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A new era of hyperconnectivity: Internet of Things (IoT) and Wearables

A new era of hyperconnectivity: Internet of Things (IoT) and Wearables

Introduction

Imagine owning an alarm clock, that while buzzing to wake you up, simultaneously notifies the coffee machine to start brewing… What if office equipment could register when you were running low on supplies, and automatically reorder more?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the forefront of the next technological revolution, following smartphones and the deployment of the Internet in the early 2000s. It is imperative for CIOs and IT leaders to understand the potential implications, opportunities and challenges presented by IoT, as well as how to effectively implement it in their businesses to improve market leadership.

The IoT is essentially the connection of physical objects (things) to the Internet and to each other. For example, cell phones, coffee machines, heart monitors, and even lamps can be connected – as long as an object can capture and transmit data, it can be connected. It promotes the idea of increased machine-to-machine communication and is built on cloud computing and networks of data gathering sensors. The collected data is measured, evaluated and utilised in a way that becomes useful to the user, whether that be an individual, company or even entire cities – with the end goal to improve day-to-day experiences. Although each individual ‘thing’ seems to differ in function, they will still be able to communicate with each other and work in tandem.

  • There are infinite opportunities and connections that can be created in our immediate surroundings, many of which we can’t properly comprehend the impact of today. These have only been made possible due to recent technological changes that have come about recently to enable the rise of IoT:
  • Cheap sensors: prices have decreased by about 50% in the last 10 years
  • Cheaper bandwidth: price has decreased by nearly 40 times in the last 10 years
  • Cheap processing: price has declined by nearly 60 times in the last 10 years
  • Smartphones: serve as a remote control hub
  • Ubiquitous wireless coverage – wireless connectivity is available for free or at a very low cost almost everywhere in the world
  • Big data – availability of big data analytics is key for the implementation of IoT

Wearable technology (“wearables”) are technological devices worn on the human body that contain sensors that can gather and collect raw data, and relay it into a database. As you may realise, this is one application of IoT, as it takes data from the body, analyses it and links it to some other form of technology, most commonly the smartphone. It is considered one of the greatest and most influential applications, as it changes the way consumers interact with their environment.

Most types of wearables provide a single function such as fitness tracking (Fitbits), health monitoring and message display, while others have integrated several functions into the one device. The market is currently dominated by the health, wellness and activity tracking market, however we are likely to see the emergence of many new applications in the near future.

Consider the following

  • By 2020 the typical family home will contain up to 500 networked devices
  • There are estimates of between 30-50 billion connected ‘things’ by the same year – including both new IoT devices and traditional computing devices e.g. smartphones
  • $6 billion will flow into IoT solutions, including application development, device hardware, system integration, data storage, security, connectivity
  • All of this will generate $13 trillion by 2025
  • Today’s devices already have between 6-9 sensors, such as magnetometers, proximity and barometers
  • 40.3 billion Euro has been spent on connected car technology, 15.5 billion of which is to do with increasing safety
  • Currently 10% of cars have built-in connectivity, and by 2020 60-70% of cars will have it
  • The 1990’s Internet wave connected 1 billion users
  • 2000’s mobile wave connected another 2 billion users
  • The global wearable technology market is predicted to increase from $US 750 million in 2012 to $US 5.8 billion in 2018
  • The number of wearable devices shipping will increase tenfold from 13 million in 2013, to 130 million in 2018

Opportunities

  • In a survey conducted by McKinsey & Company, executives highlighted the growing significance of enterprise IoT for their strategic priorities, namely:
  • Optimisation of service operations
  • Improving visibility into operations
  • Enabling new business models
  • Devising new product and service offerings

IoT can be used to improve business functions in a multitude of industries, particularly in areas such as diagnostics, predictive maintenance, monitoring and inspection.

Large Corporates
  • IoT has enormous potential to disrupt large corporates by improving efficiency, productivity, operations and processes. However, in order to reap the benefits of IoT, companies need to prepare not only their risk managers and R&D departments, but also communicate and drive the importance to all employees. Below are a few examples of how companies can slowly begin planning for the adoption of IoT:
  • Create IoT adoption catalysts within the company – such as a team with specific expertise on IoT technologies, best practices and applications
  • Build a sandbox infrastructure for innovation and experimentation – This is a type of testing environment that enables new software and programs to be tested, evaluated and monitored in such a way that it doesn’t impede on any other running programs. Simulations can be developed, data analysed and feedback collected which is highly beneficial when testing new IoT concepts within a company
  • Prepare your infrastructure to be IoT ready – If IoT is adopted into today’s current infrastructure, it will hinder the success of adoption greatly.
  • Companies need to ensure their data and security standards are up to scratch
  • Legacy, operations and specialised systems need to be integrated
  • Data will need to be managed from an array of sources
  • Systems need to be agile and scalable to meet dynamic workloads
  • Partnering with external IoT experts – so that there is greater specialised learning and knowledge transfer, better execution and reduced risk.
  • Similarly, as wearables become more affordable, there is a high chance they will become more integrated in a company’s everyday practice. For example:
  • A Swedish company, Epicentre, now has their employees fitted with RFID implants under their skin, which is used as swipe access to the office, to buy lunch and share their business card
  • British supermarket chain, Tesco, uses wearables on their warehouse employees, to keep track of product orders, forecast completion time and allot new tasks. This has helped increase efficiency, by decreasing the number of full time employees by 18% from 2007-2012
  • BP in the US, gave 25,000 employees Fitbits so that they could record physical activity that could result in cheaper health plans

Evidently, these examples demonstrate the increasing use of wearables to obtain data about employees. However, management should consider the relevance of using wearables in the workplace… If it isn’t directly related to the job, should the company be obtaining data about steps taken, or an employee’s whereabouts? Companies need to manage the deployment of wearables to their workforce very carefully, as it could actually hinder productivity, due to increased stress and lower morale.

Industrial sector

The IoT has the potential to make great waves in the manufacturing sector, particularly since there is an abundance of ‘things’ that can be measured. This data can be analysed and measured to better inform key business and operational decisions. Successful factories could be automated to reduce overall labour costs, material waste, monitor exertion levels of employees using wearable technology, and maintain quality of infrastructure and machinery, with alerts being sent when maintenance is required.

Wearable devices would primarily be used to improve safety in industrial sectors including mining, oil, gas and transport. For example SmartCap Technologies has developed a fatigue monitoring solution designed to detect microsleeps in truck drivers and operators of heavy machinery. It monitors brain waves to ensure you aren’t falling asleep while completing tasks.

Furthermore, there are other solutions designed to measure worker stress and broadcast safety related data from employees wearing IoT devices. This could be used to warn others of hazards or alert people if an accident has happened, such as falling down a mine.

Healthcare sector

The healthcare industry has the potential to be transformed to benefit patients and staff greatly, while helping reduce healthcare costs. IoT within the healthcare industry is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of over 35% between the years of 2015-2020. Using wearables, health data can be transmitted in real time for viewing by medical professionals, regardless of whether the patient is in the hospital or at home, which is particularly beneficial for less mobile patients, or those that live in regional areas far from main hospitals.

Medical staff would be able to monitor vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure, to ensure that preventative or corrective measures can be taken as soon as possible. Similarly, paramedics can use IoT devices to capture patient data and transmit it to the Emergency Department in real time – so that by the time a patient arrives, the doctors already have a plan of action in place, instead of wasting time.

Researchers in Japan have recently created a type of wearable technology in the form of stretchy, ultrathin, electric skin that is worn over the body and can read and display the wearer’s heartbeat. Nanomesh sensors record information that is sent to the user’s smartphone, external storage device or to the cloud. While the functionality is similar to what is offered by current technologies, the seamless nature and interconnectivity make it much more desirable.

Hospitals in Florida are also piloting a new wearable solution, IntelligentM, which is an RFID wristband with motion sensors that alerts medical staff when they have washed their hands in accordance with World Health Organisation’s guidelines, or if they walk into a patient’s room without washing their hands first. This significance of medical staff washing their hands is immense, as it has been found that 70% of the infections that are caught while visiting a hospital, could be prevented if staff followed basic hand washing guidelines.

Smart Cities

By connecting objects, infrastructure and other ‘things’ within a city, the prospect of smart cities is an idea that is set to make our lives better and safer; for example, by reducing waste and energy usage, improving transportation and increasing safety standards.

  • Some common urban things that can be transformed include:
  • Rubbish bins with sensors, which allow city councils to optimise trash pickups when the bins actually become full, thus saving costs and creating cleaner streets
  • Motion sensor street lights which, which automatically turn on when someone is nearby
  • Noise sensors can be installed all around cities so that high traffic and concentration of people can be detected, allowing for better pollution control
  • Illuminated escort drones to be added to university campuses. These provide a connected experience for safe commutes across campus, particularly at night. Each drone could have camera, speakers, GPS, microphones and facial recognition for the person who requests its service
Parking

Parking is one thing that has already been transformed through IoT, but has the potential to grow further. Currently, IoT has been implemented for parking in numerous shopping centre car parks. Sensors are installed either above or below the ground which have a light that flashes red if the parking space is taken, and green if it’s free, thus allowing drivers to see ahead where they can park. This also displays how many available parking spaces there are in each area. This utilisation can similarly be used for street parking, to create a real time parking map as shown on the left.

This could be implemented in conjunction with a smartphone app that would make finding street parking much faster and easier rather than blindly driving around in search. These sensors could also offer a solution for parking control offers, who can be directed to parking violations, or hazardous parking that could potentially lead to accidents (i.e. in passenger drop off zones, loading and bus zones). It could also offer smart parking solutions, which notify drivers that their parking meter is about to expire and gives them an option to extend using an app on their phone.

Cars
  • The application of data sensors and networks to cars would allow the creation of far safer and fuel efficient vehicles. The IoT could be used for intra-car communications, car to driver/passengers, car to car, or car to infrastructure. In addition, there could be improvements to:
  • Navigation systems – including obstacle detection, measuring distance away from other cars, unintended lane departures
  • Driver alert services - monitoring driver intoxication, fatigue or distractions
  • Sensor communications - oil, engine, airbags, tyre pressure
Nature

Sensors could be added in a variety of settings – soil, crops, air – to detect abnormal levels of gas, minerals, water and other elements that would impact the quality of life. For example, in order to detect and prevent forest fires, levels of combustion gases in an area could be monitored. Similarly, soil moisture and general healthy could be monitored in crops, to determine what else would be required to ensure a good harvest.

IoT could also be of use during natural disasters when open data could provide locals with accurate and up to date information about water levels (tracked from flood barriers), or the most accessible route to evacuate or to shelters. Furthermore, it could assist federal, state and local governments to devise a quick but informed strategy to manage a response. Using IoT could more efficiently and safely address these disasters, but emergency response teams must have the knowledge and be receptive to receiving, interpreting and responding to the data.

Challenges and Threats

IoT reaches all consumers who have electronic devices, families buying state of the art appliances, businesses using internet connected equipment, cities installing connected parking metres, etc. Hence, it is with no surprise that a number of challenges and threats are present, particularly with the uploading of personal data and information in the cloud, and being shared between so many devices. Below are some of the main issues that need to be considered with the increasing prominence of IoT and wearables in our everyday lives.

Security

Security is one of the biggest issues in the commercialised implementation of IoT, with attacks on IoT being up 280% in 2017. Currently, experts believe that not enough is being done to build security into data sensors and IoT in these early stages. As IoT gradually increases in distribution and popularity, there will be a greater number of opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities through poorly designed devices, which can expose user’s data to theft. Gartner anticipates that one third of all cyber attacks will be on IoT by 2020.

Further measures need to be taken to improve the security of basic devices such as routers, satellites and smart TV’s, which are manufactured with little regulator control. Smart appliances either have a highly-breachable cybersecurity measure of none at all, particularly for homeware such as a Wi-Fi toaster, which is very unlikely to be defended by a firewall, or even a password. On the other hand, more data sensitive items such as door pin codes and fire alarms are likely to be better protected, but if they are Bluetooth enabled or share the same Wi-Fi network as less protected devices, they could easily become exposed to security issues.

One of the main security issues is that most IoT devices don’t provide a way to update software, add new features or correct security concerns. One way to address this is code signing, which proves the origin and integrity of executable software of any file. This is of particular use as hackers commonly take advantage of software update processes to introduce malware into devices.

Another concern is that the people using or installing IoT devices are individuals that often have little knowledge about security, which makes them a susceptible target. The most viable proposed solution is to have intelligent IoT security systems that are able to identify all connected devices, their weaknesses and take action. This would involve pattern recognition, approval/denial of networks and being able to learn from precedent in order to continuously improve.

Privacy

Following on from security, privacy is the next largest challenge that must be overcome for IoT, as it extends far beyond privacy issues that currently exist. For example, the US Constitution has no explicit mention of privacy in today’s day and age, so imagine how much more of our private information will be accessible when there are data sensors recording every minimal aspect of our lives.

Issues of privacy will increase as more sensors are installed in cities, which will be able to constantly track individuals from the moment they step foot out of their door, to when they reach their final destination. Many people may see this as a violation of privacy, which is disconcerting if people are attending to personal matters such as HIV clinics, abortion clinics, etc.

Storage Issues and Energy Demands

Most of the data generated by smart devices is only needed briefly to pass on these signals to other devices, and doesn’t need to be stored. However, some data might need to be stored for one or two weeks at most, which would increase the energy demand required by IoT. The increase of connected devices in general, will increase energy demands far more than the ones created by the rise of the Internet.

In 2012, the data centres that powered the internet were estimated to required 30 billion ways of electricity per year. The IoT is predicted to require much more, and meeting demand will be difficult even with improved batteries and the advancement of green energy such as solar and wind. Hence one goal should be to extend battery life by 10 to 20 percent.

Implementation Problems

The introduction of new technology or innovation into a company will undoubtedly present a number of teething issues at the start. While employees and managers see the potential benefits that will arise from prolonged use, these are often hard to see if not implemented correctly within an organisation. It is only with implementation, and training to understanding use cases, that these benefits can be reaped.

In a survey conducted by McKinsey & Company, 60% of managers believe that data captured from IoT sensors provides valuable insights that have the ability to help managers make better informed decisions. However, 55% also believed that less than 10% of this information is actually used at all. For example, at one particular gag rig with over 30,000 sensors, managers only used 1% of data extracted. Hence it is evident that IoT will only become useful if managers are able to find a way to add value using the abundance of data gathered

In addition, further implementation problems could arise if the company lacks specific capabilities or expertise necessary to extract and analyse data. IoT solutions need to be properly integrated into existing business workflows, otherwise they will just be an additional cost that adds little value

Author(s)

Gabbie Anastasi
Gabbie Anastasi
John Colvin, Gabbie Anastasi

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