The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) as the name suggests is basically connecting as many devices online for them to communicate with each other. If you think that is a far-fetched concept it is nothing new – we have been using it since the advent of GSM, Infrared, GPS, GPRS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and other wireless connections.
To put the concept into further context, your Smartphone/watch, Bluetooth headset, your wireless printer or Smart fridge (for those wealthy enough to own one) are all Internet of things and require a sensor or chip to connect.
The term was supposedly coined about a decade ago, when a company executive discussed an idea which sounded bizarrely unnecessary and over-futuristic at the time, advocating for the need for a chip for every electronic device – mainly for supply chain and automation in the retail industry. Fast forward to today, and this has indeed come to fruition. We now have smart cars, smart homes and even tracking chips inserted into pets!
So, each component or part of the object is equipped with an individual chip (small processor) with a unique IP address – just like the IP address used to identify your home modem or Office server. Why would you want that you might ask? Well, wouldn’t it be useful for devices and machines to work things out by themselves, by talking to each other to solve complex problems before you even become aware of them?
This is in fact how the devices communicate with the central server to relate pertinent information: like the temperature in the fridge (to avoid food getting mouldy), amount of water used in one washing cycle in the washing machine, or car tyres pressure and temperature (to avoid overheating and bursting).
Can you then imagine the number of chips that are required for the typical household with a car, security alarm, fridge, microwave, tumble dryer, TVs, Radios, computers/tablets, lighting and heating/cooling system – each requiring a unique IP address?
The talks about IOT highlighted the need for more IP addresses and a need to track or generate them because we are running out of ‘normal’ IP addresses known as IP4 (the number 4 denoting the number of billion IP addresses available). This is because, at the birth of the Internet age in the 1980s, no one ever envisioned a time when the world would need more than four million IP addresses. But with the need as mentioned above for internet of things – that has come to pass.
Without getting too technical, the issue is being resolved with the development of a newer IP system known as the IP6. The main difference between the two but it is merely that one is on 32-bit system while the newer on 128-bit and that influences merely the length of the addresses. Again, the technicalities would only matter to the now growing IoT industry and would not affect us as individuals.
Large companies looking to manufacture a lot of parts for their devices would need to insert an IP address on each piece – even something as trivial as the car side-mirror or more serious such as the helmet of a sportsperson engaging in the contact sport.
From an education perspective, the IoT can make learning a lot more fun for kids and young adults. Toy-maker Sphero, for example, has been long making wireless operated toys like its SPRK+(pictured below). The idea is to fuse physical (programmable) robotic toys with digital apps, to simultaneously provide entertainment experiences while inspiring tomorrow’s leaders in maths, engineering and science.
There are discussions to extend this connectedness to human beings – much like was prophesied in many sci-fi books and George Orwell’s 1984. At the risk of sounding naïve to the dangers of having things interconnected and online and the advent of a potential ‘rise of the machines’, if Artificial Intelligence was to take over the control of all our devices, we have to look at the practicality and usefulness of the IoT, especially from a software development stance.
There are also a few new decentralised systems that are even advocating for a fragmented Internet for that very reason (security and privacy) to allow one to control one’s little space within the “interconnected” web. So that in a way, would enable you to run your own (private) local area network (LAN) within the Internet domain – if that makes any sense.
Blockchain advocates and companies like IOTA and Chinese-based Crypto-firm Tron are pushing the IoT and the decentralisation of the whole Internet narrative hard. It is only a matter of time before this becomes the norm. Companies are now queuing to get the IP6s and have incorporated adding them to the manufacturing processes.
Once the security and privacy issues have been adequately planned and implemented, the pros of the full adoption of IoT will outweigh the cons as we have already become highly dependant on our gadgets (and accompanying software).