The Internet of Things, a world where all kinds of devices are connected via the Internet, promises to drive innovation and growth in the near future. And in this brave new world, we can’t afford to be mere end-users.
IT’S not often that a cliché is to be taken literally. “Grabbing the bull by the horns” or “taking the tiger by the tail”, for example, should never be attempted, regardless of how good you may be feeling.
But in the case of the Internet of Things (IoT), the possibilities are, quite literally, endless.
Simply put, the IoT refers to a network of things or devices that are connected to the Internet, and are regularly collecting, exchanging and acting on that data. It’s not just your phone collecting information on the places we go to at what time of day or the Internet sites we frequent, and then directing the data to marketers.
It can be a car that senses you’ve hit that curb or pothole once too often and starts giving you a “beep!” or warning to remind you to avoid said obstacle the next time round. It can be a roof or piping system that senses changes in humidity and temperature to warn about leaks of cracks before the whole ceiling comes down or the lobby floods.
The data collected can be used in retail and enterprises by small businesses and multinationals.
Its application is limited only by our imagination and connectivity, and like air travel in the early 1900s, it really is just the beginning.
By the end of our lifetime, we will be seeing things we could never have imagined today, with architectural and engineering wonders being achieved in perhaps a tenth of the time today as devices, databases, machinery, factories and order books all communicate and calculate through complicated algorithms to eliminate wasted time, resources and energy.
From cassettes to floppy disks, thumbdrives and now clouds, we’ve gone from kilobytes to terabytes in a generation; we might be talking yottabytes or even geopbytes by the end of the century, and who knows how data will be stored by that time — maybe we’ll have gone from “cloud” to “ground” or organic storage!
What we do know is that the IoT’s need for reliable storage, exchange and calculation of data will drive the evolution of memory faster than ever before, which means as development of devices and processors potentially slow, the back-end will likely lead the way in terms of investment and innovation.
Analysts estimate there will be 24 billion IoT-enabled devices worldwide by 2020, with US$6tril invested in IoT-centric developments in the same time span, with as much as US$19tril in global opportunities in the next 10 years. Businesses, with their commercial nous, will lead the way, with governments and Joe Public close behind.
So what’s in the way?
Much like the hot Betamax vs VHS debate decades ago, inter-operability standards will have to be rationalised, and far beyond the Z-Wave vs Zigbee in question today. The IoT has a fullness of space that will require a wide but robust standards-based protocols to enable it to work across a broad range of variables, such as temperatures, magnetic fields and even material.
Where once industrialisation and growth was a matter of physical connectivity e.g. inland rivers linking to small towns, then roads linking factories and ports, countries will now have to consider investments in a simultaneous network of physical assets and connectivity to enable the IoT to do its magic — not just for today but in the long run.
What’s crucial for us to appreciate, however, is that this investment must not just be in terms of physical devices and infrastructure but adaptability as well, and by that I mean people and our mindsets.
We will have to learn how things work, how best to take advantage of it and incorporating it into our lives, not by the traditional instruction manual but by opening ourselves up to that connectivity, directly and indirectly.
Security will also be a key issue moving forward — Hollywood, for example, loves to remind us what can happen when computers take over the world. But we can’t let that dictate investments. It’s already happening, and we either manage this growth or we don’t.
For Asia, at least, adoption is unlikely to be an issue. From smartphones to devices, cashless payments to e-commerce, the Asian consumer tends to adopt technological advancement much earlier. Instead, the challenge will be in driving investments and its application into the deeper fibers of society, rather than being an end-user alone. This is the only way Asia can participate in the larger part of the cake: by adding value through innovation and creativity as well.
As governments and businesses build for the future, the need for pragmatic, real-world test beds will grow, as companies seek to bridge the standards IoT requires, cut time-to-market while staying in touch with consumer needs.
And this is where Cyberjaya comes into its own. Where others might talk, Cyberjaya is already underway as a Living Lab for innovative technologies, enabling them to be tested in a dynamic environment while facilitating endemic growth and ideation.
It’s already happening.
If ever there was a living, breathing laboratory to bring IoT technologies to life, this is it. It’s all part of our Smart City initiatives to grow Cyberjaya organically, with IoT a key aspect of its functionality.
We live in exciting times, and I for one can’t wait for what’s next.
Faris Yahaya is the managing director of Cyberview Sdn Bhd.