If there is one area of technology that’s changing the way we live more than any other, it’s the Internet of Things (IoT). Over recent years it has begun to transform every aspect of our lives: it’s in our homes, offices, places we go to for leisure and even on the streets. IoT devices give us better control of our appliances, help us save money on utilities, enable businesses to operate more efficiently, and provide a wealth of data that helps machines learn so they can benefit us even more.
To give you an understanding of what’s out there, this post will look at some of the amazing IoT products that are having such a big impact on how we live and work.
IoT in the home
There is a wide range of Internet of Things products now available for the connected home. Perhaps the one that most people are aware of is the smart meter which you can have installed free from your energy supplier. These meters send your gas and electric readings direct to the supplier, saving the need to have them read. More importantly for the consumer, the data they collect enables you to understand how you use energy so that you can find ways to lower your energy costs. You can even see how much you’re spending in real time.
Temperature and light control
Smart meters aren’t the only device to save money on energy bills. You can now install smart thermostats which can be operated by an app on your phone or through devices such as Amazon Echo. These enable you to control the temperature in each room so, if a room isn’t being used, you can turn the heat down whilst keeping the occupied rooms warm. What’s also great is that you can do this remotely. If you’re on the way back from the office and it’s a cold night, you can get the heating on so it’s toasty when you arrive home.
You can also control your lighting in a similar way. Some bulbs, for example, have their own IP address which means they can be connected directly to the internet and controlled by an app. You can also link them to a hub using wi-fi or Bluetooth so that you can create difference ambiences or lighting moods for each room, depending on what you are doing.
In the kitchen
The kitchen is another area where smart devices are making things easier and simpler. The Amazon Dash, for example, accepts voice commands and reads barcodes so that it can order groceries for delivery. A similar product, Hiku, is a fridge magnet that not accepts shopping lists but will compare prices for you. More bizarrely, there are products like the Hapifork that will notify you if you are eating too quickly to digest your food properly, or Mellow, a sort of boil-in-the-bag slow cooker that keeps food at fridge temperature until it is ready to cook. As it’s operated by an app, it’s possible to put your food in the cooker in the morning and then send it a message to start cooking when you leave work. By the time you get home, your dinner will be ready to eat.
Thanks to IoT you can say goodbye to worrying about losing your keys and of someone stealing them and getting access to your home. Smart door locks are now available that offer the same types of access control features that you’d normally find at work. Using Bluetooth and NFC technology, these devices will unlock a door whenever an authorised user’s smartphone approaches. The device’s app can even open the door remotely.
If you have visitors staying with you or children without a phone, you can provide them with NFC or Bluetooth smart cards, fobs or wristbands, such as those available from Universal Smart Cards. These can also be programmed to activate the door. For improved security, the chips in these devices can be activated and deactivated as and when required. You can also use these types of devices to lock bikes and track the location of frequently lost items using GPS. You’ll never lose your phone, keys, wallet or luggage again.
In the workplace
Besides being useful at home, IoT devices are becoming a regular feature of the workplace. We’ll see these both as employees and as customers.
One particularly useful IoT development is with access control and CCTV. By adding internet connectivity to these security devices, it is now possible to operate them remotely. This means a multinational company with branches in many countries could run their security operations from a single control room.
CCTV, which now uses machine learning to spot suspicious activity, takes away the need for staff to be constantly watching screens but will notify controllers if something suspicious appears. Cameras can be linked via W-Fi so that suspects can still be tracked even if they move out of one camera’s field. They can also zoom in and are clever enough to use facial recognition technology to identify individuals.
Access control cards which at one time could only be used to open doors, are now linked via the internet to business systems and provide many more functions. They can be used to book rooms, organise parking spaces, undertake cashless payments and monitor where individuals are in a building. In the case of emergency, they can be used to help the company know which staff have been evacuated and where emergency services can find those still in the building. If employees and customers are asked to muster in a safe place, today’s CCTV cameras can even count how many people are present.
Many companies now use IoT tracking devices to monitor their vehicles and personnel out on the road. This enables them to give customers real-time updates about delivery times, whilst providing the company with information that helps shortens routes, reduces fuel consumption and carbon emissions and improves efficiency.
Similar devices are used in workplaces to monitor workflow, stock levels, customer footfall and many other things. All of these devices gather data which is then analysed to help improve how the business runs its operations.
The days when we thought the internet was just a tool for browsing websites, shopping online and using apps are gone. With the Internet of Things, we can now use all these smart devices to do a whole range of things that make life better and easier. And we’ve barely begun to explore its potential. With the use of Bluetooth and RFID, we’re only just starting to see how combining IoT devices with other technologies can make them even more useful.