Unless you’ve been sleeping under the rock for past few years, you’ve heard the term “Internet of Things” or IoT. It is a polarizing topic of conversation depending on the circles you travel around. If you did just wake up, good morning! Now brush your teeth and then check out this article about IoT that I did for Mouser. On one hand, it is preached as being the next big thing that will change the world and even automatically slice and dice potatoes into perfect french fries… finally! Other see it as fad that will subside in favor of some yet-to-be-invented actual innovation. Much of this sentiment stems from the fact the fundamental enabling technologies have existed for decades and the lukewarm reception of related product categories such as home automation tech. While it is true that the IoT isn’t quite “magic”, nor should it be, there are signs that something big and fundamental is afoot in the technology landscape that makes IoT something more than just a passing fad. This is largely a byproduct of the fact that IoT is a convergence platform that is coming to fruition with other emerging technologies and societal change including:
- Yes we’ve had microcontrollers and the Internet for decades. But the cost is plummeting and the capabilities are skyrocketing. As of the time I wrote this article I have just started playing with the Photon platform from Particle.io which is $19 web-enabled microcontroller that makes getting electronics onto the Internet silly easy. And it’s not just the Photon, there are literally tons of products coming to market that are open source and cheap. Competition from so many new competing entrants into the electronics marketplace is changing the technology landscape.
- The Internet has become wireless and ubiquitous. And people now have an Internet connected computer in their pocket (or wrist) 24/7. The breadth and depth of the connectivity and its impact, I think, has not yet been fully understood or felt. This change cannot be underestimated from the early 2000s and before.
- Huge Ass Data Centers. Just like the fiber explosion of the dot-com era that has given rise to the ubiquitous Internet connection, the current push to build data centers to store the world’s data will eventually become a sunk cost. And once the hardware is seen as just “being there” the real fun begins. Of course data is great, knowledge is better. Research into Artificial Intelligence and Big Data algorithms is going to help us take advantage of all that beautiful, raw data that we will be collecting.
- Technology changes represent a push-pull relationship with society. On one hand new technologies are invented in the lab and then are unleashed onto the world. They change us. But on the other hand, we as collective force, demand change from technology. And thankfully the human spirit (coupled with a little capitalistic encouragement) responds. The Maker and STEM/STEAM movement represent this push back into the technology space and it has responded accordingly. Over the last decade there has been a resurgence in interest of the DIY spirit and science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Furthermore, we demanded that these ideas be more open and more accessible to the masses than ever before. Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and other platforms geared towards makers have helped to unleash a torrent of unbridled creativity and innovation. Low costs and fantastic communities have thrust platforms into homes and classrooms around the world. Once again, it’s not just big business making world-changing products, it’s the tinkerers whittling away in their garage or local makerspace that are changing the world too.
- Resurgence of caring. Despite what you might see in Hollywood pop culture, the vast majority of us care about our world and our fellow human being. And increasingly we are following up our sentiment with action. The explosion of interest and financial commitment to renewable energy and electric vehicles has nowhere to go but up. People want this technology and are willing to spend money to acquire it. This is helping to accelerate development and deployment of sustainable technologies to the point that they will be the more cost-effective norm sooner than later.
So wait? What’s this got to do with the Internet of Things? Well everything. Because everything will eventually be a node on the IoT.
So the cost to embed “smarts” into devices is plummeting, and the Internet is everywhere, and anyone can access it from anywhere, and we are more concerned about the world. We need to data to make informed decisions to be interact with the world. That’s where the IoT comes into place. It’s a intelligent network that allows us to measure and quantify our world in unprecedented detail; which will in turn allows us to manifest a more mature and more equitable society in ways we can’t even dream of today.
As an aside, from a technical perspective there are some constraints on IoT nodes, including:
- Low power
- Tiny form factor
- Cheap per unit cost
- Internet connected (well, duh)