The Internet of Things and The Future

posted by on 26th November 2015, at 2:23am

The internet as originally designed was to be used for mere sharing of data between military and educational institutions. The 1990s and the PC boom brought the internet to everyone by way of the world wide web. We still use the world wide web today, it’s just evolved into a platform for modern communication, commerce, and research among many other things. This evolution in web technology can be tracked as follows: static pages (html and images) -> dynamic pages (html and images backed up with javascript or php) -> dynamic pages with user interactivity (html, php, javascript, php with interactivity a.k.a. web 2.0). This last stage has lead us to the point where our web browsers can act as portals to dedicated applications (Gmail and Facebook) and that leads us to ask the question, where to next?

The Internet of Things is an idea that has begun to gain momentum in the previous years. Previously it was thought that the Internet of Things would extend only to your household appliances. This is true but it extends out beyond our homes and into the world surrounding ourselves. Before the Internet of Things could expand out into the world we needed a stable broadband internet connection available to us almost anywhere.

With the rise of smartphones the availability of mobile broadband has greatly increased. It wasn’t long ago that mobile broadband wasn’t suitable for voice chat (though it still lacks in remote areas) but now if you are in an urban area it is safe to assume you will have access to reliable mobile broadband. Reliable mobile broadband is a key part of enabling the Internet of Things to foster.

We already have TVs that can connect to the internet to show us content. Refrigerators exist that can go online and through the use of RFID technology to create an inventory of what’s stocked, what’s expired, and what’s missing. There’s also the ability to control lights and climate settings remotely in order to save energy. All you need are smart outlets and a smart thermostat to enable this kind of “smart home” feature. Other household applications include elaborate security systems. Previously security systems would telephone the authorities if something was awry. Now they can bypass a cut phone line by communicating over a mobile network (as a backup, WiFi is preferred). Consumer grade doorbells exist that ring on your smartphone and offer you the ability to see who’s at your door!

Moving beyond your home the first connected device likely to be encountered is a modern car. Car’s now have the option maintain an LTE connection for their own software suites. While this leads to expected features such as navigation it could also be used for reporting necessary maintenance data to your local repair shop. In the future as self-driving cars become more widespread and pass regulatory hurdles they will need the ability to determine their precise location. GPS connections are enabled over the cellular networks, therefore, a connected car makes perfect sense.

As an individual moves through their day it’s a perfectly reasonable expectation to be surrounded by connected devices. Entry pads into buildings are already connected to local networks enabling the use of RFID entry cards. Connecting entry pads to the internet enables the use of smartphone apps for entry by way of NFC transmitters available on modern smartphones. Continuing on outside the home roads and bridges are also candidates to become a part of the internet of things. Toll road fee collection can be automated with the use of NFC, a smartphone, and an internet connection letting municipalities cut costs on toll booth operators. The same methodology can also be applied to toll bridges. Smart roadways could also monitor their maintenance and weather conditions enabling maintenance crews to act quicker without the initial inspection.

Canada is a country that is vast and remote. Providing the area has at least basic mobile network coverage it’s entirely possible to automate the collection of environmental data. Environmental data includes monitoring of the weather, air quality, and water quality. In seismologically active regions remote seismometers can call home and provide information without needing to send a geologist out to retrieve the data. Accessing this data quickly via the internet allows research to happen quicker which ultimately results in faster results.

The internet was not designed with security and privacy in mind. As a result for the longest time only critical connections were encrypted (banking, shopping carts, etc.) Now we’re starting to see more connections encrypted every day. This is ultimately a good thing to protect users data from prying eyes but it only goes so far. The mindset around security needs to change.

As with the internet, applications were not and often are not designed with security in mind. Nothing is more emblematic of this than the influx of internet based worms and viruses that Windows XP was plagued by early in its existence. Apple protects users on iOS by the app store which has been mostly successful and the application sandbox on OS X. Microsoft protects users with User Account Control and Windows Defender. New internet based devices, even the most innocent need to be designed with security in mind first. This is perhaps the largest challenge facing the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things was inevitable as mobile broadband access became ubiquitous. In general the trend over the last 20 years has been for technology to shrink in size (except for the rise of phablets). This has lead to smaller devices and the tendency to connect everything. We’re in an odd situation now where we have hardware that wants to get smaller and lead us in new directions but we haven’t had a revolutionary piece of software in a long time. Once the software catches up to better enable interacting with the Internet of Things our perspective on the world will change once again. Technology can and should enhance our lives; let it, and do not be afraid.

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