This article is part of our March 2014 special report on the Internet of Things, a network of items—each embedded with sensors—which are connected to the Internet.
With the emerging area of the Internet of Things (IoT), there are endless applications and implications for society. That’s why we opened up the discussion and invited members to ask about topics of concern to two IEEE experts: Member Vida Ilderem, vice president and director of integrated computer research at Intel Labs, in Santa Clara, Calif., and Senior Member Oleg Logvinov director of market development in the Industrial and Power Conversion Division at STMicroelectronics, in Geneva. Here are the questions and answers. To continue the conversation, submit your questions or remarks in the comments section or tweet them to us @IEEEInstitute.
What type of new business models will the IoT bring?
Ilderem: There are many components for the IoT including sensor platforms, communication and connectivity systems, cloud computing, big data and analytics, and security and manageability. Big data and analytics especially provide a huge opportunity for new service businesses to open up. There will be a transformation in business practices because companies will be able to make better decisions based on the data that come from information collected by the IoT, helping them become more efficient and productive.
Moreover, new types of business opportunities will emerge because of the growth of the IoT, such as edge analytics, which is used to work with real-time events and constrained network bandwidth. More opportunities will emerge for developers to innovate new applications of the IoT that combine multiple data sources.
Logvinov: The IoT will deliver a broad range of business models, some that will work and others that won’t. But many will surprise us. “Sensing-as-a-Service” is one such model, and we already see it implemented today to some degree. For example, such data collection services can be useful for businesses to analyze a variety of factors such as staffing, servicing, and sales support so that they can be prepared for an increase in their needs ahead of time. The Internet of Things revolution will bring the power of big data to the world. Our smartphone is already a sensor hub that collects data that monitors such things as temperature, location, a person’s pulse rate, and even locates potholes in the road.
With the emergence of smart grids and smart homes, how is the IoT going to impact the utility industry? How can utility companies leverage the IoT?
Ilderem: The smart grid is one of the first beneficiaries of the IoT because of deployment of smart meters. Next-generation thermostats like Nest and advanced security-monitoring systems are among the first products for smart homes. There are also products for monitoring energy efficiency and management that are becoming available. This video from Intel on a smarter grid gives a good example of how the IoT is used in the utility industry, and covers energy management for smart homes. Technical standards and interoperability among utilities and these new applications are two of the challenges that must be addressed before utility companies can take full advantage of the IoT.
Logvinov: The IoT is going to impact almost all industries. Imagine, as a homeowner, allowing your appliances, such as a dishwasher or washing machine to decide when it will run a load based on when the price of electricity is cheapest. By programming our electric car with our next destination, it would know the minimum amount of charge needed for its next trip. But we’re not there yet. In order for the grid to become smarter, our homes, buildings, and cities have to be smarter too. [More on this in The Institute’s June special issue on smart cities].
With the proliferation of the IoT, we will see more convergence among traditionally isolated applications and the emergence of platforms that will allow us to connect them together for a better energy system. I believe that such convergent platforms will make our lives easier. But first we still need to solve a number of challenges to make this vision possible, including security and privacy concerns. Developing a platform that serves multiple applications of the IoT and is able to secure the data is a complex task and, of course, we may need to create new technical standards to accomplish it. Last year, IEEE launched a project called Convergence of Smart Home and Building Architectures to address this challenge. It is open to all members to work with us on this mission.
What do you believe will be the greatest hurdle for full interoperability? What area do you think will reap the greatest benefit?
Ilderem: For faster deployment of the IoT, the ecosystem of industries needs to align around common building blocks and data standards. There are also existing infrastructures that will require connectivity and access with the new deployed infrastructures for the IoT. Data and protocol interoperability is a must for broad IoT adoption.
Logvinov: Today, the greatest challenges to reach full interoperability are probably security and privacy of the data that we are trying to exchange. There are a lot of things we could build, deploy, or attach to the Internet today and lots of information that we could collect that would probably cause tremendous concern to people whose information is being collected. We need to solve these security concerns and when we do, we will unleash the potential of the IoT. The benefits and impact will be profound in almost every area of our lives, regardless of whether we are talking about mapping road conditions or predicting potential illnesses.
Digital health monitoring is ripe for growth. What types of devices do you think will be connected to the IoT, and how will the data from these devices, including consumer electronics, affect the health care industry?
Ilderem: The health-industry ecosystem is very complex and is comprised of many players, including hospitals, health-insurance companies, and government agencies. With the advent of wearable technologies for fitness and wellness monitoring, consumers will become more proactive in taking care of themselves in the digital-health monitoring era. Also, efficient telemedicine—receiving health care via the computer or smartphone—would require additional advancements in devices and standards. Once again, privacy and security of the data collected from these devices become an important concern.
Logvinov: Let’s take a look at one example: BodyGuardian. Users can monitor their heartbeat and be alerted to early signs of heart disease via their smartphones or tablets—a procedure that traditionally requires a patient to be in a medical facility. Just imagine the improvement in the patient’s quality of life as well as the improvement in the quality of the diagnostic data because the patient can be monitored during normal daily activities. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of us are getting used to our smartphones providing us with our heart rate while we are exercising. It is hard to imagine what more this data can tell us when it is also coupled with our location, surroundings, diet, and other background information. I believe the IoT will enable much more efficient preventative care, and that is going to be a significant shift in the health-care industry.