While the Internet of Things (IoT) may still be an emerging technology, it is difficult to dispute that it has become deeply entrenched in people’s lives and its proliferation is likely to accelerate even further in the next few years.
The First Industrial Revolution, which saw the development of machine tools and the rise of the mechanised factory system, had an unprecedented effect on the way people worked and lived, leading to a massive rise in the rate of population growth.
Similarly, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to have an equally profound and irreversible impact on all aspects of society, as it gathers momentum.
According to industry experts, IoT is rapidly driving the adoption of connected devices, from about a billion-plus today to over 50 billion in the next decade. This includes devices such as smartphones, vehicles, electronic appliances, as well as smart sensors that are connected to a wireless network.
South Africa is a clear leader in some use cases of the IoT space, with applications such as stolen vehicle recovery, security and cash-in-transit management systems. However, the areas where we are playing catch-up are autonomous vehicles and clean energy generation and distribution, among others.
There are at least four areas of IoT that have so far affected people’s lives most significantly:
1. Connected homes
This is where we started feeling the effects of IoT most directly. Connected homes contain intelligent systems, such as remote controlled and accessed cameras, fire detection systems, smart lighting systems and other security features, which are connected to the Internet.
In the past, homeowners who had video cameras installed would have to be at home in front of a screen to monitor them. These days, you can monitor your cameras via your phone, or even perform other functions, such as unlocking the door or switching on the lights or pool pump remotely.
A lot of home automation and entertainment systems are now connected to the Internet and leverage connectivity for people to be able to use them effectively.
2. Connected vehicles
Vehicle recovery systems have evolved into telematics and logistics management, which helps with routing and scheduling and other functions of fleet logistics designed to optimise the delivery of cargo.
Connected vehicle applications are very specific and are either built into cars or smartphones, which shows that mobility has added a lot to the utilisation and adoption of IoT technologies.
Car manufacturers are also increasingly able to monitor how cars are driven and whether they need any specific type of maintenance, before anything goes wrong. They can also pre-order the requisite parts, which improves the speed and efficiency of services or repairs. Other connected car applications deal with safety and navigation, among others.
These include wearable devices that can monitor your heart rate, measure exercise and sleep, and even monitor your health in general.
This form of IoT technologies is far more personal and adoption is still quite low. However, the applications are numerous, especially in the healthcare and fitness space.
In addition, wearable devices can also be used for children tracking, as well as other kinds of applications that are related to safety and wellbeing. It is in the applications and the data that the real value of IoT exists, not in the sensors or the networks that transport the signals.
4. The industrial Internet
The industrial Internet, which used to be known as machine automation or machine-to-machine communication, is the oldest form of IoT, and is by far the biggest market in IoT in South Africa.
Essentially, the industrial Internet refers to the integration and linking of big data, analytical tools and wireless networks with physical and industrial equipment, such as the use of robotics in manufacturing or process control automation in petrochemical plants.
The industrial Internet has been having a significant impact on our lives for many years now through the automation of industrial functions. However, as consumers, we haven’t really felt this impact directly.
Proliferation of IoT
The rate of innovation, ingenuity and scope that has been driven by IoT has been nothing short of remarkable and businesses are continually developing more and more ways to connect us. Within the next few years, it is predicted that the proliferation of sensors is likely to see them permeate every aspect of our lives.
In terms of South Africa’s adoption of IoT technologies, there are areas in which we are significantly ahead of the rest of the world and others where we are behind, but we cannot afford to fall behind.
The potential of IoT is simply limitless and holds great promise for improving our quality of life and bringing about profound changes in the way we work.
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