By any standard, the Internet of Things is growing at a truly exponential rate – and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. According to some estimates, there are now more than 8.4 billion objects that are part of the Internet of Things. In other words, there are now more objects than humans connected to the Internet right now.
And, according to the research firm IDC, we’re now on pace to see even more dramatic growth in the Internet of Things (now commonly referred to as just IoT) in 2017 and beyond. IDC predicts that IoT spending will grow by 16.7% in 2017, to a figure of $800 billion. By 2021, total global spending on the Internet of Things could reach $1.4 trillion. So where exactly is all that spending headed?
If you think that the “Internet of Things” only refers to consumer technology and new entertainment options, you could be missing the bigger picture. Instead, as IDC points out, the biggest spending is in the area of manufacturing and freight monitoring. The second biggest area of spending is in smart buildings and smart grids. And the third biggest spending involves the smart home. And after that comes all the spending on the Internet of Things gadgets (like Internet-connected pillows and Internet-connected mirrors) that typically show up at trade shows like the CES in Las Vegas.
With that in mind, here’s a closer look at 6 top developments to watch out for in the Internet of Things over the next 12 months.
#1: Manufacturing and production asset management
The biggest spending on the Internet of Things is going to happen in manufacturing and production asset management. Imagine entire factories hooked up to the Internet, and every single pallet shipped in the world being tracked via the Internet. That would create some truly unique efficiencies in the way products are manufactured and shipped. It would enable just-in-time delivery anywhere in the world.
Here’s one way to think about this development: just think of the innovation that FedEx created when it made packages fully trackable anytime you ship in the world. For many younger Americans, that might seem to be a “given” – the ability to track in real-time where your package is in the world. But that’s really only a fairly new innovation. In the same way, you will soon be able to track any part, any asset or any manufacturing input in real-time. Farmers and ranchers are even connecting their livestock and cows to the Internet. The world is already massively interconnected by trade, and the Internet of Things is only going to push that trend forward.
#2: Smart grids
According to IDC, the Internet of Things is going to change the way energy is generated, distributed, consumed and stored. When it comes to energy generation, it is going to enable the optimization of uptime and output. The days of centralized energy generation are coming to an end, and all energy generation is going to be pushed to the “edges.”
In terms of distribution and usage, it will be possible to control not just a specific variable but also the total energy budget for the month. And when it comes to energy storage, this is going to lead to the creation of “smart grids” capable of storing power from alternative energy sources (like wind and solar energy) and then distributing it as needed to any part of the grid.
#3: Smart homes
For most average Americans, the way they will experience the Internet of Things in 2017 is via the smart home. The classic example is the “smart thermostat” like the Nest capable of controlling the temperature of a home. But there are plenty more innovations planned for the next 12 months, For example, at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, innovations included Internet-connected smoke detectors and Internet-connected blinds (MySmartBlinds). Imagine being able to control the opening and closing of the blinds on your windows to control for variables such as temperature and light!
And, within the home itself, we are starting to see more and more products that hint at the future of home furniture and interior furnishings. Everything, it seems, is soon going to be connected to the Internet. One example is the $259 Hi Mirror, a smart beauty mirror that you can hang in the hallway or in your bathroom. When you look into the mirror, a computer and camera connected to the Internet begins to analyze your face for wrinkles, blemishes, dark spots and pores. It can then analyze the data and give you a customized skin care regimen to fix any problems.
Or consider an innovation like the Smart Table. When you first look at it, it appears to be an ordinary wooden table. But it’s actually connected to the Internet, and enables activities like video calling and checking emails. Instead of making a Skype call from your phone, imagine making a new type of video call from your kitchen table!
#4: Consumer gadgets
And, as might be expected, continue to look for new consumer gadgets that push the boundary on what we can expect from the Internet of Things. For example, at CES 2017, there were several innovations displayed that hint at just how ubiquitous the Internet of Things is becoming. There was the $129 Kolibree Ara Smart Toothbrush, capable of giving you feedback on your brushing techniques.
And there was the June Smart Oven, which literally uses the Internet to help you make dinner. Say, for example, you know that you are going to be home from work in 45 minutes and would like to have a nice, tasty dinner waiting for you when you arrive. Well, you could use your iPhone or iPad to control and program your oven, and then use that same digital device to watch a live videostream of your meal being prepared. And it could all be yours for the low, low price of $1495.
And, of course, personal health and fitness trackers continue to be popular. As they are connected to the Internet, they could make it possible for doctors to monitor your health in real-time, from any location in the world. Not only can you can check how many steps you’ve taken in a day, you’ll see all the key variables of your body’s health and learn how to optimize them.
#5: New security innovations
Of course, the downside of having billions of objects connected to the Internet of Things are the potential security and safety vulnerabilities. In October 2016, for example, there was a famous “botnet” attack, in which 10 million printers, DVRs, cable set-top boxes, webcams and baby monitors combined forces to crash the website of a single company responsible for Internet site performance. That, in turn, led to companies like Twitter, Amazon, PayPal, Spotify, Netflix and HBO temporarily being kicked off the Internet.
In a worst-case scenario, of course, an Internet of Things vulnerability could lead to more than just Netflix being unavailable for a few hours. Since we’ve already seen that the Internet of Things is leading to the creation of smart grids, it could be the case that a security glitch could knock down a city’s power grid. In one scenario outlined by security experts, a city’s traffic lights could be easily turned off.
And just think of what could happen if an Internet-powered medical device (like a pacemaker) is somehow made vulnerable – it could lead to some very tragic consequences. Thus, look for continued developments related to making the Internet of Things even safer in 2017.
#6: Consumer entertainment
Of course, the really fun area for the Internet of Things in 2017-2018 involves consumer entertainment. Internet-connected TVs and cloud DVRs are just the beginning, as consumer gadget makers figure out new ways to create revolutionary new experiences that combine digital entertainment programming with the Internet.
For example, consider what’s happening now with voice-activated assistants, such as Amazon Echo or Google Home. It’s now possible to give voice commands to an Internet-connected object in your home. With Amazon, for example, you can now order a pizza just by talking to your Amazon Echo. Or, you can control the music in your living room with the Echo. You can completely control your home entertainment experience just with your voice.
It’s clear that there are a lot of exciting developments ahead for the Internet of Things. While there are a lot of frivolous innovations being created – such as Internet-connected hairbrushes and Internet-connected silverware – there is actually a lot of innovation happening in areas like smart health and the smart home that impact everyone and every American household.
And, taking a bigger picture view of how the Internet has the potential to change the way businesses and cities are organized, it’s clear that the Internet of Things is no longer just a buzzword used by the techno elite. It’s part of the daily fabric of everyday life. Many of the innovations taking place in the Internet of Things – such as new smart grids, smart buildings, and smart manufacturing chains – may be largely invisible to the eye, but they are everywhere around you. Now that nearly 10 billion objects are connected to the Internet, it’s time to figure out how to use them most effectively.