• Home  / 
  • Tech
  •  /  The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things

By Lee Sands / 17th November 2015 at 16:35

I am keen to embrace  the new smart home gadgets that are appearing. I am curious to see if they can deliver on the benefits they claim to bring. Will they be able to reduce my energy bills? Can they help me to manage my home and even succeed in such lofty ambitions as to improve my mood and enhance my every day life? The "Internet of Things" is picking up pace in the home consumer market, but what exactly does it mean?

A term first coined in the late 90's, The Internet of Things (or "IoT" for short), is a term used for any device ( or "thing") that can in someway collect data and then connect to the internet to create a network of  interconnected devices. At a basic level its the idea that we can use the internet and all its vast amount of data to improve on devices that were once standalone and sedentary.

Humble beginnings

Internet of Things - Phones

Lets take the mobile phone. A revolution in communication that enabled us to communicate with anyone from pretty much anywhere. Before they connected to the internet they did just that. It was a very basic (by today's standards) way to communicate and keep us in touch with our relatives and friends. Looking at my mobile today, The Internet of Things has changed it into a computing powerhouse, with quad core processors and large screens enabling us to do pretty much anything we want on the internet. We can shop, bank, organise and communicate in ways we didn't think we ever wanted or needed. The connectivity of my phone was something I rarely thought about until quite recently when it broke and had to be shipped off for repair. Gone are the days of having to back up my contacts. Now they are all stored automatically in the cloud. My phone came back from repair and all I had to do was sign in to my Google account and BOOM, all my contacts were there.

This may seem trivial today but only a few years ago the process was far different. I think at one point I even wrote (with a pen on a piece of paper) all of my contacts down so I could manually input them onto my new shiny device.

Connecting to the internet is only there to serve one purpose - communication. It allows the devices to communicate, not only with each other, but with the endless supply of data. The internet would be nothing without all of its data.

Data, Data, everywhere

Internet of Things - Big Data

The data that is being collected and analysed can be used to improve our everyday lives and for this article we are going to assume that is the case. The topic of privacy and the responsibility of the people and organisations that hold the data is out of the scope for what we are talking about here. I am of the opinion that data can be used to make everyone's lives better. Its the responsibility of today's data custodians to use all of our data in small and huge world changing ways (its well worth spending 15 minutes watching Kenneth Cukier's TED Talk on Big Data Below).

Healthcare, industry and infrastructure services have been using the internet to collect data and improve on services and products they offer for some time. Traffic data can be used to better manage traffic control systems, sensors can be utilised to extend and improve patient care allowing patients to stay at home and the commercial industry can increase or decrease production based on demand. The ability to monitor and collect data and then transmit that data is the key focus for the Internet of Things and its devices. Even whole cities are being wired up to give better access to data to its council and its citizens.

Smart home, smart life?

For us as consumers one of the fastest growing areas is that of the smart, integrated home. 

  • Light bulbs that can turn on at predefined times, either by a schedule or by the time the sun sets in your area and change colour to suit your mood
  • Thermostats that download weather reports, detect if you are home and learn your schedule to reduce your heating costs
  • Security systems that can beam live video straight to your mobile anywhere in the world (as long as you are connected to the internet) and alert you if they detect motion
  • Sensors for you plants that let you know when they need watering
  • Kettles that you can turn on via your phone or schedule to come on when you get home

I want to replace my aging programmer and thermostat to have better control and understanding of my heating requirements and costs. It is widely reported that your heating makes up a fair chunk of your energy bill so I'd like to have a system that can help me to reduce that. I also want to look at lighting systems that not only save money on the electricity usage but add some ambiance and atmosphere to my home. Finally bringing it all together will be systems to control them, I don't want to end up with more systems to control via separate apps or remotes. I would like it all to be streamlined and as automated as possible.

Its interesting that both of these areas seem to have undergone little change for decades but are now seeing a resurgence in innovation. Over the next few weeks stay tuned to MMC as I install, test and review these devices.

About the author

Lee Sands

IT Evangelist and generalist for over 10 years spanning everything from virtualisation to Enterprise Lync farm deployment. Currently an IT Manager in the education sector. Co-Founder of ManMadeClub, a blog for post modern family men. I'm into anything and everything but particularly video games, tech and food.