When most people think of the Internet of Things (IoT), they think of things like wearables, connected cars and smart cities, homes and factories. But in terms of what can actually be connected, the options are limitless, according to Stuart Corner, editor of iotaustralia.org, speaking at CeBIT 2016. Loreal, for example, are exploring the idea of smart make-up, a fact that reflects just how cheap IoT is, and how wide-ranging its applications are. Absolut will also be launching a range of connected bottles this year, showing the company’s shift from the manufacturer of products to a deliverer of services, a shift made possible by IoT technology.
It’s clear there’s a huge amount of potential here, but there are challenges that need to be overcome in order for IoT to thrive, said Corner. One is network infrastructure – currently most IoT devices operate on the cellular network, which was not originally built for IoT. What’s needed is a network that can work at long distances at a lower cost, with greater power efficiency – a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN). There are several organisations competing in this space including LoRa Alliance, SigFox and NB-IoT, but which will be the prevailing technology is not yet clear.
Another challenge for Australia particularly is the role of government in IoT development. The OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015 report stated:
‘The evolution of the Internet of Things will require substantial efforts on the part of government to re-evaluate and review a significant number of policies.’
Ever since the term ‘industry 4.0’ was first used at the Hannover Fair in 2011, IoT has been taken up in a big way by governments in several countries, particularly China. But, crucially, Australia lags behind in this respect; here, it is the industry that is taking the lead, through initiatives such as the Communication Alliance’s IoT Think Tank, which was formed in March 2015. A report released by the think tank stated that Australia’s fundamental capabilities were good, but a lack of industry and government focus could possibly deny Australia the opportunity for an IoT competitive edge and global market leadership. At stake? A potential boon to the economy of $116 billion by 2025. So it is more important than ever that Australia starts realising its potential in this area.
One Australian company that is demonstrating the potential of IoT is Pooled Energy, a start-up company that offers smart swimming pool monitoring, a process that previously was done manually. Not only does it improve the water quality in your pool, but it also saves a huge amount of power – which is why Pooled Energy is also an electricity retailer. Users switch over their power bills to them, which they can use as leverage to get discounts from the major electricity retailers. This example shows the possibilities extend well beyond data aggregation.
Corner offers these sage words of advice for anyone thinking of moving into this space:
Keep up with what advances are happening in the technology – things will move fast
Start small with a manageable project that includes all the components
Experiment with all aspects of the IoT ecosystem: sensors, communications, data analytics and, of course, security.
There is no doubt that IoT will only grow – the question is whether we will keep up.