Getting Smart About The Internet Of Things

Posted on May 13, 2016

wireless internet signal illustrationImagine a world where your alarm clock can talk. When it wakes up, it yells down to your coffee pot inthe kitchen, instructing it to brew a cup of coffee. You get showered and dressed, and by the time you’re ready to leave, you have a delicious cup of coffee waiting for you. Now imagine that you step outside, get in your car and head out on your normal commute to work – but there’s been an accident. Traffic is starting to pile up. A traffic signal loudly shouts to your car, warning it of the upcoming congestion. Your car then sends a text message to your boss, letting him know that you’re going to be late. This is a world where everything talks to everything else, and it’s not so imaginary. In fact, it’s becoming reality, and experts have dubbed it the “Internet of Things.”

The Internet of Things is described as the network of physical objects – whether they be devices, appliances, vehicles, buildings, people, etc. – that are embedded with network connectivity (software, sensors, etc.) that enables the objects to transmit data about themselves and other objects. Made possible by ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage and falling broadband prices, today there are about 5 billion “things” that are connected to the Internet, and researchers predict that by 2020, this number will be closer to 25 billion.

The Internet of Things has already found its way into the trades. Take, for example, Wi-Fi thermostats like Honeywell’s Internet IllustrationWi-Fi 9000. It allows users to adjust their heating and cooling controls from a smartphone whether they are home or not. Tool manufacturers have also joined the revolution. Milwaukee’s ONE-KEY™ program, through which power tools sync wirelessly to an app, lets users control the settings of the tools and transmit usage data between the job site and the back office. Trade professionals will only see more and more equipment becoming part of the Internet of Things.

On a much grander scale, the Internet of Things will most likely mean the birth of “smart cities.” These “smart cities” will include advances like roads that send warning messages and reroute traffic according to climate situations and traffic jams, or buildings that monitor conditions and alert owners to potential repairs. These “smart cities” will require infrastructure to be either rebuilt or retrofitted, and that means new opportunities for contractors and other building professionals.

It can also mean a safer place to live. For example, take the tragic collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2007. Steel plates in the bridge weren’t able to handle the bridge’s load, and it ultimately collapsed, killing a dozen people. Now, imagine that a bridge is made with “smart” cement – cement that contains sensors that monitor stresses, cracks and loads. This cement could communicate with a computer and alert city engineers to fix problems before they become tragedies. Think about if there was ice on the bridge. The same sensors used to monitor the bridge’s health could also detect weather conditions and communicate them with motorists in the area, asking them to slow down.

The Internet of Things presents many opportunities, but as with anything new, there are some concerns as well, mainly with security and potential job replacement. Some say that automation could render human workers obsolete. However, according to experts in the electrical industry, including leaders from Schneider Electric, Legrand and Phillips, it will have just the opposite effect, creating millions of job opportunities worldwide.

Security and privacy seem to be the more pressing issues. With exposure to Internet connectivity, could a hacker reprogram your smart car or washing machine? These are legitimate concerns, but engineers and computer programmers are hard at work addressing them. Just as online banking made the flow of money more efficient, the benefits promised by the Internet of Things may very well outweigh the concerns it presents. One way or the other, it seems that the Internet of Things is the shape of things to come.

Smart Things

Here are four interesting examples of the Internet of Things that already exist today.

    This combo smoke and carbon monoxide detector identifies and alerts homeowners of a smoke or CO emergency even when no one is home. It’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled to let users remotely test and silence alarms via an iPhone or iPad. The system will even talk back, letting users know what and where the danger is.
    This athletic shirt from Ralph Lauren utilizes cutting-edge silver fibers woven directly into the fabric to stream biometrics such as heart rate and energy output to an iPhone or AppleWatch.
    This smart item plugs into a regular outlet and accepts a power cord from any other device. It can then be used to turn the device on or off from your smartphone.
    These 9-volt batteries include Wi-Fi compatibility, allowing the battery to communicate with a smartphone app to alert users when a smoke alarm sounds or if the batteries are running low.