The Internet of Things is a phrase referring to the expansion of the Internet into the physical world. The coming years are destined to move the Web beyond the computer screen and into clothing, appliances, cars, and houses.
There are so many directions for the Internet to branch into, as almost every area of innovation is open for speculation. However, developers are already hard at work on several of the most promising fields, including areas where wireless connections can yield real benefits in everyday lives.
Here are five of the hottest trends moving the Internet out into the physical world:
1. Home Security and Integration
The field of home security has proven to be an excellent testing field for the Internet of Things, linking up basic monitoring devices to wireless capabilities. Today’s home security systems are focused on email and smartphone apps that let users get updates and control features remotely. Live camera viewing — with the right software — is also increasingly possible.
Home Security is also showing developers how the consumers can handle switching over to wirelessly integrated products. The latest products back away from complicated wired installation and let consumers install products around their homes by themselves, often with peel-and-stick sensors that may soon form the backbone of DIY integration.
2. Environmental Control
In both residential and commercial areas, environmental control through Internet software has risen to become a major industry sector. In the entertainment industry, for example, technicians can use mobile devices to control complex lighting systems.
In homes, Wi-Fi thermostats, lights, and even plumbing devices are on the rise. Consumers can use the new wave of network sensors to control home environments directly or to set various automatic responses.
3. Health Monitoring
The medical industry has eagerly latched onto the idea of combining wireless Internet with all sorts of home and hospital devices. The most basic examples of this are armbands that patients can wear or beside control stations they can use for various types of medical aid. More advanced options include potential uses for Wi-Fi sensors in beds or chairs themselves.
Health monitoring also includes a number of different fitness and comfort-based devices. Apparel is quickly becoming a major commodity in the Internet of Things. Trackers in shoes promise to deliver information on location, miles run, and other types of types. Sensors in clothing could report information like body heat or heart rate to smartphone apps for tracking when you workout — or when you have a chronic disease. There is plenty of overlap between these fields.
4. Household Chores and Lifestyle Advice
When it comes to household appliances, a bevvy of sensors and a little wireless network integration promise to make household chores part of the data world, too. CES 2013, for example, offered up a multitude of kitchen devices that offered wireless connections. Crockpots can be controlled through an Internet connection. Ovens can be warmed up at a distance. Washing machines can remind users to change out laundry.
Samsung and LG both demonstrated an Internet-connected refrigerator, one of the more popular connected devices. Ideally, a wireless refrigerator will be able to notify consumers when they are running low on certain supplies and help them create grocery lists.
Even more potential may lie in the world of lifestyle and advice — the next logical step is a refrigerator that makes food suggestions for a more managed diet, or a diet in line with health and medical goals as programmed by users. Once refrigerators start handing out wireless suggestions, what will not? Cars can make restaurant suggestions, treadmills can email workout reminders, and entertainment systems can offer up new shows viewers might like.
5. Smart Metering and The Internet of Things
Smart metering is both one of the most useful and most controversial subjects in the Internet of Things. Closely related to environmental control, smart metering tracks how much electrical power is used throughout the home, along with when and how it is used. Smart metering can then produce reports for users, suggesting different methods of using appliances and air conditioning in order to save power and money. Users may even be able to program household power grids to better save electricity.
At first glance, smart metering looks like a major energy saver without downsides, but the availability of all this data on power use raises a myriad of privacy questions. Many organizations, from the government to marketing agencies, have reasons to be interested in how consumers use power and what they are powering. From new government requirements (as seen in UK concerns) to potential misuse of the data, this variant of wireless integration will require increased definition in coming years.