The Internet of Things and Our Digital Lives

The internet is no longer a space that we visit on a computer to communicate with each other, but it is also a platform for devices to communicate electronically with the world around them.
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Written by Hayley Axford
The internet is no longer a space that we visit on a computer to communicate with each other, but it is also a platform for devices to communicate electronically with the world around them. According to analyst firm, Gartner, there are currently more than 12 billion devices that can connect to the internet, with research estimating that by 2020, there will be 26 times more connected devices than people. 
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a computer term referring to a network of physical objects that make use of embedded technology to interact with both the internal and external environment through internet connectivity. This gives devices the ability to sense and communicate via machine-to-machine (M2M) data that is generated. The result of this is the inevitable establishment of the health and status of things, whether inanimate or living. Devices largely use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology and QR (quick response) codes. Wireless connections such as WI-FI and Bluetooth are also used. 
The following categories provide examples of how IoT is being integrated into our personal lives and society as a whole.
  • With sensors in the home, people are now able to control everything remotely; from how their houses are heated/cooled to how often their gardens are watered. These sensors also generate reminders of tasks that need to be done. Using a smart refrigerator in your home, that reads RFID tags, will result in the ability to identify which items are running low and need to be restocked. It also creates a list which can be sent as a reminder to your smartphone when you are grocery shopping.
  • Using a smartphone, one can make mobile payments without needing cash or card. Standard Bank offers an app called SnapScan, which once downloaded, allows consumers to pay for their purchase with their smartphones. A photo is taken of the card and its details are encrypted into the system. The customer scans a merchant’s QR code and is then prompted on their phones to insert the amount they wish to pay, followed by their pin to authorise the transaction. The transaction is instant and a notification of payment is received.

Smart internet-connected devices can profoundly improve emergency medical care by lessening the time it takes to diagnose and treat a patient.

  • Swallowing a smart pill, which has a small camera inside the capsule, has the ability to detect cancer in different parts of the human body.
  • LifePak 15, a portable heart monitor, transmits EKG data over the internet. The device uses algorithms to monitor a patient’s EKG and alerts emergency personnel of significant changes.  
Smart meters aid in monitoring the environment by providing real-time readings which can assist in protection from possible threats.
  • Invisible Tracck is a small device, hidden in trees of protected forest areas, designed to prevent illegal logging. This device alerts authorities if illegally harvested trees pass within range of the mobile network. Law enforcement then receives a GPS location of the production site and can stop these activities
  • Australia has an Integrated Marine Observing System, which has sensors placed along the Great Barrier Reef. These collect data for researchers to monitor the impact of oceanic conditions on marine ecosystems and climate change. This is essential to research on fish movement, biodiversity as well as damage to coral reefs. 
  • The media industry appears to be moving away from its traditional approach of only using mediums like newspapers, magazine and television. Instead it has begun exploring technologies that target consumers at optimal times in optimal locations, to capture data.
According to Business Insider, for a device to be part of the IoT, it needs to have these seven key attributes:
  • Sensors
  • Internet connectivity
  • Processors
  • Energy-efficiency
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Quality and reliability
  • Security
There are many conditions that favour the growth of IoT: Broadband Internet is becoming more widely available, the cost of connectivity is decreasing and more devices are being created with built in sensors and Wi-Fi capabilities. According to the estimation of Cisco CEO John Chambers, the market value of IoT could reach as high as R102 quadrillion by 2020. 
Kevin Ashton, who coined the term the ‘Internet of Things’, notes that, in ten years, they have made a lot of progress but feels the RFID community needs to understand the importance of what their technology does and keep advocating for it. Ashton feels the IoT has the potential to change the world in the same way that the internet did and perhaps even more so.