The Internet of Things offers a plethora of fancy new ways to connect devices, apps and services. This vast network holds incredible promise for users worldwide, especially in terms of personal wellness. This is true regardless of the segment analyzed: health, fitness and wellbeing; connected home; or smart cars and transport services. Yet not all devices are equally easy to use, so how do we ensure that they are designed to be used by human beings? What will the experience of using these devices be like, and what factors may influence it?
Before attempting to answer these questions, we need a clearer idea of how the Internet of Things is likely to evolve in the coming years. The IoT market is becoming increasingly fragmented and heterogeneous. Early devices were often stand-alone products with little or no connectivity to other smart objects: wearable technology such as the Pebble watch, for example, or the Aria bathroom scales from Fitbit. But over time, the trend has been towards devices that connect to one another and to the Internet. Today, “smart” objects are proliferating in homes, workplaces and public spaces: smart light bulbs from Philips Hue or LIFX; smart thermostats from Nest or Honeywell ; wireless baby monitors from Motorola…
LIFX light bulbs are part of the Internet of Things trend on account of their smartness. But what does that mean? In our view, an object is a connected device if it connects directly to the Internet using its own IP address. At this stage, an IP address is the minimum requirement for being part of the IoT ecosystem. Moreover, in order to be connected to other smart objects, an object needs a network connection (for example, 802.15.4 or WiFi). And lastly, it should have some sort of wireless interface (Bluetooth Low Energy [BLE] or Wi-Fi). Using these criteria, we have identified 11 types of connected devices, which we will examine one by one.
The simplest and most widespread type of connected object is a sensor. A sensor continuously monitors properties such as temperature, pressure or humidity. The data it produces are often used to send alerts and control other devices (for example, to switch on a light when the front door is opened). In the future, we can expect sensors to monitor many more parameters in different fields: from health and sports to industrial uses. We will be able to measure our blood sugar level with greater accuracy, detect leaks faster or optimize an engine’s performance.
We are already familiar with the first generation of connected objects, such as wearables. These are primarily wristbands that combine digital technology and wearable design (such as the Fitbit or Jawbone UP bands), smart glasses (Google Glass) or watches (the Apple Watch). Wearables usually measure physical activity and sleep patterns and have a social dimension: we can use them to stay in touch with friends through connected apps.
Connected vehicles are also a relatively familiar category of smart objects. The first Internet-connected cars (such as the Audi Q7 or the Tesla Model S) offer advanced driver assistance systems that warn drivers about dangerous maneuvers and automatically brake when they detect an obstacle. These features will be available on more affordable new vehicles in the coming years.
The smart clothing category currently consists mainly of intelligent shirts that track heartbeats and BP measurements. In the future, we can expect many more types of bodywear to join this market. For instance, it is perfectly feasible to imagine connected underclothes able to track our body temperature and other vitals.
The Internet of Things, as the name suggests, connects objects based on protocols that govern their communication. This means devices are not only connected but also can communicate with each other or interact autonomously. For example, home automation systems allow us to control lights, energy and air conditioning remotely. Sensor-equipped devices can be used to automate our homes by switching on the oven when we leave work or turn off a light when no one is in the room. As these systems become increasingly complex, they will require more powerful interfaces (for example, via mobile or TV apps). Connected home devices will also allow us to monitor in real time whether everything is as it should be.
What’s Next for Connected Devices
The trend toward greater connectivity in everyday objects will continue over the coming years. The Internet of Things will become the main channel through which many business sectors interact with their customers: we can expect connected devices to influence consumer behavior, improve product design and enhance product development.
In the short term, we can expect an increasing number of devices to be connected to both local and global networks. In fact, the five scenarios in which connected devices will play a dominant role (providing comfort, services and security; acting as gateways; collecting critical data; interacting with the physical world; and connecting objects themselves) will generate a colossal amount of data.
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