There are a lot of breathless predictions about the future of the Internet of Things, or IoT.
According to the pundits, in the not-too-distant future we will live in smart homes and navigate our smart city streets to work in smart offices. All along the way, big-data-driven algorithms will synthesize information across disparate inputs to make our lives easier by automatically controlling all sorts of widgets.
According to industry-watchers, the IoT market has the potential to create an economic impact of $2.7 trillion to $6.2 trillion annually by 2025. Sixty-one percent of executives agree companies that are slow to integrate the IoT will fall behind the competition, and 96 percent of executives expect their business to be using the IoT in some respect by 2016.
By 2022, a typical family home in a mature, affluent market could contain several hundred smart objects. That is, smart in the sense of gaining some level of sensing and intelligence combined with the ability to communicate wirelessly.
In many cases, this cloud-based information will itself be informed by telemetry from other low-power and inexpensive devices, creating a cross-vendor virtuous cycle. Think of the sprinkler system that doesn’t come on in the morning because it knows it’s going to rain in two hours, and you start to get an idea of the potential impact the IoT can have.
However, most of the “smart” devices of today are not much more than party tricks. They certainly won’t be the drivers of a billion-dollar revolution. If it’s going to live up to its promise, the IoT must be more than adding a smartphone-based remote control to an existing device.
One of my favorite examples of a silly feature is a dishwasher that can be remotely started via a smart phone app. That’s great, but given the amount of physical interaction required to get a dishwasher ready for that step – loading the dishes, putting in the soap, closing the door, etc. – what benefit do consumers really get from walking away and starting the cycle from another device?
For most devices, Internet connectivity just isn’t that compelling. Really: How much do I care about my hot water heater? I certainly don’t need regular communications with it. I just want to know that it’s working.
Your users are already drowning in smartphone apps. With some limited exceptions in the area of lifestyle brands, they don’t want more. To fully exploit the promise of the IoT, companies of all types need to think about how to leverage a more subtle use of connectivity into compelling products and services. Resetting the lowly thermostat from my phone is fine, but what if I could receive a text alert when the house is too cold or too hot, when the furnace is running inefficiently or when the furnace filter needs to be changed?
How about linking my thermostat into geofencing to set back the heat when everyone leaves based on smartphone location? It would be helpful if my thermostat could tie into demand response and offer me a discount if I allow my utility to shed electrical load at peak times.
As for the the dishwasher, what if it automatically operated when electric rates are the lowest, alerted me when a drain is blocked or proactively scheduled recommended maintenance? Let’s not stop there. The manufacturer could periodically upgrade the software on my device to give me new features and the dishwasher could automatically order detergent from Amazon when it knows I’m running low, based on the number of cycles since the last purchase.
For the strong projected growth to occur IoT technology must evolve the dynamic between people and their things in smart and interactive environments. Product designers and manufacturers have the opportunity to begin creating products that will enhance lives by allowing smart devices to not only interact with the user, but learn, respond, predict and communicate with other devices to understand what is needed before the user even knows.
The IoT is quickly reaching the point at which the future visions promised in a Jetson-esque worldview are becoming realities. Companies that develop smart devices with autonomous operation that create additional value for the end user will be the most successful in the long run.