What the (Bleep) Is the Internet of Things?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, you’ve probably heard of the Internet of Things. But, like most people, you probably have some questions about what that actually means. Essentially, the IoT is the expansion of connectivity into a diverse set of uniquely identifiable embedded computing devices that covers a wide range of protocols, domains, and applications.

Now, let’s give that definition some context.

Right now, connectivity is somewhat limited to a machine-to-machine model – you use your phone or laptop to get online – but the IoT is changing that. Soon, your interaction with the world will be digitally connected in real time. Governments, hospitals, individuals, and even businesses will interact with people, places, and objects in this new model of connected “things.”

photo credit: WIkipedia.org

Budding Markets for the IoT

Think about it: What if your house could hear you speak and learn your preferences? Or what if your doctor had access to real-time information about your diet and exercise habits? Now imagine being able to track all of your business assets in real time and harvest data from them such as “time spent in use” or “geographic location.” Major emerging markets for IoT products and applications are as diverse as the products themselves. Here are some of the early adopters:

  • Healthcare providers: Providers are collecting data through wearables, phones, and interactions with primary care facilities. This helps with remote health monitoring, emergency notifications, and cost reduction for both providers and patients.
  • Industrial markets: Real-time data collection of embedded devices in factories, assembly lines, and logistics centers is streamlining process controls for manufacturing, predictive maintenance, and statistical evaluations.
  • Building and home automation: Low-cost and low-footprint devices that can learn from users’ actions and create remote or digital interfaces are driving the building and home automation industries.
  • Transportation: Cab fleets, trains, traffic lights, and tolls are being monitored so IoT devices can be leveraged to increase the intelligence and efficiency of transportation. “Smart cities” are being designed to fully utilize this technology.

Even with all of these advancements, the market for IoT devices is still rapidly growing. Cisco estimates that by 2020, there will be more than 50 billion Internet-connected devices. That’s a $19 trillion opportunity for public and private sectors within the next decade. And Dell recently built a lab with Intel in Santa Clara, California that’s dedicated to helping emerging IoT technology become standards-based and easily deployed.

It’s clear that the bigger players are looking to build a better-connected world and enhance existing infrastructure to capitalize on this change in the way we connect. However, the IoT also promises to be a vast playground for entrepreneurs and startups.


Develop Your IoT Product the Smart Way

As an entrepreneur, when you’re bringing products to market, it’s critical that you anticipate the growing IoT marketplace by considering ways you can easily integrate your product with the increasingly number of protocols and devices. Keep these three aspects in mind when developing your product:

  1. Existing protocols. Companies like Intel and AT&T are already pioneering standards that grant access to devices utilizing common protocols like Common Creativity Framework. Use these existing protocols to make your product market compatible from the start.
  2. Open application programming interfaces. For better integration, create your platforms or products with open APIs that larger companies have made available.
  3. Scalability. Design your product or service to scale easily, securely, and quickly as IoT consumer adoption increases.

But above all, remember that this process isn’t challenge-free.

Perhaps the largest IoT challenge is complexity. Michael Littman, a computer scientist at Brown University, argues that successful execution of the IoT requires well-integrated, user-friendly interfaces.

“If users need to learn different interfaces for their vacuums, their locks, their sprinklers, their lights, and their coffeemakers, it’s tough to say that their lives have been made any easier,” he says.

IoT connectivity also raises a lot of questions about how you can protect freedom and privacy in an era when inanimate objects can track user behavior. To what extent (if any) can consumers trust corporations, governments, or hospitals with their personal information? Areas like security, common standardized coding languages, and legislation need to define the proper use and ethics of this technology.

Even though we’re at the very beginning of this big shift, I look forward to the day when I can safely and privately get to know my appliances, myself, and other people better via the connectivity and intelligence that the IoT promises to become. There are applications for embedded computing nodes in nearly every field, and we’re all counting on your innovations to make this brave new world a reality.

This article was co-authored by Matt Cowart of Dell for Entrepreneurs.