The Internet of Things

From concept to reality: Plans for a network that connects everything and everyone everywhere are well under way.
By John Edwards
Unlimited Potential
Many emerging technologies promise unlimited uses. But the Internet of Things (IoT) may actually deliver on that promise. Speakers at a 2010 Internet of Things conference in Tokyo, for example, discussed health-monitoring systems to support an aging society, distributed awareness to predict natural disasters and facilitate preparation and recovery, track-and-trace systems to reduce traffic congestion, product lifetime information to improve recyclability, and transparency of transportation to reduce carbon footprints. Here's a sampling of other potential IoT applications.

In logistics, the rich data supplied by IoT systems is expected to pave the way for faster, safer shipment of nearly all types of products. "For example, a smart tag might offer temperature and historical information about a fragile object that requires careful climate control," says Paul Steinberg, Motorola's chief technology officer. "This would allow an enterprise to validate the integrity of a product throughout a shipping cycle."

The technology also has the potential to reshape the way companies build products, guarantee quality, run production lines and maintain equipment. Examples include "verifying the proper attachment to a tool, enabling process optimization or establishing brand protection, like ensuring that only authentic consumables are used with their appliances," says Victor Vega, director of RFID solutions for NXP Semiconductors. "This protects revenue and limits liability, as well as reducing the number of warranty issues related to counterfeit products."

There are benefits for consumers, too, such as IoT-enabled product authentication. "With the prevalence of Internet purchases, consumers often inadvertently acquire counterfeits that do not meet manufacturers' or consumers' quality or longevity expectations," Vega says. "In many instances, not only will [IoT] technology help identify or curb counterfeits for the brand owner, but it helps protect the consumer as well."

IoT applications could be a boon for the chronically disorganized. "Imagine that every asset in your home has an embedded RFID tag," Steinberg says. "All of a sudden, you now have 'smart objects' that can tell you what they are, where they are and their present condition or health. Have you ever misplaced your keys or wallet? [IoT] applications that help you identify and locate all of your personal assets would be great for that."
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