Last year, a new internet was born. No doubt you were totally unaware it happened, because engineers had spent years working to ensure that when Internet Protocol Version 6, or IPv6, was finally switched on, it would do so without problems.
But I can promise you this: In the next few years, you’ll most definitely see a change, one that will a dramatic impact on your life. In fact, the Internet of Things is already making its presence felt. Most of us own smartphones these days, quite a few of us have Smart TVs, and most of us probably know someone who owns a smart car. Soon, we’ll other connected devices enter our lives – smart watches that can tell us how many calories we burn off, cutlery that can tell us when to stop eating, ovens that we can turn on remotely, whilst wrist bands, streetlights washing machines, pills and even bridges will all become connected.
And you know what? You’re gonna love it.
The New Internet
IPv6 was born because the old internet had outgrown itself. People are used to typin web domains like www.siliconangle.com but what many don’t realize is that each address correlates to a set of numbers that represent a device connected to the web. It’s not just websites that need these addresses, devices do to, and they were fast being eaten up – the old internet only had 4.3 billion of them after all.
4.3 billion might seem like a lot, but it isn’t. In fact, there’s so many connected devices in the world already, that the last block of addresses were already used up in February 2011. In the duration, engineers were using stopgap measures to add new devices, but it became clear that a permanent solution was needed.
The new internet does just that, providing more than 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses, according to the Internet Society.
Ipv6 is what will make the Internet of Things happen – now, its possible to tag just about any object in existence with a sensor, give it an IP address and hook it up to the world wide web, be it a dog collar, a jumbo jet, or anything else.
Sensors Make the Internet of Things Go Round
The other aspect of the Internet of Things is the sensors. Without these low cost, low power sensors, connecting the world just wouldn’t be possible.
The good thing is we have them, and these sensors can be programmed to do all kinds of things, sensing the environment around them, and transmitting data over the web, sharing their location, speed, temperature, state and so on. Take the intelligent street lighting recently installed in Helsinki, Finland, for example. These are equipped with state-of-the-art sensors that can detect ambient conditions and automatically dim or brighten themselves depending on the amount of natural light available, weather conditions and so on.
It’s Growing, Fast
One of the most enthralling aspects of the Internet of Things is how quickly its becoming a reality. Look around and you’ll see all kinds of clues to what the future holds as our devices get smarter, from your electricity meter to your Nike shoes.
Each year, we’ll see a greater number of everyday devices that suddenly become “smart”. In fact, it won’t be long until there are more connected devices than there are people – Cisco says that there’ll be 25 billion ‘things’ connected to the Internet by 2015, while the population of the Earth will climb to a mere 7.6 billion by 2018, according to the UN.
What’s Driving the Internet of Things?
At present the Internet of Things is an immature beast – we’re still working out what to do with it, and for the most part all we’re doing is keeping an eye on ‘things’.
For example, farmers are now equipping their cows with sensors which alert them if the cow gets lost or becomes sick. And we all know about so-called wearable tech, like smart wristbands that can monitor your health, or tattoos that can input passwords into your smartphone. Our homes are also becoming connected, with appliances like smart fridges being linked to the web and our smartphones, alerting us to when they have problems.
The second stage in the evolution of the Internet of Things is when these devices learn to communicate properly. In the future, smart devices will do more than just alert people to certain conditions, they’ll actually be able to talk to each other, effectively becoming autonomous. We’ve already taken some tentative steps in this direction. Google’s self-driving cars are the most famous example, but we also see it in smart homes that automatically turn the lights and heating off when someone leaves the room, or else in smart traffic lights that respond to accidents and traffic congestion to allow traffic to flow as fast as possible.
The Industrial Internet
It sounds like some kind of dark, twisted future from a Terminator movie, but in fact the Industrial Internet will help to propel our society forward in all manner of ways. Manufacturing, health care infrastructure, and energy industries will all be transformed by the Industrial Internet. GE predicts that the oil and gas industry will be able to save more than $90 billion a year thanks to the reduced operating costs and fuel consumption that smart components will deliver. The health care sector will realize more than $63 billion in savings from efficiency gains, brought about by improved resource usage and outcomes that come from being able to locate and identify the state of modern equipment.
The Industrial Internet will also make transport more economical, and safer too. Jumbo jets, loaded with sensors that record every detail of their flights, will help engineers to design safer aeroplanes and know which parts need to be replaced. Meanwhile, the data will lead to improved flight planning that leads to shorter flight times. On the road, fleets of trucks and even ordinary drivers will be able to tap into the web, monitoring traffic in real time, with automated programs suggesting alternative routes in the event of accidents/traffic congestion.
Show Me The Money
Of course, all of these benefits mean plenty of business opportunities for those who are savvy enough to make the first move. The money to be made will grow exponentially as the Internet of Things itself matures. Today, there’s around 1.3 billion connected devices in the world, but by 2020 this could well exceed 12.5 billion devices. Similarly, the M2M (machine-2-machine) industry is said to be worth around $121 billion a year today. By 2020, that value will grow to almost $950 billion, according to the Carbon War Room.
And that’s without taking into account all of the companies that are involved with making the Internet of Things happen. According to Cisco, these will generate an additional $14.4 TRILLION in “private economic value” by the year 2020.
No Looking Back Now
With so much potential and excitement, it’s easy to forget that things could easily go wrong. There will be problems along the way, with issues like the reliability of devices/sensors, privacy and the control of data all likely to be chief among our concerns.
But these potential pitfalls will not stop the onward march of the Internet of Things, not even for a moment. It’s here and its already gone past the point of no return. The Internet of Things is well on the way to becoming as omnipresent in our lives as PCs and smartphones are today, and once we reach that point, I’ll have to find something new to write about.