The Net: Now Your Smartphone, Soon Your Shoes

Internet of ThingsIn the next few years, everything from trains to shoes will connect to the internet, and the information they generate will make life easier for businesses big and small.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is where everything else (ie not just your computer or tablet) connects to the internet. Only instead of watching cat videos or buying holidays, the machines that will form the IoT will talk to each other in the background, without human input.

They’ll automate performance and maintenance, marketing and accounting and much more and give you a deeper and faster look at your personal and businesses data than you’ve ever had before.

You’re driving home from work when you get a text that a brake pad is a bit worn and you have an appointment at a mechanic just around the corner to replace it.

Don’t remember booking it? It must have been the Internet of Things. Your car’s computer system, constantly monitoring the resistance to the brake pads, saw that it needed replacing. It checked the GPS on your phone to see where you were and searched online for a well-reviewed mechanic in your area.

After communicating with the mechanic’s automated inventory and calendar systems to make sure they had the part and availability straight away, it booked everything in. When you arrive they’ll have a notification of the part you need and that you’re on your way.

Machines talking to machines

To most of us, the Internet means websites where we do stuff. But the internet is just a communication platform, and soon a lot more stuff will be wired up with sensors or computers of their own, all of it communicating constantly. Depending on the estimates, between 20 and 60 billion more devices will connect to the internet worldwide in the next five years.

Clothes and shoes will monitor your physical condition and health and report it to your doctor. Cash registers in retail will change shop inventories as customers make a purchase. You’ll be able to turn on the internet-connected lights, gas heater and hi-fi system when you’re leaving work, making walking in the door much more welcoming.

It’s going to mean a dizzyingly complicated world full of new data where everything can talk to everything else and give you new insight into what your customers are looking for, what they did before, what they’re wearing, their state of health, even the state of repair of their car or appliances.

A big data overload?

More importantly, the huge amount of information all those sensors will generate is going to be handled by other machines. Computers themselves are going to process everything (you’ve heard it called ‘big data’) and only pick out the bits we’re interested in.

The smart electricity meter in many Australian buildings is a good example. You don’t have to watch your usage every minute, but it’s very good at helping you plan an energy use strategy.

It’s already a reality in heavy industry. A large passenger plane engine has so many computers attached it generates 5,000 bits of information every second (1 terabyte every day). It gives airlines a much clearer picture about how the plane’s performing under different conditions and lets them make changes to save energy on fuel, design better engines, make the flight more comfortable, etc.

And with the Internet of Things trickling into the small business and consumer fields thanks to tools like the Apple Watch (apple.com/watch) and FitBit (fitbit.com), computers in everything from your car to your shoes are coming, and they’ll let you make better decisions about your own business faster than ever.