This is the year the Internet of Things (IoT) will go from a science fiction concept to a tangible reality. In 2015, everything from your washing machine, car or toothbrush will communicate and work together to make your life easier.
The high-tech world of the future was the hallmark of last month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas where technology industry heavyweights promoted their latest range of Internet-connected products.
One of the biggest proponents of the IoT at CES was Samsung, whose chief executive BK Yoon announced a $100 million investment to create an open development platform to ensure the imminent flood of Internet-enabled devices can communicate with on another.
“Many people believe that the Internet of Things is something that’s in the distant future. It’s not ... The age of the Internet of Things has already started,” Yoon said.
He’s right. But from the successful examples of connected systems I’ve seen already in action around the world, I question whether his vision of a single platform to manage all devices is really necessary.
It can be difficult to imagine what the IoT future will look like. Sure, the most well worn example of IoT -- an Internet-connected fridge automatically replenishing household milk stocks -- sounds convenient. And connected ceiling fans and light bulbs that can adjust to inhabitant’s movements have clear energy efficiency benefits. But I don’t think these consumer technologies truly encapsulate the profound impact IoT is going to have on our lives.
Rather, the greatest benefits and efficiencies for people living in "connected cities" will come from smart infrastructure, services and the integration between these systems and consumer devices.
Think about an Internet-connected car that can direct you toward an empty car space, or public transit networks that provide services based on real-time demand. Uber has already shown the appetite for on-demand transport supported by real-time location and payment systems. It’s these technological advances that I think are likely to be the real life-changers.
We’re also starting to see IoT technology develop in workplaces and smaller communities.
Equipment suppliers for aviation engines and bus motors are already embedding sensors in their parts to allow for constant monitoring and service management, while shipping firms are using IoT technology to track their fleet and goods.
The UK appears to be leading the way in connected community infrastructure at the government level. Collaborations between tech startups and local governments have led to new sensor systems on city infrastructure like public bins that signal when they need to be emptied and parking spaces that know when they are occupied.
Small communities in other parts of the world also offer a window to the future of what a connected city might look like. In remote parts of the Australian outback, technology is helping mining communities overcome their high operational energy costs and minimize lifestyle constraints on fly-in-fly-out workers with IoT technology.
Mine workers use a single smartcard for travel and accommodation check-in, access to mine site facilities and to pay for food, drinks, infotainment and phone calls – creating a completely cashless community.
As soon as the mine worker steps off the plane and boards the mine site bus by tapping their smartcard, the automated system can allocate a room, turn on the air-conditioning and send directions to their smartphone, eliminating check-in queues.
For mine site operators, the real-time data makes it easy to monitor worker location and behavior. Using these insights, they can even analyze and influence worker well-being by limiting alcohol consumption in the site bar or provide workers with incentives for eating healthy and using the gym.
Sporting clubs around the world are also looking to adopt similar connected systems to improve fan engagement, payment efficiency and access on match days, while delivering detailed insights on patron behavior to their marketing team. This extends beyond just the match day experience to developing more insightful targeted communication between the club and fan.
I could list dozens of examples of IoT systems like these around the world that have resulted in pockets of connected communities operating successfully, but in isolation. The challenge is how we connect these independent systems to create a smart city.
Despite Samsung’s vision, I think our cities are getting smarter organically and don’t require a top down, government or big business orchestrated approach that determines protocols and the rules of connectivity.
There are plenty of applicable and relevant standards already available that are being leveraged to meet specific needs. For example the EMV standard for contactless payments are accessible to all and can be applied in card format or via mobile platforms, such as Apple Pay, and can even be used to buy tickets on public transportation.
Of course the big players are jockeying for ownership of the IoT space, but I believe there is really no need for a universal platform. Integration between systems will occur as necessary and as long as developers continue to use open Web interfaces, the growing power of cloud computing services will facilitate easy integration.
Steve Gallagher is CEO of Vix Technology, a global provider of smart booking, ticketing, data management and payment systems for connected communities and large-scale transport networks in more than 200 cities around the world.