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Internet of Things technology in our future homes
Not so long ago, the idea of your refrigerator talking to the washing machine might have sounded like an extract from a sci-fi movie. Today, this can be part of the technology we refer to as the Internet of Things.
So What Is The Internet Of Things?
In simple words, the concepts of Internet of Things (commonly abbreviated as IoT) is a network of objects or “things” that are connected to the internet and are able to “talk” to each other through collection and exchange of data. In such way, “things” are able to sense and collect the data and send it to the internet. This data can then be accessed by other “things” too!
In the concept of a home, an IoT network is made up of devices with an “on and off” switch connected to the Internet and/or to each other. This includes everything ranging from mobile phones, fridges, washing machines, coffee makers, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and many other things that we can think of. This can also apply to individual components of machines, such as our cars. The IoT is a giant network of connected "things" (which also includes people). The networking can be between people to people, people to things, and things to things. According to a report by the analyst firm Gartner, there was a 30% increase in the number of connected devices in 2016 compared to 2015. In 2016, 6.4 billion IoT devices entered the territory of IoT. The number is expected to increase to an astonishing 26 billion by 2020!
Smart homes filled with connected objects and devices easily have the potential to make our lives easier, more comfortable, and more convenient. Let’s look at some realistic real life scenarios. Imagine that you're returning home during a warm summer day. Instead of turning the air conditioner on when you get home and having to wait for your house to cool, you can simply use your smartphone when you leave your office to tell your smart thermostat to reduce the house temperature. Or imagine your alarm clock waking up at 6:30 a.m. and instructing your coffee machine to make your coffee for you, which will be ready by the time you wake up. Similarly your fridge can identify the supply it is running low on either re-order it automatically or send you a message to buy it on your way back home. Outside of the home and on the way to an appointment or a meeting, your car could have access to your calendar and already know the best route to take. If the traffic is heavy your car might send a text to the other party notifying them that you will be late.
IoT devices have the ability and potential to free up the residents’ time so that this spare time can be used to perform other daily tasks. In addition to this, these devices can help with the reduction of both costs and energy consumption. Still, smart homes are only a small part of our daily lives that will be transformed trough IoT in the near future. On a larger scale, it can be applied to wider systems such as transportation networks and other public infrastructure, resulting in the concept of “smart cities”, which will raise the IoT technology to the next level and will again save energy waste, time and cost and increase efficiency on a wider scale.
Like all other new and emerging technologies IoT comes with its own set of limitations and drawbacks. For example, smart home devices are typically more expensive than their normal non-connected counterparts. This may discourage some potential consumers from approaching smart home devices. However, the cost of smart devices has reduced in the past 2 years and will continue to do so in the years to some. Another important consideration is to have compatible standards within an IoT network. We know that the connected objects need to be able to speak to each other to transfer data and share what they are recording. If they all run on different standards, then they will struggle to communicate and exchange data with each other.
But perhaps the most important issue and concern regarding the use of IoT is security. With billions of devices being connected together, what can people do to make sure that their information stays secure? Will someone be able to hack into your toaster and through that get access to your entire network? We also have the issue of privacy and data sharing, which is a topic of major discussion debate in today’s world.
To address some of these concerns, the main objective set forth by the EU funded GHOST1, 2 project is to develop a user-friendly application to improve security and privacy in a Digital Home connected to IoT, using the most advanced technologies available for this purpose. In this way, GHOST will contribute to boost European IoT home market, bringing next-generation security systems for domestic applications based on technologies such as Blockchain or deep packet inspection, to all users, independently of their previous knowledge. GHOST’s ambition is to provide to EU citizens professional level cybersecurity for smart-living: with minimal eﬀort consumers will become aware and understand the cybersecurity risks, and will take informative decisions aﬀecting their cyber-physical security and privacy. The end goal is to enhance cyber security awareness and provide control to individual citizens over their smart home security status and potential threats/malicious behaviour.
For the past few years conversations about IoT have been taking all over the world as we pursue to understand how this will impact our lives. We are also trying to recognise the many opportunities and challenges associated to this technology as more and more devices start to join the IoT. At present the best thing that we can do is educate ourselves about what the IoT is and the potential impacts that can be seen and felt on our everyday work and life. There is no shortage of possibilities for smart home IoT devices, and home automation seems to be the next wave of the future. The reality is that the IoT allows for nearly endless opportunities and connections to take place, many of which we can't even think of or fully understand the impact of today.