The role that the Internet of Things is playing in shaping the technology landscape—both for enterprises and for consumers—is growing by the minute. In many ways, 2015 was about road-building: erecting the platforms and testing the interfaces required to support the connected factories, cities, workplaces and homes as envisioned during the previous decade. It seemed as though a major tech player announced a new IoT platform or product every day.
Herewith, a list of what we think the next 12 months will bring to the Internet of Things.
Mining for Meaning
Now that sensor networks are busily collecting data from a wide range of machines and devices, corporations are looking to streamline the process of extracting meaningful information from those huge streams of data, in order to take actions based on that intelligence. In 2015, there was a big shift toward using intelligent devices at the edge of a network in order to enable filtering that reduces the volume of incoming data. This year, the focus will shift to adding analytics at the edge, which requires highly specialized software. We expect to see more end users in the enterprise space deploying advanced real-time data streaming analytics software platforms such as these types we explored recently.
The Industrial Sector Will Embrace Wearables
IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies are revolutionizing industrial processes and maintenance operations, but deploying them is hugely time- and resource-intensive. In the shorter term, manufacturers are seeing benefits from equipping employees with wearable devices that serve as digital assistants to boost the speed and accuracy of everything from parts assembly to maintenance and repair. Boeing has publicized the ways in which it has experimented with wearables, and as more technology providers begin integrating sensors and augmented-reality technology into eyewear, gloves and other form factors, we expect to see an uptick in end users putting wearables to work.
A Make-or-Break Year for Smart Cities
For the past decade, municipalities have been investing in and testing a range of IoT technologies that are aimed at making cities run more efficiently, while also providing benefits to residents. Waggle, a platform developed at the Argonne National Laboratory and being tested in Chicago, is a good example of the type of IoT technology that can make cities smart, and the number of technology vendors and service providers entering the smart-city market and launching pilots grew significantly last year. That has set the stage for a real test of competing communications standards and wireless technologies as smart-meter providers, such as Silver Spring Networks, compete against cellular telecommunications providers and makers of long-range, low-power radios, such as Sigfox and Semtech, all vie for prominence in smart-city applications. Gartner predicts that in 2016, smart cities will use 1.6 billion connected devices, a 39 percent increase compared to 2015. But most cities are still in the exploratory stage when it comes to the exact technology they'll deploy to support smart-city applications. This year could be a make-or-break year for some technology providers in this space.
A Battle Royal Over Data and Privacy
We tend to get distracted by technological bells and whistles and the need for better interoperability standards necessary to make the Internet of Things work, but it's important to remember that the real business value that the IoT presents to insurers, retailers, appliance makers, carmakers and manufacturers of all stripes is the data that it generates. But the long-standing assumption that consumers will gladly hand over access to the information that smart homes, wearables, location beacons and other IoT products collect, in exchange for things like marketing based on their interests, is being questioned. Consumer groups have long raised concerns regarding data privacy and security associated with connected devices. But a growing chorus of tech-savvy privacy advocates is becoming increasingly resistant to the commodification of personal data, as this Washington Post article explains.
During the coming year, we will see makers of consumer-facing IoT products and services reaching out more to consumers in order to communicate their privacy standards and make data transparency a bigger priority. But safeguarding consumer data is not just a cost of doing business in the age of the IoT. It's also a business opportunity of its own. For example, startup Privacynq is offering manufacturers a means for outsourcing the management of its communicating data privacy policies.
The Healthy Home Will Become the New Smart Home
The smart-home market is still very crowded with competing communications protocols, and we certainly do not have a crystal ball that shows whether Google, Samsung, Apple or some other company will dominate the race to become the smart-home platform of record. But no matter which platform gains the most market share, products designed to improve well-being will expand from the health and fitness industry into the smart-home market.
For example, advancements in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) manufacturing, which have made air-quality sensors more affordable, are resulting in the creation of smart-home products and applications that focus on environmental health, such as indoor air-quality sensors integrated into light switches or smart-home hub devices. Makers of air filters are creating connected products and apps that let homeowners better understand and control the levels of allergens and pollution inside their homes. Sleep-monitoring tools will continue to grow in popularity thanks to a growing body of research that links poor health with poor sleep. But the IoT in the healthy home will go beyond tracking allergens and sleep, extending into an uptick in IoT-connected thermometers, scales and toothbrushes. A company in Tel Aviv has even developed software that turns any Web-connected 2D camera into a system for analyzing movements, which physical therapists could use to remotely monitor a patient's in-home rehabilitation exercises.