Strap on your smartwatch, step out of your smart home, hop in your smart car and go! The future of sci-fi dreams is on our doorstep, and guess what? It’s smart.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has permeated our lives at every level, from wearable health trackers to touchscreen refrigerators. But what makes these things so ‘smart’?
IoT devices are, by definition, connected to the internet, and to other devices, via wireless web technologies. These devices work together to monitor their surroundings and users’ behaviours, and provide an efficient, personalised and automatic experience based on these observations.
While the concept of IoT can seem quite overwhelming, chances are you’ve already used IoT technology. From step counters to stick-on tabs that track lost or stolen items, any physical object that interacts with apps or online services falls under the ‘smart’ umbrella.
However, when it comes to security, privacy and usability, IoT users are full of questions. Here’s our quick guide to this growing trend, from the ways it can benefit you and your family to some of the challenges to consider when investing in smart tech.
How does it work?
We all know about Wi-Fi, and its potential to wirelessly connect computers, phones and tablets to the internet whether in the home or on the go.
Its low-energy cousin, Bluetooth, may also be familiar, and is often used to wirelessly connect speakers, keyboards and mice. Add less-common wireless technologies such as NFC, RFID, Zigbee and 6LoWPAN, and you’ve got a plethora of ways to make objects ‘communicate’ with larger systems.
The objects in question use one or a combination of wireless technologies alongside sensors that allow them to monitor and interact with their environments. The data that these objects collect is wirelessly transmitted to a central cloud hub - a secure, online database, from which users can access their information via online services or mobile apps, and take action accordingly.
What is it used for?
The Internet of Things has so far been most apparent in wearable technologies, from Apple Watches to FitBits to smart headphones. These allow people to track their health and fitness, and in the case of smart watches, allow for instant and continual communication with friends, family and colleagues.
However, smart technology can also significantly benefit you in the home. The much-acclaimed Nest thermostat allows you to remotely adjust the temperature from your mobile phone, and learns your behaviours and preferences to create a cost-efficient heating plan.
Smart home kits offer peace of mind, monitoring who is coming and going, and sending instant mobile alerts if there’s any uncharacteristic movement in the house. Worried you forgot to lock the back door? Fear not, you can turn the lock from an app on your phone, making sure your smart home stays secure.
Outside the home, IoT technology has also revolutionised the way hospitals are run, with wearable devices and smart monitors instantly and securely sending information for analysis, allowing doctors and nurses more time to communicate with patients.
Councils are even using IoT devices to run car parks, monitor traffic, and send alerts about changes to air and water quality.
Do all IoT devices connect?
While all IoT devices connect to the internet, it’s highly unlikely that all devices will become, or even need to become, compatible with one another. While connecting all your smart home devices via a central hub is undoubtedly useful, it’s unlikely that a fitness tracker and a coffee maker will have a lot to say to one another!
It’s most likely that the eventual systems will be monopolised by three or four key players rather than unified under one banner, similar to the way Apple and Android have various devices and accessories that interact via one system but not the other.
How does security work?
Security is one significant concern when it comes to connecting data direct from our devices. From our health to our financial details, there’s a lot of information that we don’t want to risk getting into the wrong hands!
Make sure you check the security credentials of any company whose device you’re considering buying. For example, Apple insist that all companies developing devices to be used with its HomeKit platform include specific encryption and authentication, keeping end users’ privacy at its core.
As companies work together to create more interoperable IoT systems, safety precautions will become more standardised as brands compete to offer the best consumer experience. In the meantime, however, it pays to buy from a reputable source.
I want in!
IoT has been a buzzword for some years now, but the devices are only just becoming accessible to consumers. It looks like the sky’s the limit for connected devices, with everything from jewellery to eggs getting in on the action.
If you’re looking to start off your own smart home, take time to do your research before investing. You’ll want devices from a trusted company, with the potential for interoperability, which are likely to be good long-term solutions to your needs.
Try not to get too carried away with the sheer excitement of smart devices, or you might just find yourself texting your toaster!
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