The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the billions of physical devices around the world connected to the internet, all collecting and sharing data. IDC predicts that there will be 41.6 billion connected IoT devices by 2025.
The term “Internet of Things” was coined in 1999, but it took another decade for the tech to start to catch up with the vision. Adding RFID tags to expensive pieces of equipment to help track their location was one of the first IoT applications.
Thanks to low-cost sensors and the ubiquity of wireless networks, pretty much any physical object can now be transformed into an IoT device. A lightbulb that can be switched on using a smartphone app is an IoT device. A motion sensor or a smart thermostat in your office or a connected streetlight are IoT devices too.
Larger objects may be filled with many smaller IoT components, such as a jet engine that is filled with thousands of sensors collecting and transmitting data to make sure it is operating efficiently. At an even bigger scale, smart cities projects fill entire regions with sensors enabling us to understand and control the environment.
Connecting up all these different objects and adding sensors to them adds a level of digital intelligence to devices that would be otherwise dumb, enabling them to communicate real-time data.
Now, IoT is helping us meet the new needs created from the Covid-19 pandemic:
- Work from home or safe office:
IoT is leading a path to reimagine the workplace with basic use cases such as thermo scanners and touchless doors.IoT also helps with remote tracking and management of assets, which means that you can connect to your assets, machines and products to observe their performance remotely. Companies can layer on analytics to proactively avoid issues and schedule maintenance when there are less people around. Using IoT in this way can lower the number of times you need to send technicians to a physical location to check equipment functionality.
- Physical distancing:
Some workplaces have controlled environments where you know who the employees are and where each one should be located. A way to monitor and try to ensure the physical distance is through wearables. For example, smart watches, smart belts, helmets, or even smart clothes and shoes can give location data and context about where the workers are and if they are practicing physical distancing and safety.The wearable could even create a warning, i.e., soft sound/vibration, for the worker when they are closer than a six-foot distance. As a result, managers can take data-driven measures and decisions to benefit employee health and their productivity.
- Contactless actions:
IoT can also support contactless actions as many tasks and processes can be automated.The concept of smart buildings is one of the best examples of how IoT helps with contactless interactions in a closed environment (building). The simplest use case is with the smart lights where you don’t need to touch the switches with your finger because they turn on when they sense movement. With smart lights, like with other motion-activated sensors, companies and cities can also save energy and expense. The data from the lights can also allow better building management. Additionally, with room occupancy sensors and smart locks/access controls, it is possible to restrict access to certain areas if there are too many people.Another good use case in buildings is to automatically adjust the temperature per room to managing indoor humidity and temperature levels. IoT can also confirm that windows are open and the HVAC system is adjusting accordingly to improve the air we breathe without touching surfaces or remotes.
In addition to automation through IoT, the use of voice-activated applications is another way to promote contactless interactions. Smart speakers like Alexa and Google are popular in-home, and more manufacturers of office or public facilities are incorporating voice command capabilities in their operations, like in smart elevators, coffee machines, vending machines and other devices.
The Internet of Things is definitely making the fabric of the world around us smarter and more responsive, merging the digital and physical universes.