The internet is changing beyond all recognition and pretty soon so called “dumb” devices like washing machines and refrigerators will be contributing by collecting and sending data to contribute to the Internet of Things. Antonio Regalado (2014) explains that this will be likely to lead to “a new class of computer”. According to Regalado, one of the main features of such computers are cheap radios that are etched into silicon. These are now extremely affordable and this enables the connection of even objects like rubbish bins or sewer pipes. There are even plans afoot to put such transmitters, the size of a pinhead, into the human brain to collect information within and to have humans contribute to the network too in this way, argues Regalado.
“It can all sound far-fetched and overhyped. Does anyone really need a smart coffee pot or a refrigerator with a web browser? Plenty of the inventions do seem silly”.
It is true, some of these approaches do seem a bit science fiction oriented rather than grounded in reality, but as Regalado points out, silly they might seem, but machines are already going online at a very rapid speed. The Internet of Things is growing at a very rapid rate, and by 2020 it is estimated that the number of connected devices will exceed the number of PCs and smartphones that are connected. Many such computer sensors are adding considerable value already. For example, Regalado explains that since 2007 in the United States, cars have had a chip added that measures pressure and sends data by radio to the central computer of the car. New cars now already have 60 similar types of microprocessors, states Regalado. The Internet of Things is not science fiction after all. It is already here and happening.
In particular, communications networks can be enhanced by the Internet of Things, and the semiconductor industry also. Yet some such changes have caused challenges for some organisations. For example, Regalado explains that both Intel and Microsoft were shut out of the smartphone market due to power-hungry chips that they use. Organisations are struggling to get and stay ahead of the game to make sure that they have the right processors to be able to do the job, and to leverage the Internet of Things.
In the meantime, some types of businesses are benefitting tremendously. The example of Nest Labs is a case in point, argues Regalado. This organisation makes a smart thermostat that has been linked up with the internet. It now has a “network of thermostats” that it is able to control remotely. It is able to offer these services to electric utilities and this provides the functionality that allows air conditioning to be turned down to better control demand. That is a very practical and very likely use of the Internet of Things.
The ramifications of this are potentially phenomenal as Regalado explains. It is argued that eventually these sorts of capabilities might allow the company to be able to put power plants out of business. All industrial companies have to adjust what they are doing and the way that they are working to be able to compete effectively. In fact, as Regalado explains, the current CEO of General Electric, Jeff Immelt said:
“Every industrial company will be a software company”.
This illustrates the phenomenal power that the Internet of Things will have, and the degree of disruption and change it will bring. It is not surprising then that a company like Nest Labs would have been bought by Google, since all organisations will need to be in on the game if they are to succeed.
With so much change afoot, Regalado explains that it is almost impossible to know what the end outcome of the Internet of Things will be. No one was really aware of the power and scale of change that computers and smartphones would bring until after they were out there in the market place. One thing is true however, that an amazing variety of aspect of the world will be part of a giant network of computers. More and more commonly, appliances and inanimate objects will be hooked up. It is exciting to see where this will all lead.
Additional resource: video produced by Microsoft in 2011 illustrating how the future (and the computer of the future ) will look like in 2019.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.