PERSPECTIVES

The Future of IoT: Less Flashy, More Disruptive

You have probably heard about the Internet of Things (or as it's also known, IoT): connected watches, bracelets monitoring your activity, lights that come on automatically before you get home, etc. For the past fifteen years we have been swamped with images featuring futuristic houses filled with screens and buttons connecting devices -from fridges to showers- over the internet and between them. Up until now, however, only phones had really been "smart".
Image of a sensor open next to a computer to be programmed

Recently though two brand-new, low-power, communication networks have launched: SigFox and Lora. They allow to easily place around small autonomous devices, wirelessly connected and powered by a simple battery. The number of connected devices has since soared: water and electricity meters, temperature sensors, remote lighting control, smoke detectors and so on. Connected devices are everywhere, from trade fairs to... train stations. The fabIoT lists 19 large-scale projects across stations, not to mention all the smaller ones that are impossible to count. The IoT takes off and both AREP and Gares & Connexions are ready to take the leap forward: the connected devices are no longer in the experimental stage but ready to be massively rolled out.

 

That being said, all the high-tech magic seems to have vanished somewhere along the way between eyeglasses capable of displaying your emails and television sets reading your water meter. It’s true that reality is often less enchanting than our futuristic visions but…that much, really? Are we really witnessing the much anticipated revolution or the IoT would simply mean switching to wireless devices, after all?

 

Personally, I think that the revolution is much deeper than imagined. Let’s take the example of the water meters in order to understand what this is all about. In the conventional system, an agent of the water company has to ring at your door, ask you if they may come in and then read your meter. Smart meters send themselves the usage data to you, the water company, local authorities or anyone else involved in the process.

 

Switching to wireless technologies may seem insignificant at first sight but, in fact, it produces some noteworthy changes in terms of organization. Data are sent by the meter itself and not the agent who comes to your house read the meter, which immediately cuts two human intermediaries out of the process. These data are also directly transmitted over the internet and local authorities will no longer need to ask operators to provide them with numbers for statistical purposes  (which they wouldn't be sure to receive anyway) because users grant them the right to access them. The whole process counts less email exchanges -at least four- but the major shift lies in the fact that the decision-maker is no longer the same. IoT is about connecting devices to the internet, even the most trivial ones, which means that information flows both ways directly.

 

Actually, on second thought, I would say that reading your emails on your shades or watch is not that revolutionary. You were doing exactly the same thing on your computer, the only thing that changes is the screen. But light bulbs that send a text message when they need to be changed transform the chain of players completely. Technological sophistication should not be the only way to gain insight into IoT. We should also take into consideration all the new people and things that can access object-related data, shortcuts in procedures and network density.

 

I believe that the essence of the Internet of Things lies beyond the marketing and high-tech hype -chief among them being the self-driving cars. The IoT is more likely to transform buildings and their management through low-tech solutions and simple everyday actions.