Techwatch February 2020

The first of a new series focusing on the tech trends driving your future business. This month: The Internet of Things, a computing concept where every day physical objects are connected to the internet with the ability to interact with each other.  

In 1982, a modified Coca-Cola drinks vending machine became the first internet-connected appliance. The vending machine could report on its stock levels and the temperature of newly loaded drinks.  

Joining it up 

Now, the Internet of Things (IoT) has become a network of physical objects – mobile devices, vehicles, industrial machinery, and commercial and consumer appliances – embedded with sensors, software and network connectivity so they can collect, exchange, and act on data, often without human intervention. The IoT provides an ecosystem where objects are connected not only to their users but also to surrounding objects and, through embedded sensors, the wider environment.  

Use of sensors (measuring temperature, humidity, energy and water use among others) is well-trodden ground for many industries (again, healthcare, or oil and gas) but for a lot of sectors, the idea of using networked sensors to improve operational efficiencies is just not on the radar.  

Walking the walk 

So what are the real-world applications? Take a food service company, for instance, with legally mandated limits around the operating conditions of the freezers they run. Traditionally, that would mean you need a man going around checking each unit – a manually intensive, expensive process, with the usual risks around result tampering or lack of oversight, with potentially serious consequences.  

Using connected sensors to report conditions back accurately and quickly reduces the cost of collecting the data, reduces the possibilities of tampering, as well as giving real-time feedback to the business. And that’s not just good for the operational performance, but for the bottom line too.  

Get connected 

IoT is now a fact of life in all kinds of places, from factories and warehouses to, increasingly, our own homes. From smartwatches tracking our runs to fridges telling us we’re out of orange juice (not to mention smart heating and lighting systems), we’re living in a connected world. And with one of the key parts of the IoT ecosystem – the controlling devices like laptops, tablets, smartphones, and wearables – becoming ever more ubiquitous, that will only increase.  

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