Today, the Internet of Things (IoT) is THE hot technology buzzword. But, it’s not just jargon. With over nine billion connected devices worldwide, IoT is changing the world before our eyes. So, what is IoT? Basically, it is network of physical objects – devices, vehicles, buildings and other items – embedded with sensors, software and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data, like a cell phone or smart building. In the road ahead, IoT is expected to revolutionize production automation, transportation (think: self-driving cars), preventative maintenance and more. This is Part Two of a two-part series based on a recent article in the New York Times, “Sensing the Next Wave”, a sponsored post by AIG forecasting the next wave of the Internet of Things.
For businesses to make the most of IoT, they must be prepared to assess and quantify the risks it will create. From cyber breaches to property and product liability, businesses have to outline new ways of thinking about their risks as they adopt IoT.
Improvements from the Ground Up
The construction and energy industry is the poster child of IoT. The number of connected devices managed by utilities globally is expected to hit 1.53 billion by 2020, according to Ericsson. By embedding IoT in the electricity grid, businesses and homes, energy companies are already monitoring and controlling the grid, tracking energy surges, improving efficiency and pinpointing failing equipment. As these networks multiply and pull together torrents of data, they’ll be able to predict which triggers signal problems, automatically scheduling repairs and taking steps to share peak loads before big shifts in demand occur.
IoT will streamline every area of production in manufacturing. Using sensors dotting the fields to collect data about soil humidity, nutrient levels, crop maturity and weather, farmers can make better decisions about when to water, fertilize or harvest. In factories and industrial facilities, sensors will automatically monitor and control water, heating and cooling equipment, uncovering inefficiencies. Sensor networks within the supply chain will respond on the fly to disruptions or quick spikes in demands.
IoT can also help keep employees safe. Each year, 2.3 million people die from work-related accidents and diseases, according to the International Labor Organization. Wearable technology equipped with sensors can warn a worker if he’s likely to have an accident or is being exposed to toxic substances. “Safety is a really big issue for the enterprise,” says DuBravac. “If I’m on a construction site, I’m buying them helmets, harnesses, safety gear. Why not also buy them air sensors, infrared cameras and sensored safety vests? Those capital costs have come down significantly, so I can deploy them.” IoT can also improve the safety of products. For instance, food could be monitored each time a product changes hands in the food supply chain, from farm to table.
But this vision ushers in new risk and privacy questions. How much do companies need to inform workers about sensors tracking their behavior? If devices feedback data into a system, who is responsible if that leads to the production of defective goods?
Our buildings and communities are also natural fits for IoT. Corrective maintenance becomes preventive maintenance to avoid expensive repairs and lost work time. The buildings under construction can be dotted with sensors to improve public safety by cutting emergency response times and to control smart lighting.
The real potential of IoT, though, is in how it can help us understand the rhythms of our communities — so that we can make them more human. “Buildings are starting to talk back to us, That’s an incredible opportunity,” says Ratti. “You can develop and design new interactions between people and buildings.”
Still, more monitoring of people creates a host of questions about how to balance privacy with safety and quality of life. And new issues of liability emerge.
So do the risks and privacy concerns of moving to an always-connected society outweigh the technological innovation which IoT is enabling? Either way, it’s a risk that businesses need to take in order to reap the benefits.
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