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The extent to which the Internet of Things (IoT) is about to change our lives in the coming decades is difficult to fathom. For all intents and purposes, houses and offices will become computers. Every device will be connected to every other device and perform a multitude of functions either at your command or according to the settings that you captured on the system.
Although many aspects of the IoT are not yet with us, the applications are very similar to what we have already seen on devices such as our mobile phones, so the transition will not be difficult. These are exciting times for our customers around the world, but especially for those within our large African footprint, who are often leaders in adopting innovation.
The first iteration of the IoT will be a home with a lot more control, allowing you to manage electricity consumption automatically by intelligently switching off devices that are not in use, for instance. As this technology becomes more advanced, the demands placed on the IoT by businesses and individuals will only increase. Much as we see with smart phones at the moment, users will no longer be satisfied with the narrow applications offered by businesses, which will lead to a host of new start-ups creating applications for the IoT.
For instance, you may want your kettle to boil when you wake up. This is easy enough to program into your IoT system. However, you may not wake up at exactly the same time every day due to weekends, public holidays or simply deciding to recharge and sleep in a bit longer. One solution is to connect to the system through your smart watch, which will ensure that only once you wake up and your heart rate goes from sleeping to awake does the kettle start to boil. For this particular instance of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, you would need an app.
This type of M2M connectivity is happening faster than we think, with self-driving cars set to become legal in the UK this year. These connected cars will help businesses in many ways, such as automatically calling for help in case of a crash, or remotely shutting down in case of theft.
This technology has the ability to drive down insurance costs by making the car safer and exercising greater control over your drivers’ habits. You may even decide to change your settings to consume less fuel and meet certain emissions targets.
Cars will no longer be subject to a static GPS system, but a dynamic one, taking vehicles away from traffic jams, accident scenes, faulty robots and areas that are dangerous at certain times of the day. These applications will connect to the car’s computer and, with a set of tested algorithms, always advise on the shortest possible time between points, or distance between points if it is set to fuel saving mode. Many of these apps have been tested on mobile phones and the uptake has been good. The transition to the car’s onboard computer should be seamless.
The applications are virtually endless and many uses are yet to be contemplated. The beauty of the system is that it will not just involve two devices, but coordinate the actions of any number of devices to create a very particular outcome.
This reality opens many doors for entrepreneurs in Africa. A number of entrepreneurs have developed apps to provide support, content or assistance that is country specific. These business opportunities will once again present themselves to those who have the knack for eyeing gaps in the market. Examples are voice-activated searches from a car to the nearest fuel station, restaurant, hotel or bar, with automatic directions to get there.
These devices will speak to each other in different ways. For example, a central hub will decide upon the optimal channel. For instance, your car will be connected to the house via Bluetooth while it is parked in the garage, but will switch to WiFi or 4G once it goes onto the open road.
These applications will be available for download on the home’s central computer system in the same fashion as smart device apps. These will then be updated as and when required, with the user either deciding which apps to update or choosing automatic updates.
IoT devices also offer the capability of being in touch with their manufacturers. More than ever, they will know exactly how their devices are being used, at what times, for how long, and for what purpose. This information will inform manufacturers as to where the greatest demand might be and to identify trends before they occur. Companies’ ability to remain competitive will depend heavily on their ability to mine the big data headed its way.
As the capabilities of the software increase, new designs in hardware will enter the market, such as shower doors with sensors to facilitate health screenings while you shower. This synergy between application and product development will accelerate the growth of the IoT industry to become one of massive global significance. In the not-too-distant future, devices that do not punt their connective capabilities on the box will lose out to their competitors.
What will also be vital for these companies is the ability of their devices to talk to each other regardless of platform or protocol, as well as the ability to control devices from a single device. The benefit from the IoT is interconnectivity, and when each device requires its own remote control, it will lose ground to those who are enabled to respond to a multitude of inputs.
As we have seen with smart device apps, the development of IoT apps will depend on what the consumer wants, with developers resorting to crowdfunding to get their ideas off the ground. These app entrepreneurs are also likely to find willing business partners in the infrastructure and service providers to help take their innovations from prototype to product. It is mutually beneficial, because the greater the range of applications from the IoT, the bigger the demand for it will be.