a bigger implication, and it involves the entire retail industry. In particular, this involves the entire value chain from marketing, to sales, to retargeting, and beyond. For instance, Statista predicts smartphone numbers to reach 5 billion by 2020, with penetration rate to reach 36 percent by next year. These billions of devices are potentially inputs for IoT, as they can provide data on location, preferences, and habits of users.
Major e-commerce platforms are already experimenting with connected drones that will automate and speed up delivery of goods to the end-user, such as what Amazon is doing in the US and testing in other regions. We already have same-day and on-demand shipping across e-commerce and logistics providers. Once we take away human couriers and mail carriers from the equation, we can expect faster, more accurate, and cost-effective deliveries.
4. Humanitarian and social good efforts will greatly be amplified
Apart from for-profit and business-oriented enterprises, IoT can also benefit humanitarian activities, thus ensuring more social good across benefactors and beneficiaries.
For example, big data and analytics are already playing a big role in managing humanitarian aid activities since crises in Middle Eastern countries forced citizens to flee to Europe as refugees. Managing such an influx of people requires food, transportation, medicine, and shelter. In this regard, data and analytics will help optimize relief efforts in terms of providing adequate resources where these are needed.
In addition, with families and households often getting dislocated and broken up during refugee crises, better analytics and data management can help relocated people in reintegration with their loved ones. This can be as simple as providing refugees a way to communicate through prepaid mobile devices. Cisco cites that 85 percent of Syrian refugees own a smartphone, with many relying on technology to navigate their journeys. Thus, location-aware tools can also help them with better aid and opportunities.
Apart from humanitarian efforts IoT will also play a big role in other social enterprise and social-good projects. For instance, the Kaa Project keeps track of activities that utilize sensors and connected devices in environmental conservation – from stoves that measure and reduce carbon footprint to reduction of wastewater in smart city initiatives, and more.
As with any technology, the internet-of-things will have a big effect in both profitable and impact-oriented activities in the years to come. Given the accessibility and availability of networked devices that communicate in real-time, we are in for exciting times in terms of achieving scale and in attaining a level of relevance to everyone as a stakeholder.
Written by Oren Rofman
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