We’ve all heard about how IoT, or the “Internet of Things,” is supposedly going to transform our environments into futuristic playgrounds by connecting everything around us to the Internet. Publications by prominent media and tech consulting firms have referred to IoT as one of the most important tech trends of 2017, set to have a disruptive impact on traditional consumer electronics in coming years. However, with ‘innovations’ like Samsung’s Twitter-equipped refrigerator and that $400 Wi-Fi-enabled juicer soaking up mindshare, enabling everyday objects with Internet connectivity has been a pretty shrug-inducing novelty to many people. While there are many truly useful applications of IoT technology (sensor-enabled heating and cooling, home security, and lighting--to name a few) the oversaturation of the market with unnecessary IoT-enabled products has painted a false picture of the technology’s potential to the public.
Smart home products like the Keen Home Smart Vent, August Smart Lock, and Amazon Alexa have helped convey the concept of the modern smart home to the average consumer.
Current IoT products on the market only represent a sliver of the sector’s potential, which goes far beyond just selling convenience and novelty. Healthcare, advertising, agriculture, retail, transportation, and business operations are just a few areas that are primed to adopt IoT tech in ways that will drastically change how these industries operate, and ultimately our daily lives.
Not unfamiliar to futuristic tech, the healthcare industry has already begun experimenting with ‘robot doctors,’ which include mobile monitors that allow doctors to remotely provide patients with bedside care, and remote-controlled robotic systems that can provide surgical precision superior to that of humans. IoT technology also improves nursing practices by enabling faster and cheaper patient care. For example, hospices can use sensor technology embedded within bandaid-like wearables that track real time health data and auto-administer therapies.
Chrono Therapeutics develops patches that deliver personalized doses of medication transdermally.
Supply Chain Management
The application of sensors and drones in warehouses and store shelves could vastly improve inventory management and maintenance by tracking product quantity, location, and condition without deploying costly human labor to perform routine checks. These types of applications are now commonly referred to as Industrial IoT (IIoT).
Amazon and other large companies have started using inventory management robots that use sensors to detect package information for accurate assortment. The same technology also creates congestion-free robot army navigation by calculating and rerouting around other robot routes in real time.
Manufacturing, distribution, and logistics have historically used machines to create efficiencies; adding IoT technology has only accelerated the rate at which factories and warehouses can churn orders out at lower cost.
As the growing world population continues to outpace our crop fields, IoT-enabled robotic farming will help cut operational costs and prevent devastations like fires from spreading by notifying farmers in real-time. Self-driving tractors and drones that survey crop data will enable farms to maintain vast tracts of land without deploying costly human labor, especially during heatwaves and other limiting conditions.
Although the public is well aware of driverless cars, there are lesser-known IoT innovations in transportation that promote road safety and improve traffic conditions. Microsoft and Intel have made strides in marrying transportation and IoT to reduce traffic congestion, improve vehicle maintenance management, and optimize fleet operations by outfitting trucks, trains, and airplanes with sensors. Public transportation would also benefit from real-time information on train or bus locations and station congestion to optimize scheduling and maintenance.
Rolls-Royce uses Microsoft’s IoT Technology to optimize airplane engine performance by reducing fuel consumption and maintenance costs.
With DVR, ad desensitization, and ad blockers in regular use by tech-savvy consumers, advertisers need to find new ways to get noticed. Capturing consumer attention is costly amidst the myriad analog and digital distractions fighting for visibility. IoT tech presents new and innovative ways to engage audiences in a low cost, low effort manner by utilizing sensors and beacons to track customer interaction with brands and products and manage inventory. Advertisers are already experimenting with this technology through mobile point of sale (POS) devices and location-based marketing.
Mobile POS devices (card readers that can be attached to smartphones and tablets) allow employees to capture payment anywhere in the store, freeing up cashier lines and creating a more seamless customer experience. Location-based marketing includes the use of sensors and beacons placed in stores and throughout shopping malls to send out relevant push notifications to nearby shoppers. A customer can choose to opt into receiving these notifications in exchange for free Wi-Fi services.
Amazon Go is a cashier-free store concept where customers' purchases are tracked digitally through computer vision, algorithms, and sensor technology, aiding loss prevention and minimizing store congestion.
Other applications of IoT tech for the retail industry include security sensors, automated inventory analysis, shelving sensors, and customer footpath sensors, which all help to create operational efficiencies for stores and more tailored and hassle-free shopping experience for customers.
Aside from location-based marketing, brands can also reach consumers in novel ways through smart product labeling, smart billboards, and addressable TV advertising. Sensors can be printed electronically on product labels to detect product authenticity and expiration. Sensors can also create a webpage popup on your phone to the brand’s website or a personalized promotion. Addressable TV advertising is used to deliver customized content to a target demographic. IoT technology can also create a new level of interactivity between billboards and their audiences by using real-time data and special cameras to create more immersive experiences.
British Airways smart billboard featured a boy who moved and pointed in sync with flights taking off the runway alongside captions identifying the flight number and destination.
Tesco’s interactive subway ad ships products to customers’ homes after they scan QR codes to purchase items.
While there are undoubtedly countless ways for these industries to benefit from IoT technology, there’s a collective agreement that the technology and market both need time to mature. But as first movers develop the technology and the public becomes more exposed to it, other industries will begin applying IoT to their own business processes, creating an explosion of connected devices that will become as ubiquitous and familiar to the average consumer as the modern smartphone.