The Internet is a powerful force in our society, connecting people, providing a wealth of information and creating new forms of work that people once only dreamed about. In recent years, engineers have taken this vision one step further by integrating the Internet into everyday physical objects like refrigerators, thermostats, cameras and light bulbs. This leap forward is referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) and its application will create another big change.
The IoT is built upon the idea that when everyday objects include computer chips and the Internet, they can be a lot more productive. Tractors can be more efficient in how they plant crops, thermostats can be more efficient in how they heat homes, light bulbs can be more efficient in their lighting levels. Not only can devices be adjusted manually through software, they can be automated based on expectations that are derived from the Internet.
The idea is that through the power of the Internet, new information can be sent to these devices to adjust and monitor them throughout the day. Owners can use special software to change the settings to save power and money.
For example, when a resident is not home, there is no reason the heat or cooling should keep things at room temperature. Using software and connected home technology, residents can adjust their settings every time they leave the home to reduce energy consumption. The device can also use the power of the Internet to get the daily weather report. Using that information, it could automatically slowly lower or raise the temperature to save power during the day. Using a pre-programmed expectation that the resident arrives back at home at 6 PM, the thermostat could prepare to re-adjust the home environment to room temperature at that time. That benefits the resident’s pocketbook, the utility’s power demand and the environment.
Another popular IoT device is the Google Nest home video camera. This camera is primarily used to view a room in the home while the resident is not there for one of two reasons. The first is to monitor children whether they are asleep, playing by themselves or in the care of a babysitter. Obviously, parents want to know that their children are safe even when they are not around. The second use is to monitor for criminal robberies or break ins and have video evidence of the crime. In both cases, the video streams 24/7 and is available to the owner via an app on their phone. The user can simply tap the app on their mobile device and see the resulting live video stream. This provides peace of mind and incredible security to persons who did not have it just a few years ago.
On a more industrial scale, airplane engines are now fitted with hundreds of sensors and Internet connected chips. General Electric has created a powerful analytic platform to go along with the engines it produces so that company engineers and airline employees understand exactly what is happening to the engines in real time. In addition, they can look back on the performance of each engine and compare it to expectations. The pilots of course are updated on engine performance through internal cables, but those readings are also sent to a software platform that is available to other interested parties in the company. Government regulators can also get access to these readings in cases of malfunction or general audit.