The Internet of Things - a world where you're never alone

Posted: 19th January 2012

For a long time now, just about everyone has been talking about interconnecting people and objects; a world where you’re never alone - always connected to something or someone. The Internet of Things, as it currently stands, is about connecting you to your surroundings and your surroundings to the wider world.

Ambient intelligence, a concept based on the idea that your local environment is sensitive and responsive to the presence of people, is a key part of the so called ‘Internet of Things’. It encompasses networked devices that can be tailored to your needs; recognise you and your present situation as well as anticipate your desires and make changes in response to them.

At an ambient level, the technology at the forefront of the Internet of Things is RFID, Radio-frequency identification. Imagine your home texting you to let you know that you’re nearly out of coffee and milk, then placing an order for replacements – the system checks your calendar and in home sensor logs to determine when you’re most likely to be in for the delivery. Going one step further, your home has a delivery hatch; the delivery agent places the goods in the hatch which then reads RFID tags on the goods and determines what to do with them. The majority of the required technology already exists, but the scale on which it needs to be implemented is enormous and the cost of implementation more enormous still.

Is this type of technology really likely to take off? Well, there are many think tanks, media companies and accelerator groups promoting the internet of things and they all believe it’s coming in the not so distant future. Some would say it’s already here, just not the fully integrated version that most people think of when using the term ‘Internet of Things’.

We can already see the potential scale of RFID technology and connectedness of everything everywhere. Many of the latest smart phones include RFID/NFC chips that can be used to make payments, collect data and provide the user with information about their surroundings. Many security and monitoring systems are now online and providing their users with real time information about their home, some even using RFID technology to determine when a user returns and performing a predetermined set of actions. The capacity for growth in this area is almost endless; home monitoring systems connected to all of your home devices and able to communicate with them directly, would result in an environment requiring very little manual control. Combined with the right artificial intelligence technology your home could be tailored to your every need.

Companies like Virgin Media, Barclaycard and Orange have already begun to discover the capabilities of all the different technologies and ideas that constitute the internet of things. Virgin Media with their launch of the TiVo box, a platform that learns your preferences and presents programmes that it thinks the user is likely to enjoy along with apps, games and other consumable media in one central location.

Orange and Barclaycard, in a joint venture, have launched NFC (near field communication) payments, allowing customers to make payments using their mobile phones. These examples are at the very tip of the iceberg but are great examples of how the internet of things could make life so much easier. It’s this ability to make life easier that lead many believe the internet of things, in its most prodigious form, will become a reality.

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