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The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to revolutionize the way we do business, the way we work, the way we play, the way we live. But what is it?

Not since the advent of the World Wide Web has something come along with the potential to dramatically transform the way we do things. Not, that is, until now.

The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to revolutionize the way we do business, the way we work, the way we play, the way we live. But what is it?

The Internet of Things
In simple terms, the Internet of Things is a world in which both sophisticated and everyday objects are connected to the internet, allowing them to send and receive data. It comprises three main elements: sensors within devices, a Wi-Fi connection, and people and processes.

Research company Gartner estimates that, by 2020, the Internet of Things will have hit the mainstream, with more than 25 billion devices online. While the increase will be seen in all areas, including automotive, consumer and business, it estimates that consumer use will increase the most.

Explosion in Devices
Gartner estimates that there will be an explosion in the number of devices available, as connections span people to people, people to things and things to things. Let’s take the home as an example. Already, homeowners can use an app on their smartphone to control the temperature in their home. There are Wi-Fi enabled coffee makers and kettles on sale that can be switched on from the comfort of your bed, ready for when you do decide to get up. Other devices are as simple as allowing you to switch something on or off when you’re not there.

Within the field of healthcare, wearable devices are becoming increasingly popular. Devices such as Fitbit and the AppleWatch seek to monitor daily activity, calorie expenditure, sleep patterns and a host of other information in order to help the wearer become healthier. In addition, the data that these devices produce can be shared with their doctors, allowing them to make better and more tailored decisions surrounding their patients’ health. Customers that share their data with their health insurance companies may well benefit from lower premiums if they are maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

In the not-too-distant future, a connection between the brain and a smart device, known as “direct neural interaction,” which can help restore hearing, sight loss, and limb movement, will become more prevalent.

Business
Within business, the IoT has the capability to reduce costs by making processes more efficient. In simple terms, office equipment would know when they were running low on supplies and could automatically re-order more. On a bigger scale, the leap in technological innovation in sensor and monitoring technology has led to a wholescale reduction in the price of oil and gas exploration, as well as aircraft engines that can send real-time data on the engine’s function back to monitoring stations on the ground.

What has driven the growth of IoT?
In part, this growth of IoT has been brought about by much cheaper technology. The cost of the sensors that collect all this data has reduced significantly in recent years. In tandem, more and more devices are being built with sensors, and those sensors can measure more and more things: our location, camera and audio information, and everything from temperature, pollutants in the atmosphere, humidity, barometric pressure and so on.

In addition, broadband technology has reached more and more people, and smartphone penetration has rocketed. At the same time computer power is even more sophisticated. These things have all combined to create the perfect storm that has led to the advent of the Internet of Things.

The Future- Opportunities and Challenges
In the future, some have imagined smart cities, where everything from lighting, parking spaces, air quality and waste is connected.

But with every opportunity comes challenge. Although the wide scale adoption of the Internet of Things is almost certain, challenges remain. What about security and data protection? If your kettle connected to the internet, can it and all your other devices be hacked? Where does the data your kettle produces go, and who has the right to see it? Can they keep that data safe? On a broader scale, do we have the skills and abilities in the job market to enable companies to make the most of this? These are the questions that will come to the forefront as the adoption of the Internet of Things continues to expand.