yet2 Insights: The Future of IoT


What does the future hold for IoT? The Internet of Things (IoT) has exploded into the tech world over the past decade. From smart thermostats and home assistants to cars that interact with your phone, this rapidly expanding collection of networked devices is giving unforeseeable insights into human behavior, as well as unexpected threats. As technology scouts, yet2 are on the forefront of sourcing the latest IoT innovations for our clients. Across the board we are seeing that while most perceive IoT technologies as simply convenient devices, the implications of IoT and the resulting data are truly revolutionary.

In a very real sense IoT is just the most obvious physical manifestation of our fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). It is only possible with the expansion of broadband wireless networking, vast cell phone market penetration, and the rise of cloud computing. Yet capabilities will expand even further as 5G adoption increases the speed and bandwidth of networked systems. According to IoT Analytics, in 2016 there were 4.7 billion connected devices, this will nearly double by 2021. By 2030 we are expected to have more than 100 billion devices uploading and responding to real time data collection. This is an incredible amount of information. By 2025 IDC expects that IoT devices will be producing 79.4 zettabytes of data annually. For comparison, Mark_Liberman, founder of the Linguistic Data Consortium, calculated that if every word ever spoken were digitized at 16 kHz 16-bit audio, it could be stored in 42 zettabytes (10247 bytes). That’s a lot of data! The question is: how do we use it?

Computing capabilities will have to expand. Many IoT devices work by sending data packets back to a main server to be processed. Edge computing expands this by using distributed systems to process this data closer to the device, rather than at a central processing server. Even with edge computing, the scope of data will soon reach such scale that emergent technologies like quantum processing and machine learning will be necessary to make sense of it all. We are essentially creating and automating the internet’s sensory organs; processing capabilities will have to expand to keep up.

Extreme customization of service will be the norm. From one-off products to highly adaptive device behavior, nearly anything with an on/off switch can and will be networked to collect data and interact responsively. The classic example of a “smart home” is already approaching reality. Thermostats can adjust to consumer use patterns, blinds automatically open and close, and doors unlock on approach. Soon, your personal devices will also screen for health problems, automatically order replacements when consumables are nearly expended, and anticipate your needs before you need them. A shopping trip will include customized advertisements, size selection, expanded design choices, custom manufacturing, and drone-based delivery. Phones act as personal assistants and control hubs, each anticipating their users’ needs and acting in accord. Self-driving vehicles will know driver preferences and plan safer, more efficient routes based on shifting traffic patterns and networking with municipal systems.

Smart cities will respond to basic citizen and management needs organically. These applications include utilities like snow removal, waste management, traffic flow patterns, and more. Sensors placed along I-70 in Colorado for example, are expected to increase flow capacity four-fold. What happens when integrated vehicle systems allow vehicle-to-vehicle information flow*, and direct communication with the traffic grid itself? Increased safety and efficiency. More people will be able to use already in place systems more efficiently. Patterns of use will be better understood, and hazards can be handled early before they become critical.

Factories of the future will be modular, networked, and ever-shifting. Already, the integration of sensors allows marked improvements in efficiency. An African gold mine, for example was able to detect a leaching problem by incorporating an oxygen sensor. It increased their yield 3.7% saving them 20 million annually. Where the third industrial revolution of computerization allowed precision, faster, and safer factory operation, IoT devices, networked with 5G and managed by machine learning algorithms via edge computing allows the entire factory floor respond organically. If a machine malfunctions, it can flag itself for repair, leave the floor, and production tasks will reroute around the malfunctioning component. If order priorities change, or highly customized components require a nonlinear production flow, the factory will simply adapt without needing costly retooling.

Network security will be more critical than ever. In 2016, an open source malware called Mirai assembled a massive network of bots and shut down access to major internet sites on the East Coast with a distributed denial of service attack. It worked by scanning the internet for open telnet ports and trying out default passwords to gain access. It turned out that the bots intended use was simply to harvest income from Minecraft enthusiasts. What happens when state actors or private entities use these kinds of exploits to commit espionage and sabotage by gaining access to highly automated systems? Bad actors could shut down HVAC systems during extreme weather conditions, sabotage hospital equipment, or manipulate an industrial system to cause, at minimum, flawed products, at worst, a catastrophic accident. Machine learning algorithms and advances in quantum computing, while incredibly powerful for constructive applications, can also be turned towards black hat operations. Security will have to grow and adapt to match pace.

Automated consumer service-oriented devices like home assistant devices, smart thermostats, and wearables, while the most visible, are really only the beginning of the IoT revolution. The rapid expansion of data collection and processing is changing how we understand and experience the world. Each advancement in technology brings with it a deeper understanding of the challenges we face, and opportunities for growth. While it’s hard to know exactly what 2030 will be like, IoT is a technology that both reveals and opens exciting new doors.

 

This article is the second in a series of blog posts looking at the future of different industries and technologies. These insights are a result of a break-out session during yet2’s global team offsite, where yet2 technology consultants from all three regions (US, Europe, and Asia) gathered together to discuss the trends and developments in health/nutrition, IoT (Internet of Things), Energy, and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

*To learn more about vehicle-to-vehicle communication, download our whitepaper, Innovation in the Automotive Industry.