The Internet of Things continues to gather momentum and the day when everyday objects can talk to one another and arrive at decisions that stimulate action all by themselves is fast coming. The latest entrant to the IoT field is Amazon’s “Echo”. Echo consists of a 9” 360 degree bluetooth speaker which are the ears and mouth of an Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) called Alexa. As you wander around your house you can ask Alexa to add something to the shopping list on your mobile device, to play a specific piece of music, to order (via Amazon of course) a needed thing, find a recipe or set a timer when you are cooking, or to tell you about the traffic conditions for an upcoming commute. Alexa today is largely sparing you the trouble of getting out your own smart device, booting up the right app and tapping in your instructions. But I suspect Alexa has bigger things on her mind and will become increasingly connected to things around your home. Soon ‘she’ will be able to turn lights on and off, regulate the temperature in rooms, detect intruders (and let the police know), remind and verify your medication protocol, and of course let you know when you’re about to run out of something and offer to order it. Google, Apple and Microsoft already have their own versions of Alexa and the race is just getting started to see who will own the interface between our increasingly smart things and the intelligence that will translate all it hears into action.
Much effort is also going into figuring out the language that the all of our smart things will use: We need one common language to allow our things to chat with one another and (digitally) shout to our A.I. Here again there are a number of players in the race, including Zigbee, Z-wave and the early front-runner Bluetooth Smart. A relatively new entrant to the field is Thread, backed by Samsung, Google’s Nest and ARM. Thread hopes to create a whole network of chattering devices, and a network that requires no independent devices to manage and to direct the dialogue. Thread, like Zigbee and Z-wave, operates over many tens of meters which may yet prove too much of hurdle for Bluetooth to clear! The promise of the IoT is vast, ranging from relatively simple deployments around energy management to complex healthcare systems. With respect to the former it is estimated that we waste between 30-50% of the energy (and water) that runs through our homes with the typical US home having 40 ‘vampire energy’ devices continuously drawing power. The IoT promises to slash this waste, and dramatically reduce our carbon footprint, by rapidly spotting what is not useful and eliminating it. For healthcare, interconnected devices monitoring us will allow adverse conditions to be rapidly spotted and addressed before they become chronic. The IoT also will also see the setting for treatment and recuperation move from very expensive hospital arena to much cheaper home care.
The dawn of the IoT is coming - its influence will be vast. Are you ready?
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