Fairfax Tech Column

Fairfax Tech Column

19.10.2018 Fairfax Tech Column 117


As with many industries, the die-hards are separated from the pretenders by their knowledge of acronyms and initialisms (AAI). If you really want to know you are speaking to an expert in any industry, listen to how many AAIs roll off the tongue in normal speech. The technology industry is no different – although some may say tech geeks are the worst offenders at dropping the phrases to the point that they are in widespread use. Think of ADSL; LAN; PC; POP; POTS and PSTN (meaning the same thing); RAM; SMTP; SSID; USB; Wi-Fi; WWW and so many more. Some, like DVD, create confusion as to what they actually stand for. DVD started off as a way to deliver high quality movies and DVD stood for Digital Video Disc but then, when it was realised that it was also quite a handy way to store a large amount of data, DVD started being defined as Digital Versatile Disc.

My favourite at the moment is IoT. Internet of Things. While someone was trying to decide what they should name this particular group of devices, Kevin Ashton delivered a presentation in 1999 with the title Internet of Things. The term stuck.

Without fully realising it, many of us are using IoT in daily life.

Loosely speaking, IoT is a collection of physical devices that are embedded with electronics to allow them to collect and exchange data with other devices. They are typically devices that you don’t normally interact with directly – so a PC or mobile phone are not classified as IoT items. The embedded technology allows the device to be remotely monitored or controlled or be used to remotely collect data.

There are over ten billion IoT devices currently connected across the world with an estimation that the one trillion figure will be hit around the year 2025. That is a lot of…things.

Enough with the explanation. Examples please.

Many people already have smart home devices. Cameras; locks; gate controls; etc. Any item that you can control via a remote connection drops into this category. Brands such as Nest; Ecobee; Ring and August come to mind. The wearables market is another area that is exploding. The devices that come with remote connectivity fall into the IoT category – some wearables are designed to be later plugged in and would not fit into the strict definition of IoT. The watches from Samsung and Apple are the two leaders in this category. Key finder or tracking pendants are also a very popular IoT device. Some of these rely on a phone being nearby but, by using ANY phone (not just the owner’s phone) they still fit the concept of IoT. It doesn’t matter how they are connected. Whether the connection is via 4G or 5G or Bluetooth, it is still remotely connected. Brands such as Tile; TrackR; Chipolo and Duet have been created in this category.

Many people think of IoT as being small but IoT can also involve big things. Cars are also increasingly connected to the Internet. You can see the location at any time; control the functions; allow someone else to drive it remotely – even monitor the speed while it is being driven. The biggest challenge with many IoT designs is the issue around battery life. People want small devices but battery life reduces dramatically with a smaller device. With a car this is not so much of an issue. Brands such as Tesla; Lexus; BMW; Apple and Google are producing IoT connected cars.

If you think all of this sounds far-fetched, in the four categories I have mentioned so far, I have IoT devices that I use each day in each of these four categories. Sure – I love my technology – but the point is these items are being used by real people every single day.

If you think a car seems like a large item for IoT, consider the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It has 2,400 sensors to feed a variety of information back into a central computer to constantly check the structural health of the 86-year-old iconic structure. The days are long gone when Paul Hogan would start painting on one side and when he got to the other side he would start again. Although repainting is part of the process, it is no longer good enough to wait for a crack to appear and fix it.

Next time you drive over the harbour, think about the impact IoT is increasingly having on our daily lives – from checking our heart rate to finding our keys to keeping our bridges intact.

Mathew Dickerson