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Column Demystifying the 'Internet of Things'

The second internet revolution will be all about linking to physical objects to monitor and collect information.

THIS MORNING Silicon Republic is holding its annual Innovation Ireland Forum. At the Forum, academics, entrepreneurs and industry will get together and discuss what policies and practices are needed to ensure Ireland continues to enable and promote innovation in the future. New and emerging innovation trends will be discussed and, in particular, we’ll be hearing a lot about the Internet of Things, with inputs from a number of international and Irish guest speakers on this topic.

But just what is the Internet of Things, and is it in any way relevant to our daily lives?

If you do a quick online search, you’ll find thousands of definitions for ‘the Internet of Things’ (IoT). Many of these are complex and unwieldy, and you’d be forgiven for thinking this is unlikely to affect you any time soon. However, it is quite likely that you’ve already been exposed to the IoT, without really even noticing.

I think Philip Moynagh, Vice President at Intel, puts it very well: up to now we have been dealing with the Internet of Screens – so we link to the internet via our smartphones, our laptops, our PCs – even our televisions. That was the first internet revolution. The second internet revolution will be all about linking to the internet via physical objects – whether its sensors in cars, our traffic management hardware like traffic lights, sensors on our bodies that help monitor our health and well-being – maybe putting sensors in collars on cattle to monitor their whereabouts or their health – all connecting back to the internet.

It is not an intangible concept. IoT can be about everyday physical objects connecting via with the internet in ways that help us live our lives more ‘smartly’. We’re even talking here about everyday objects like coffee machines, lamps, washing machines, security systems, home thermostats and healthcare tools.

Take the example of a washing machine: think of how handy it would be to have your machine connected to the internet, so that it could send you an alert when something is amiss, perhaps even notify a technician directly of a problem without you having to so much as make a call. This technology already exists. Or if like me, mornings are hard, you could connect your alarm to your kitchen appliances, so – when it goes off at 6am – it could simultaneously notify your kettle to boil water for your morning cuppa.

There is the fear that IoT could lead to some ‘Big Brother’ type world, where your every move is monitored for sinister purposes. And it is indeed crucial that the security and privacy issue are tackled, if there is to be uptake of the technologies associated with IoT.  However, these technologies also offer phenomenal potential in terms of addressing major global challenges, such as climate change, healthcare, and independence for an ageing population and more liveable cities.

Imagine the energy savings if our electrical appliances automatically detected when the most wind was blowing and power entering the grid, and just turned themselves on accordingly? And if our electricity providers offered us lower tariffs for doing this? Good for the planet and good for our pockets. Imagine if those suffering from certain ailments could have their vitals monitored in such a way that their medical carer was notified if there was any significant change, indicating a problem.

Apart from the positive impact IoT can have on our day-to-day lives, innovative businesses have a lot to gain here. The IoT market was valued at €473 million last year, and will be worth an estimated €5.5 trillion between now and 2020. So as well as private individuals, there’s an imperative our Irish innovators to get to grasps with this new term. It would be pretty cool if the next Nest was to come out of Ireland.

Ann O’Dea is co-founder and CEO of Silicon Republic, Ireland’s leading technology and innovation news service. @siliconrepublic #IIF14

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