How Does the IoT Work and How Will it Benefit Me?

What exactly is the IoT (Internet of Things)?  How does it work?  Will everything eventually be part of it?  How will it benefit me?  Will it make my life easier for hackers to take advantage of?  These are all questions that I was trying to get answered recently.  I read probably a half of a dozen articles without really getting a clear picture of what it was and how it would affect my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I got a fairly decent idea of what it was, but not fully.  I realized that it meant that physical objects, such as my washing machine, would have sensors on it that could communicate with a repair guy when it broke.  I thought that was nice, however, what if it wasn’t the repair guy I wanted?  Did I have to set that up beforehand?  Would the repair guy just call me out of the blue to schedule a time to come out and fix it before I even knew there was a problem? Or if I’m out of dish soap will Amazon send me some without me ordering it? I didn’t really like that.  I didn’t like the thought that things would automatically be done for me without me having a say in it.  I like convenience, but that was a little over the top for me.  I don’t want my life to be automated.

So, exactly what is it?  I found an article in Computer World Magazine that finally made things clear and gave me some real life situations.  One of the examples the writer gave was this:

“Here's the scene: You are away on vacation and the house is empty. A moisture sensor detects water on the basement floor. That sensor finding is processed by an app, which has received another report from a temperature sensor that detects the flow of water in the main water pipe. (When water flows, it takes away heat and lowers the temperature).
That both sensors are detecting anomalies is cause for concern. A high rate of flowing water may signal a burst pipe, triggering an automated valve shutoff; a slight water flow might be a running toilet, and the water on the basement floor by routine leakage from a heavy rain. In either case, you get a machine-generated message describing the findings.
Here's how you investigate. Via a mobile app, you get two one-time codes to unlock your front door, one for your neighbor and another for a plumber. When the door is unlocked, a text alert tells you who entered. Having knowledge of the condition of your home may be a big driver of IoT adoption.”
This sounds fantastic!  Knowing almost immediately about a problem with your home, without you having to be there, could save time, money, and even irreplaceable items in your home.    
How else could the IoT help your everyday life?  What if, for instance, it helped make running your errands faster?  Imagine this:  you need to get your hair cut, go to the grocery store to get stuff for dinner, and pick up the kids from school.  You leave to go to the salon.  You arrive to find out that the parking lot is being repaved and you can’t park there.  It’s 12:30 so the lunch rush is in full boom and you can’t find parking anywhere.  You go on the mobile app Streetline to find an open spot.  Sensors that were placed in a parking space let the app know someone has just moved their vehicle out a nearby spot and thankfully it is right around the corner so you get there 1st.  After your hair is done you have just enough time to pick up the kids before you go to the store.  You drive up to the school and a sensor in your car communicates with a screen that the line attendants watch to let them know that you have pulled up. They call your children to the front so they are waiting curbside for you.  Next, you go to the store and you decide you want to make a chicken stir fry for dinner.  You know you have onions and ginger, but do you have carrots, broccoli, or other veggies?  You get on the your phone and open the app that is connected to your smart fridge and have it take a picture of the inside of your refrigerator and it sends it to you so you can see what you have.  Good, you thought you had enough carrots, but you were wrong.  Turns out you’re also out of milk and didn’t even think about it.  You’re done, you drive home and as you pull up to your house your garage door opens up without you having to push any buttons and the door into your home unlocks as you are recognized by your home security system.  The hall light turns on for you as you walk in and also the air conditioner since it automatically switched the thermostat control from 72 degrees to 78 when you left. Nice right?
The IoT won’t just help your home life.  It is already being implemented by many large companies worldwide to increase productivity and reduce overall costs.  For instance, if you’re out of the office and receive a call from one of your customers saying that they need 200 pcs. of product urgently you can go onto your laptop, phone, or tablet and find out exactly how many you have.  You can also find out, if you don’t have enough, if you have material on hand to make them, how many are made per minute/hr, if the machine is available, what job each of your workers is logged into at the moment, etc.   Another benefit of this technology to manufacturing is troubleshooting.  Software can be used to troubleshoot errors and make adjustments in real time.  This can give significant savings to companies.  No more waiting around to find out a problem until it causes a machine to be down for repair.
All of these benefits sound amazing, but there is most definitely a downside to this kind of connectivity.  Security issues are a very large hurdle.  The more connected you are, the more at risk you and your personal information are.  The sensors that tell your hall light or air conditioner to turn on can also tell a lot about you.  They can tell someone what your patterns are as far as when you’re home, at work, sleeping, etc.  That can be scary information for the wrong people to have.  Not to mention, what if your security system feed is hacked?  People can watch what is going on in your home.  There have already been reports of baby monitors being taken over.  Not to mention that cyber-criminals can take over the operations of things.  What would happen to a company that uses robotics that are tied in to an IoT system that is taken over?  Not only can it ruin your product, but it could injure people if they decide to make your equipment malfunction.  Honestly though, that is more likely to happen with your smart fridge or washing machine because they may not have security already built in when you buy it.  However, it is obvious that these things will take years to sort through and to address.
So, how long before IoT is becomes mainstream?  Honestly, it depends on the industry.  There are already companies utilizing the technology.  However, the programs used are brand specific.  One brand does not talk to another.  You have to buy one company’s whole system and stick with it or maybe their partner company.  How long before manufacturers decide that it is beneficial for the growth of the technology on a whole if your system is able to communicate with other IoT environments?  That issue and security, many believe, will be the biggest hurdles.  People want to make sure they are able to maintain their privacy and if everything is connected, that won't be easy to do. Below are some links to articles that I found interesting on the subject.  By all means, feel free to give me your thoughts on the subject.


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