Why the Internet of Things Is Bigger Than You Ever Imagined
News Posted on March 21st 2016 By Andy Calloway

Why the Internet of Things Is Bigger Than You Ever Imagined

The Internet of Things, or "IoT" as it gets shortened to, seemed to be in the news all the time a couple of years ago. It was going to revolutionise the way we did everything, and it promised to connect objects to the Internet in ways we could never have thought useful.

However, the first bunch of "things" that were connected really didn't live up to the hype.

We were told about fridges that could tell you what was in them. Are we too lazy to open the door now? Or a kettle that was connected to the Internet so we could switch it on over Wi-Fi or be alerted when it boiled. Again, these were problems we never knew existed, and so very quickly the whole idea of connecting everything we had to the net became a bit of a joke.

But this is to dismiss it far too quickly, because while gadget freaks and marketing types are busy trying to sell us things we really don't want or need, there is a group of people and tech companies who are actually making it work in really useful ways.

For example, CCTV is seen as a significant deterrent to crime as the cameras are big and bulky and put people off taking the risk of burgling a house. But this visibility also means they're a target which can potentially be neutralised or avoided. If you're not careful in your positioning of your cameras, someone might find a blind spot and then the cameras are useless.

Unless that is, you also have covert cameras positioned where nobody can see them, and cameras are becoming more covert as time goes on.

I've written before about turning your old mobile phone into a remote camera. Well, small cameras that look like bits of furniture are not new, and the quality of them is superb. If someone manages to get in and bypass the CCTV, your wireless camera that's connected to the Internet can alert you if they make it into a room.

Of course, there are also alarm systems that connect to the Internet; it's not just cameras. If a door opens that shouldn't or a window is broken, you can get alerted via your smartphone. The police can be called and replacement glass ordered in super-quick time, and all remotely.

More Exotic Uses

Of course, those are great for the smart home or office, but the IoT goes further.

Safety is an issue that can really benefit from new technology, and here's a great case study.

Bolts. They're everywhere. Some of the biggest constructions in the world are held together by them, including cranes, trains and diggers. But there's a problem - they can work loose.

When a crane bolt loosens, a crane can fall over, and that's not a good thing however you cut it.

So, the bolts have to be regularly tested and tightened, but obviously, that doesn't help if a bolt suddenly works loose because of a jolt, or a change in tension, it will only be found on the next inspection.

However, one company (a local one, too), has a solution. They have technology in their bolts that are always checking the tension, and if it fails, an operator can be alerted immediately.

That's a potentially huge life-saving feature.

And what about smart concrete?

A new development means that rather than embed sensors in the concrete, a mixture is used so that the concrete itself becomes an extremely sensitive strain gauge.

This again gives the potential for knowing exactly when there are structural problems in construction.

Bringing costs down

One of the big boosts to this new technology, though, is cost. When costs are high, take up is low, so as computing power becomes cheaper, more people can get hold of it for less and invent wilder, more imaginative things.

Raspberry Pi

A student at Oxford University, for example, used a Raspberry Pi to computerise the stock management of the college bar. If you're not familiar with them, the Raspberry Pi is a computer that costs less than £30 and yet has some quite impressive capabilities.

Although it began with storing stock information in a MySQL database, allowing them to know what was being sold and have more control over purchasing decisions, it soon took over even more of the bar management.

It was able to monitor music volume levels and adjust the Sonos music system appropriately. It can also produce up-to-date menus automatically.

And, as if that's not enough, it also manages the bar staff rota, emailing volunteers to ask them if they can take a shift and then assigning empty slots to people automatically.

Where will it go from here?

With smaller, cheaper computers and sensors evolving to measure all kinds of weird and wonderful things, it's impossible to guess where the Internet of Things will go next.

If you look around your house and consider what it would be good to measure or monitor, it's pretty likely you can do that right now. And if a market grows for it, it will become smaller, faster and cheaper to do.

And if you're the first to think about it, maybe you can be the next Internet Millionaire?

Leave a Comment