Digitisation is changing the way we work, our private lives, our environment, our cars, entertainment… and is still often difficult to grasp. One aspect that we encounter again and again, however, is the networking of devices, components and ultimately people. When all things are connected via the Internet, we talk about the Internet of Things – the Internet of Things.

While this process may seem unspectacular at first glance, it is actually a concept that has the greatest impact on the technology around us and offers gigantic future potential. It is therefore not surprising that the Internet of Things – ioT in short – is on everyone’s mouth and is attracting the greatest attention, especially in the economy.

Definition IoT

The Internet of Things describes the networking of objects by means of sensors, software, etc. in order to establish an exchange of information with other objects via the Internet without human intervention.

IoT is a collective term for a variety of modern technologies and trends, which, depending on the person surveyed, encompasses different focal points. While private individuals usually come into contact with the name in the context of smart homes or connected cars, the Internet of Things in business is often focused on the production, management and process organization of a company.

However, since the Internet has long since become ubiquitous in the context of digitalization and the systems and people operating in it are extremely numerous (and continue to multiply), the Internet of Things does not only encompass individual industries or groups of people. Rather, it is a phenomenon of society as a whole, which already has a strong impact on our everyday life and will become even more important in the future.

Definition of digitization

Digitalization is, quite soberly speaking, simply the transfer of formerly analogue processes to digital ones. Even if we are currently increasingly encountering these and similar terms, this is a very old and simple process, because almost every form of digitization is rewarded with efficiency increases, cost reductions and new, previously unknown possibilities. No wonder we humans have always been very interested in her.

Due to the accelerating technical progress and the mutual support (new technologies enable new technologies …) digitalization has gained so much speed in recent years that it has now penetrated into all areas of our lives and is indispensable from there. This digital transformation is a technological, socio-cultural, economic and intellectual process that brings with it gigantic upheavals.

For companies in particular, digitalization has created unprecedented opportunities – but it also lurks with considerable dangers, especially if it is ignored.

Conditions

Almost every digital device, such as computers, laptops, smartphones, etc., is now connected to the Internet. It communicates with other systems in a variety of ways. IoT concepts complement these “native” devices with additional machines, sensors and more that have not yet been networked.

A basic requirement for the Internet of Things is therefore the presence of corresponding “participants”. These are household appliances, which are increasingly internet-enabled (toasters, coffee machines, refrigerators etc. with WiFi connection) as well as other elements from the field of smart home. In industry, on the other hand, close-meshed monitoring of machines and co. by means of sensors within the framework of predictive maintenance protocols has long been common. These devices are also connected to the Internet and thus become participants of the IoT. Only if appropriate systems are part of the respective network is it worth talking about an Internet of Things – the home WiFi, in which two smartphones and a laptop are logged in, does not meet this definition.

If the necessary devices are available and networked over the Internet, the next step is to establish communication with each other. For this purpose, often simple hub systems are available for smaller networks. In the smart home area, for example, the connection between the intelligent light switches, entertainment systems and sensors in the living room can be purchased for a special control unit that takes over remote control and automation. Often even smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa are enough to take on small automation tasks.

In business, this is usually much more complex: The numerous sensors of a factory plant supply their data to significantly more powerful computer systems, for example, in order to be able to meet corresponding derivatives and optimize production processes. Together with further information from the field of big data, mathematical models calculated with the help of artificial intelligence and strategic specifications, decisions, processes and results can then be improved. Since the participants also include numerous networked systems, the Internet of Things can be spoken of.

If the devices are all networked and appropriate systems are in place to enable the exchange and communication with each other, we can start to take advantage of the synergy effects and advantages of the technology. In principle, IoT systems benefit from a higher number of subscribers in the network (more data) as well as more powerful control systems.

Applications

The Internet of Things can be used wherever different systems are connected via the Internet and could benefit from an exchange. The use cases are therefore as numerous as the networks around the world.

However, individual scenarios, industries and objectives have proved to be particularly receptive to the technology. These are in particular:

In the private sector

Smart homes are the most likely best-known application for IoT technology. Although the networking of the devices within one’s own four walls is done very simply via WiFi and hardly meets the definition of the “Internet of Things”; however, as soon as appropriate control units are added, the numerous advantages are quickly revealed:

Applications can be easily and quickly automated (turn on light in the hallway when the entrance door is opened; the coffee machine starts 5 minutes before the alarm clock rings…) and also completely new functions become possible. In addition, all processes in the apartment/house can also be optimized. This is noticeable, for example, in the case of energy savings due to devices that switch off on their own when not in use.

In addition, smart homes offer particularly easy control of all important systems. A smartphone is usually enough to make relevant settings. And this both on the road and in your own four walls. If you want to add new devices to the network, this is usually easy to do via WiFi. Since many sensors, switches and other components have battery operation, it usually does not even require major work to remotely control light, heating, televisions and vacuum cleaner robots.

The smart home market is currently suffering from opaque compatibility options and uncertainty about support; growth cannot be denied, however. Especially small systems with only a few components are already enjoying the highest popularity today.

In industry

Industrial manufacturing benefits greatly from the possibilities of the Internet of Things. In this way, networked systems can detect, identify, process and update themselves in a part-independent, faster and more productive way than analogue systems could ever. Expenses, errors and costs are significantly reduced with their use.

Intelligent production also enables an unprecedented speed in the realisation of new products. These are driven by enormous advances in materials science: Digitization has brought technologies such as the 3D printer to series production and allows the use for both prototypes and series production.

The optimization of the manufacturing processes in real time promises, in addition to the obvious advantages such as less wear and tear, also a lower maintenance and control effort. Self-regulating and optimizing systems require less human intervention and dramatically simplifies plant monitoring and management.

Once IoT is the foundation, the maintenance of the systems can be implemented using predictive maintenance concepts. Machines and equipment are serviced at the ideal time – this results in savings in downtime, material and personnel costs. The sensors and data processing methods required for this concept make predictive maintenance a part of the Internet of Things.

In the industrial context, there is also talk of “Industry 4.0”, also known as the fourth industrial revolution. This term is the culminating in the enormous potential that can be exploited by the direct, intelligent communication of machines with each other (M2M – Machine to Machine). Estimates of the exact amount of this potential are estimated at USD 12 trillion over the next 10 years.

In medical technology

The term “Smart Healthcare” is used to summarize numerous applications of the Internet of Things that relate to the care and medical care of people. These include, for example, intelligent emergency call systems or beds that use sensors to detect whether they are occupied. A patient can receive mechanical support or achieve a more uniform load during prolonged lying by the automatic adjustment options when getting up (this is also detected).

Sensors are also abundant in the medical environment. They integrate perfectly into the IoT system and provide data that improves the quality of care and new insights. Wearables, i.e. personal devices, which are often used to monitor bodily functions (along with other purposes such as entertainment), are just as easy to integrate. The work of the medical staff is considerably simplified by the new data available and the automation as well as intelligent consulting.

The administrative apparatus of hospitals and nursing homes is also already benefiting from the Internet of Things. Provided that appropriate safeguards are taken to maintain patient data security and privacy, there will be significant simplifications. The connection with blockchain technology is a particularly noteworthy sub-area here: Due to the structure of a blockchain and its extremely high cryptographic security, it is ideally suited for storing medical records. First, only local trials, confirm extensive improvements and benefits for patients and staff.

In the economy

The non-industrial economy is experiencing an equally large upheaval and improvement through the Internet of Things. Restaurants whose deliveries can be tracked in real time already offer their waiting customers better predictability. The collected data is used to optimize delivery routes and derive marketing measures. During the production of the products, the individual steps can also be recorded and optimized: A seemingly small improvement of the running paths or a change in the setting of the kitchen appliances can lead to drastic time savings. Large kitchens in particular benefit from meal plans and workflows that have been helped by big data applications.

Insurance companies are already using the data generated by the widespread use of connected cars to develop better billing models. In the event of damage, the information of the vehicle and the surrounding sensors (as they occur mainly in smart cities in large numbers) is used to reconstruct accurate accident occurrences and to ensure fair payouts. Japanese companies have already successfully tested the use of drones that fly to a vehicle at the policyholder’s request and inspect the damage to be reported.

Beacons, cameras and QR codes enable optimized shopping in all types of stores. Sold-out products are automatically reordered when the sensors detect a low supply and the forecast created by an AI predicts corresponding sales for the next few days. Garments that have been hung back on the wrong shelf during the fitting-up report independently and make sorting easier for the staff. Products can be ordered via app and removed from the correspondingly marked shelves by robots. After passing through the fully networked warehouse, the customer receives his delivery without human contact and is thus on the safe side even in pandemic times.

Disadvantages and dangers

Privacy

Data protectors are slapping their hands over their heads in the face of the dangers associated with the Internet of Things. As the number of data collected increases, so does the amount of private data collected. The result is difficulties in ensuring the safety of this vast amount of information at any time and anywhere. A contradiction to data collection becomes increasingly impossible when countless sensors in the public track our movements to improve the shopping experience.

Moreover, since the processing of the information is automated – human processing would be unthinkable due to its scope – it is also often uncertain for what purposes and where the data is used. The free exchange among the individual IoT devices is the basic building block of the concept and ensures its performance. However, it also makes it difficult to see and control your own data.

Control

The use of Internet of Things systems often involves a certain reward and amplification of behavior perceived as normal. By using a broad data base to hit derivatives, average values are created that are considered and adopted as normality. Unusual behavior is perceived as a deviation and an adjustment is recommended.

However, this unusual behavior is the expression of our human creativity, impulsivity and uniqueness. The question arises, for example, whether corporations such as Apple or Microsoft would exist in their current form if the AI-backed smart home had already criticized and tried to curb the high power consumption in the garage of parents.

Junior Barnard is considered the inventor of the distorted guitar sound. Could he have discovered this sound produced by oversteering a (too small) amplifier if playback had been cleaned up by digital volume sensors and algorithmic performance optimization?

These and similar quasi-philosophical questions arise in the face of such a comprehensive development as the Internet of Things and the much more advanced digital transformation.

The ubiquitous networking of our devices is also linked to a possibly unjustified fear of surveillance and control. As the most influential forces, international companies are already more responsible for our lives than governments, for example. Getting these institutions into possession of such extensive data and enormous manipulation possibilities is not a pleasant idea for many.

Conclusion

The Internet of Things as a generic term for networking and “cooperation” of the devices of our everyday life is an indispensable part of digitization. A fragmented market and various concerns have so far slowed down the broad adoption; On a smaller, local scale, however, the IoT already encounters us in many places – even if we don’t notice it as such.

The application possibilities are numerous and often include improvements to existing processes instead of the development of new, impressive applications. However, as a building block for a variety of new products, the concept is invaluable in our digital world.

Companies, institutions and individuals alike have problems understanding and assessing the Internet of Things. However, its advantages are too striking to be able to do without.

Experts for Internet of Things

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