Internet of Things Closer Than You Think

Internet of Things Closer Than You Think

Arkansas Business reported in February that 57 percent of the 5,247 C-level business executives IBM polled thought the internet of things — IoT — would be particularly important in the next three to five years. It ranked third out of eight technologies.

But IoT is more than a refrigerator that costs hundreds more and can tell you when you run out of milk. It’s the concept of connecting devices to the internet and with each other. Its purpose is to make life easier via automation.

The concept can be applied in residences and business operations, says Mike Kelley. He lives in Arkansas and works for a Silicon Valley technology giant that he didn’t want named in print because he lacks clearance to talk about the company.

Kelley said IoT is useful for any resource-intensive task. It could be a sensor on a jet engine that reports data to the cloud — and not the cloud the jet is passing through.

But people need to be able to take action based on that real-time information, Kelley said. If the sensor leads to just a 2 percent increase in efficiency, that would be a multibillion-dollar idea.

The benefit of IoT in business is the precision of an instrument vs. fallible human senses, Kelley said.

But for the concept to become an everyday reality, according to Timothy Lee of the Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center, someone needs to come up with a killer application.

Email and texting were such apps for home computers and cellphones. They made both necessities, not luxuries.

IoT is growing but hasn’t blossomed yet for several reasons, like concerns over security and privacy. Kelley brushed those off, citing heuristic solutions, which recognize patterns to identify things that someone might be disguising as other things in order to gain access.

Connected devices should be encrypted, limited in what they have access to, and detection is key, he said. “It’s an arms race between the good guys and the bad guys.”

Concerning privacy, Kelley said companies already have more information about you than you’d want them to — companies like Kroger, which knows just which coupons to send to customers who scan in loyalty cards.

But when it takes off, IoT will create mid-range technology positions, like field technicians, Kelley said. “I think Arkansas is very well-suited for the careers in this.” That’s good to hear.

The most popular at-home applications of IoT have been smart thermostats and smart light bulbs. Best known among the former is the Nest, although the Google-owned company probably lost some customers last month when it bricked — that is, shut down — Revolv, a home automation hub Nest bought two years ago.

Lee noted yet another challenge to IoT: the lack of standardization that causes consumers to fear buying devices that may be bricked later by a larger company seeking to reduce competition.

But IoT is in the same stage as the early personal computers were, he said. And he’s seen more devices on store shelves.

So has Austin Lee, general manager of Arkansas Energy Innovation of Little Rock, which conducts energy audits of homes.

Lee estimates that smart thermostats pay for themselves in three years or less, even though they are more expensive than traditional units. But smart light bulbs, he said, are still too expensive and haven’t been widely adopted yet.

Other positive news for IoT is that companies like AT&T are embracing it.

Mobeen Khan, who is responsible for the company’s industrial and enterprise IoT strategy and product portfolio, says IoT is wearables like smart watches and Fitbits, smart homes, tracking devices on trucks, diagnostic devices on heavy equipment, alarm-monitoring panels, cars that have Wi-Fi hotspots, remote meters that are gaining traction with utilities, bracelets that monitor a patient’s blood pressure and more.

The company has given its customers the ability to connect these devices to its network anywhere in the world and to connect in new ways, like by satellite instead of just by cell tower, Khan said.

He also said AT&T is investing in devices with longer battery lives and its network capability and is supporting the ecosystem of startups that will help grow IoT.

The company had nearly 28 million connected devices in the first quarter of 2016, having added 1.6 million of those plus 1.2 million connected cars (now AT&T has 8 million connected cars on its network). It also saw connected devices in the business sector increase by 28 percent year over year.