The IoT (Internet Of Things) has already changed our lives in ways that would have seemed improbable just a generation ago. From smarter retail checkout solutions, to autonomous warehouse machinery to AI powered personal assistants in more and more of our homes, the IoT is becoming a central to how we live our lives.
Beyond personal assistants and driverless cars however, what are the key technologies currently driving the IoT, and how should business leaders be approaching the challenges and opportunities that they presents?
From more intuitive customer service chatbots, to streamlined customer interactions and better retail analytics - machine learning can bring immense benefits to your business whatever industry you are in. Now imagine the power of AI and machine learning could be transferred from big software applications in the cloud, to small microchips that can be integrated into any IoT device.
This is what tiny machine learning, or TinyML, comes in. This new technology is developing lower power and lower cost machine learning which will enable ever more devices to be wired into the IoT - simply through the integration of TinyML enabled microchips.
TinyML’s biggest applications to date are in the fields of inventory management and healthcare data protection, but expect to see a greater range of applications in coming years.
Battery Free Sensors
IoT relies upon ever more sensory devices that make appliances responsive to both human command and other connected devices. Keeping these sensors switched on is a challenge which is fundamental to the delivery of IoT.
Changing the batteries in regular household devices is usually straightforward. Changing sensor batteries however, especially when there are hundreds or thousands of them can be time consuming, frustrating and technically challenging.
The challenge of creating batteries suited to the IoT is on then, and new technologies are coming to the fore. US start-up Everactive’s “Eversensor” for example, is a battery-free sensor that can last up to 20 years without power maintenance. The sensor takes its cue from larger scale renewable energy technologies by drawing power from sources like vibration, thermal, and indoor solar.
IoT devices can sometimes be connected to the world wide web, but oftentimes they can instead have their own networks in a given location. Some of the emerging technologies in IoT relate specifically to creating better networks. On one hand, there are low-power, short-range IoT networks, which can substantially change limited IoT set-ups that don’t need a lot of power to stay connected.
On the other hand, there are low-power, wide-area networks. These networks are very similar in terms of maintenance costs, but they are better suited for larger IoT set-ups, like plants or multiple warehouses on the same plot.
IoT platforms are wonderful when a business needs a plethora of IoT devices, like sensors, scanners, and machinery, in the same place. This type of bundles have slowly become more and more popular, and will likely dominate IoT in the coming years.
IoT and business
For businesses, IoT brings a wealth of opportunities to both drive efficiency and to develop better means of reaching your audience and understanding their needs. As we’ve written about here, for example, adapting marketing and SEO strategies to accommodate personal assistant enabled voice-searches, is one way businesses can adapt to IoT.
Other things businesses should be considering are switching to the ‘as a service’ model. Traditionally, business revenue was based on selling physical goods - whether DVDs, CDs, books and so on. While these physical goods still have legacy markets - the vinyl revival for instance - increasing numbers of business are switching to the ‘as a service’ model.
From content streaming services to software as a service to banking as a service - customers increasingly pay subscriptions to access services, rather than pay for physical goods. Adapting your business to this new model and finding the subscription model that works for your customers will be key.
A safer and better retail sector
Beyond the digital world too, IoT is shaking up physical retail spaces too. Self-checkout and smarter in-person shopping have both become a reality of retail, mainly thanks to the help of innovative IoT technologies and fully automated stores like Amazon’s Go supermarkets, are likely to be a model which ever more retailers will emulate. The same can be said about RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags, which help track customers along their routes in supermarkets. This is extremely valuable when restocking, or organizing shelf placement, for example.
The Internet of Things is set to be one of the key technologies of the 21st century. From AI powered smart-cities, to the humble voice assistant that tells you what weather to expect before you leave home in the morning, there’s no aspect of our lives or business that won’t be impacted by this trend.
Businesses with an eye on the future should embrace the IoT now and ask how their customers will be interacting with it, how their competitors might be using it and where the opportunities are to drive businesses efficiency with ever more smart devices and data.