When we think about the Internet of Things, we tend to consider it as a loose collection of nifty tools and neat toys. We think about the smart fridge from Samsung that can mark food for future shopping, or the Wi-Fi enabled wine bottle that keeps wine fresh for 30 days, and allows you to order more with a small touch panel.
The reality, however, is that the Internet of Things is still in its infancy, and harbors an untapped collection of world altering potential. Though the consumer market has “commoditized” the Internet of Things, sectors like manufacturing, transportation, medical, and education are producing amazing results with IoT, and future applications promise even greater returns.
It’s estimated that the IoT will produce a staggering 400 Zettabytes of data each year by 2018, and IoT-empowered applications are already enabling everything from energy sustainability, carbon emission reduction, cost savings, to better well-being for the world at large. Accordingly, we’re going to take a look at some of these amazing applications of the Internet of Things and the data it generates, as well as some applications currently in development that could fundamentally hack the world, changing how we live (and consume) throughout our daily lives.
Energy Management and Distribution
Population is exploding. There are currently 7.4 Billion people alive today, with the top 3 countries, China, India, and the United States accounting for 2.9 Billion people alone. These three markets are gigantic, and depend heavily on electrical power. The United States is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, with China and India rapidly modernizing and opening technological markets to their citizens.
Accordingly, the biggest concern in the coming decades concerning these population numbers is the delivery of energy to these markets, and the pollution that is intimately tied to current power generation and delivery methodologies. While solar, wind, and nuclear energy are becoming bigger and better markets, for the time being, non-renewables still make up the bulk of energy production in the United States, Asian, and European markets.
Management of this energy, effective distribution, and efficient energy usage by the consumer is a huge concern. To achieve these goals, Internet of Things devices are quickly becoming semi-ubiquitous. Research by Gartner suggests that by the end of 2016, 6.4 million things will be connected to the Internet of Things, a trend which will only grow larger over time within energy monitoring.
Leveraging those “things” to manage the electrical draw of the devices we use can be of huge benefit to the electrical grid, and can hugely influence the pollution created by the power production tied to these systems. This is already a market in action. For instance, the Nest system utilizes APIs and the Internet of Things to track energy usage over time, adjusting schedules for better energy consumption and efficiency.
Nest estimates that its thermostat saves consumers 10–12% on their heating costs, and 15% on cooling costs, working out to an average energy savings cost of 13%. Assuming this means a 13% reduction in energy usage, this also equates to a 13% reduction in necessary energy generation for that consumer and a 13% reduction in amount of pollution created for cooling and heating purposes. This works out to a reduction of 13% in your carbon footprint, and when the average home generates 2 tons of CO2 per year for air conditioning, this further equates to a reduction of 520 pounds of CO2 per year per household.
This isn’t the end of the line for this technology, though. While Nest does wonders for local power management, entire countries are using APIs to understand energy demand, consumption, and ecological impact. The U.K. National Grid Energy Flow API does just this, utilizing connected microdevices in a sort of ad hoc Internet of Things to better visualize energy distribution.
Active power consumption isn’t the only issue that this technology can help solve, either. Phantom power, also called vampire power, is the power used by devices when plugged in, but not actively being used. Using Internet of Things devices to power down connected outlets or power strips in a given schedule could save 9kWh for each Watt of active power used in the United States per year. Though the expected power savings per device per year would only be $1, when multiplied by the amount of devices per home (24) and the number of homes in the United States (124.6 million in 2015), that’s a whopping $2.9 Billion dollar potential savings for the US economy.
In time, small smart home Internet of Things devices will be able to turn electronics off when nobody is in the room, adjust temperatures on a room by room basis, charge devices, and cut power when unneeded, further increasing these savings over time.
A Needle-Free Diabetes Treatment
For many diabetic patients, the condition itself is not the greatest frustration of daily living — it’s the treatment. Once diabetes symptoms are under control, the greatest bulk of suffering and annoyance comes about in the testing of blood sugar, and the constant administration of medication, where needed. Imagine having to poke your finger with a needle every four hours, inject yourself with medication every day, day in and day out, and you’ll quickly understand just how painful and frustrating treatment can be.
Accordingly, the holy grail for many diabetic patients is a needless methodology of testing blood glucose levels and tracking these changes in real time. Until now, these levels have been tested using infusion boards that are paired with integrated circuits. These results are then tabulated over time, with treatment adjusted at regular intervals by doctors using pen and paper and outdated medical records systems.
This is about to change, and in a big way. Google’s Life Science Team, organized under the Alphabet umbrella, received a patent in 2015 for a contact lense device that can monitor blood glucose in real time, offloading data processing and treatment planning to applications and APIs developed by Google and its partners.
Life Science Team partner John L. Brooks III, former President and CEO of Joslin Diabetes Center, says “Technology, sensors, analytics, and digital solutions will revolutionize how blood sugars are managed, which will deliver improved quality of life, lowering the risk of complications and reducing the costs and barriers associated with diabetes care. Ultimately, I truly hope we’re able to turn the Joslin Diabetes Center into a museum.”
Leveraging the Internet of Things, patients can have a significant portion of their burden relieved, which ensures not only more accurate, long-term care planning and treatments, but better adherence to those plans through regime simplification.
A recent report from Tractica suggests that this development is actually part of a larger and significant trend in the market. By 2024, biometric technologies and the APIs that drive them are predicted to become a $12.5 billion USD industry.
The effect of this technology and the industry that will spring from it will be massive — according to the World Health Organization, the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014, with diabetes being a major cause of global blindness, kidney failure, heart attack, stroke, and amputation. This application could potentially erase 34 years of rising statistics, setting back the global suffering of diabetes patients to pre–1980’s levels.
Reducing Enterprise Transportation Pollution
While many of these benefits so far have been local, or at the very least national, the Internet of Things has some pretty huge global considerations when it comes to the enterprise space. Partnerships between tech giants and enterprise-level corporations have a lot to offer in terms of pollution savings.
A great example of this is the partnership between Microsoft and Rolls-Royce. Utilizing the power of the Internet of Things through the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite and the Cortana Intelligence Suite, Microsoft technologies will track flight information, fuel usage, and maintenance records to give Rolls-Royce a more effective methodology of reducing cost and ensuring minimal waste.
The savings in terms of pollution in this application is simply unimaginable. According to estimates from GSCleanEnergy, on average, a pound of weight on an airplane generates .0002 pounds of carbon emissions. If a plane over fuels by just 500 pounds of fuel (which is likely an understatement, considering a Boeing 747 carries 36,000 gallons of fuel), this is an excess carbon emission generation of 1,697.25 tons of carbon per year (using the simple calculation of (50093,000365)*.0002, where 500 is the fuel weight, 93,000 is the flights per day averaged out over a year, and 365 is the number of days in a year).
And this is only in the flight space. Apply this same technology to shipping via freight train, truck, and ship, and you’ll see an ever larger savings over time. Pollution is not the only thing being tackled by IoT technology, either — safety and reduction in cost will hugely benefit as well.
Virgin Atlantic are tapping into the integrated nature of the Internet of Things, tying devices into their fleet to ensure maintenance schedules and flight path configurations. These devices generated over half a terabyte of data per flight, which will be used to improve aircraft efficiency, reduce fuel consumption, reduce cost of replacements by making repairs earlier and thus cheaper, and more. This will lead to a reduction in cost for the airlines and an increase in safety and standards for the passengers.
The Internet of Education
Education is about to fundamentally change, and it’s all thanks to the Internet of Things and the APIs that drive them.
According to recent data, 73% of teens have access to smartphones, and nearly 100% of schools have internet access. With so many devices connected to the internet, sharing data between one another, education can, for the first time, realistically move outside of the textbook and worksheet paradigm and into the digital realm, with huge benefits.
First and foremost, digital content delivery can have huge environmental and economic savings. The average US school uses between $30,000 and $50,000 USD of paper every year generating worksheets and using textbooks. That averages out to around 74 trees per school per year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are currently 98,454 school in the United States.
When all data is tabulated, at the most lax calculations, that means the education could save $2.9 Billion USD per year, with an estimated 7.2 Billion trees saved per year. In context, that means 121,427 acres of forest per year could be saved, absorbing an extra 5.8 Million pounds of carbon emissions.
While there would be extra cost (both fiscal and environmental) for the first year to purchase these devices, this cost could be offset by utilizing recycling programs to repurpose old devices and calling upon students to use devices they already own.
This concept is already being implemented in some cities. New York City schools are currently considering buying tablets for their 17,000 public schools — New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, when discussing the program, said “We currently spend more than a hundred million dollars a year on textbooks. That’s enough money to buy tablets for every student in New York City public schools, and cover staff costs to make sure these online texts are meeting rigorous standards.”
While one huge benefit would of course be cost and pollutant savings, that’s not the only thing this movement to the digital realm would bring to the table. Leveraging the Internet of Things to deliver data is but a single part of the picture — the data generated by this content would be hugely valuable as well.
Being able to see student successes and failures in simple data form, tabulating them across providers, and then using that data to design more effective curriculum could mean better test scores, literacy, and even teacher performance, which in the long term has benefits that simply cannot be economically or textually represented.
The simple fact is that the Internet of Things is incredibly powerful, and could be used for so much more than monitoring the level of milk in your fridge or tracking packages in a warehouse. These examples demonstrate just how far we can push this technology, but are only the tip of the iceberg.
While some of these calculations are nebulous, the effect is ultimately a net positive when pollution decreases, more trees are allowed to stand, devices are recycled, and the money we already invest is used more effectively.
Simply put — development and implementation of these devices and the APIs that drive them are really the brave new world of API development, and will have long term economic and social benefits that are potentially beyond our wildest dreams.