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Welcome To A Connected World...

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An electric toothbrush developed by Oral-B provides real-time information to your dentist about how well you are brushing your teeth and the overall state of your dental hygiene via your phone captured through Bluetooth

- At the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, sensors kept track of the distance each footballer ran during a match, the number of passes made and the average distance covered by the team. This helped coaches plan substitutions during the game before a player lost speed

- Basketball coaches keep track of the temperature, heart rate, speed and acceleration of players using ‘smart’ shirts with in-built sensors to track their fitness levels and endurance

- You can buy a wrist band developed by Belgaum, Karnataka-based SenseGiz Technologies for your parents. It will keep you updated on their health at all times

- Mumbai-based Eureka Forbes has automated 150 homes across India, making them secure. Using the technology, you can also track energy consumption on your tablet

Welcome to the bold new world of the Internet of Things (IoT), where everyday devices talk to one another and everything you do is monitored real time. Almost every thing that you can think of — watches, toothbrushes, vending machines, windows, doors, cars, thermostats, even shoes — is getting equipped with sensors, wireless communication abilities and computing power. The devices not only connect to the Internet, they also store data on the cloud and communicate with other devices.

It used to be the stuff of science fiction — machines communicating with each other to take care of tasks automatically. No longer. It is now becoming an integral part of everyday life,  if you can afford the devices, that is. Globally, 2014 is believed to be the year of the Internet of Things. And it promises to change your life and lifestyle like never before.

Until recently, only computers and computing devices could connect to the Internet and “talk” to one another. Ravi Neb, vice-president, Product Management and Business Development, iYogi, says: “Till quite recently, almost all connected devices were computing devices. That has changed, as all kinds of devices are getting connected now.” Scientists and technologists have been trying to get everyday devices to talk to each other for at least a decade now.  And, finally, with rapid advances in sensor technology, wireless protocols, bandwidth, and cloud storage, machine-to-machine communication or the IoT is becoming a reality.

1989: Tim Berners Lee proposes the World Wide Web
1999: Kevin Ashton, co-founder of the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), makes a presentation to Procter & Gamble titled: “The Internet of Things”. He linked RFID in P&G’s supply chain to the Internet
1999: Neil Gershenfeld, director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, wrote: “When Things Start to Think” as the co-director of the Things That Think project at MIT Media Laboratory
JUN 2000: South Korea’s LG launches the world’s first Internet refrigerator priced at $20,000
2003-04: RFID deployed commercially in the United States
NOV 2005: International Telecommunications Union (ITU) publishes the first report on IoT
MAR 2008: First European Internet of Things conference held in Zurich
SEP 2008: Cisco, SAP and Sun are among 25 companies to join hands to form IPSO (Internet Protocol for Smart Objects) Alliance, based out of San Francisco
JAN 2009: Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group announces the arrival of the Internet of Things. The year saw the number of things or objects connected to the Internet exceed the planet’s population
JULY 2009: Fitbit hits the market
AUG 2009: China’s premier Wen Jiabao calls IoT a major industry for China and proposes to invest heavily in it
MAY 2010: ZigBee Alliance and IPv6 Forum form strategic partnership with IPSO to speed up adoption of IP networked smart objects
FEB 2011: Ericsson white paper predicts there will be over 50 billion connected devices by 2020
OCT 2011: Nest Labs introduces the Learning Thermostat. It uses sensor algorithms that learn from user behaviour and preferences to adjust temperature
APRIL 2012: Testing of Google Glass—a device with an optical head-mounted display that provides information wirelessly — begins
JUL 2012: Proteus Digital Health gets FDA clearance for its ingestible medical device that wirelessly
communicates a patient’s vital signs to a patch on the skin, which then passes on the information to a mobile phone
DEC 2013: Chip maker Qualcomm, along with other tech firms, forms the AllSeen Alliance, which is intended to develop an open framework to enable the Internet of Things
JUL 2014: Year of the Internet of Things
JAN 2014: Google acquires Nest Labs for $ 3.2 billion
APR 2014: Google Glass goes on sale at $1,500

The result: a multi-billion — and someday soon, a multi-trillion — dollar opportunity for sensor makers, device companies, software companies, cyber security firms and a host of others. Over the past few years, technology giants and consumer-product manufacturers have invested billions on developing products and protocols for IoT. And dozens of startups have cropped up attracting VC funding worth billions. Google picked up smart thermostat maker Nest for over $3.2 billion. VCs have put in over $1 billion into small hardware manufacturers working on IoT in 2013 alone, according to Inc. magazine.

John T. Chambers, chairman and CEO, Cisco, estimates that the Internet of Everything will be a $19-trillion opportunity globally over the next decade. Of that, $14.4 trillion would be for the private sector and $4.6 billion for the public sector. Manufacturing alone could be a $2.9 trillion business.

Over the next decade, several unparalleled opportunities and threats will crop up in myriad industries as the IoT movement gathers steam. It is already creating a nightmare for privacy advocates who fear that soon everyone will be able to access your private life once IoT becomes ubiquitous. Cyber security experts fear that a single Trojan or virus can bring the interconnected world to a standstill. Privacy has already become a thing of the past. As Penny Herscher, CEO, FirstRain, says: “Privacy simply went out the door.”

But IoT advocates point out that advantages far outweigh disadvantages. One of the earliest adopters of IoT was the security industry — there are hundreds of thousands of homes equipped with video cameras today that stream images to tablets and mobile phones of owners. There are other industries developing applications as sensors become more powerful and big data allows better data capture and analysis. One of the biggest farm equipment manufacturers in the world is experimenting with tractors that have sensors which send out a warning when a part starts to wear out. This enables the company to deliver the part to a dealer near the client before it stops working.

In the healthcare industry, wrist bands and other wearable devices are being made so your doctor gets an intimation when you fall sick. Auto manufacturers are building cars that can sense when other vehicles are too close, so that accidents can become a thing of the past. In Europe, smart cities are being built using available IoT devices. India is not far behind, with companies offering you smart devices as well as consultancy for building intelligent houses.

Much of this was on display at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a city that has been re-engineered to become smart. The value creation from turning Barcelona into a smart city is estimated at $3.2 billion. Over the past five years, it has created 47,000 jobs (see The Smartest City).

The IoT movement has already seen some of the biggest companies in every field — Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Ericsson, Nokia, Korea Telecom, Qualcomm, Accenture, Vodafone, Telefonica, General Motors, Mercedes Benz and BMW, among many, many others — investing significantly on developing new products. These companies are adding wireless connectivity to their devices, bringing network connectivity and remote management to their offerings in order to appeal to a growing number of smart consumers. The IoT movement is also forcing rivals within industries to collaborate and agree on standards. This will allow devices manufactured by competitors to function seamlessly. AT&T, Intel, GE, IBM and Cisco are already founding members of the Industrial Internet Consortium, which aims to develop standards that will guide the interoperability of IoT objects.

The critical mass of connected devices is already over 10 billion globally, including over 7 billion mobile phones. Ericsson and Cisco estimate that there will be over 50 billion connected devices by 2020, while others expect it to be close to 100 billion. That means, on average, everyone on the planet will have between six and 14 connected devices.

There are broadly four large segments — home, office, commute and health — in the connected-devices market. It is estimated that by 2020, connected devices in the healthcare vertical alone will be a $285-billion business.

According to a Credit Suisse report, the wearable tech market will touch a nifty $50 billion by 2018. It will include devices such as Fitbit, Fuelband and Jawbone, which track data of users such as number of steps taken, circulation, etc. Globally, connected cars will be another $53 billion, says GSMA. Already some of the biggest car companies, including General Motors, Volvo, Ford, BMW, Tesla and Mercedes, are developing cars that will always be connected to the Internet. The largest market, however,  will be connected homes. The US market alone is expected be a neat $63 billion. AT&T already offers connected home solutions in 81 cities across the US. Soon that should expand to Europe and Asia-Pac.

India, too, is joining the IoT bandwagon. Out of the estimated 50-100 billion connected devices globally in 2020, around 5-10 billion will be in India. The president of data management company NetApp India, Anil Valluri, says: “IoT has massive potential in India, and the IoT mushroom is already growing.”

So what is happening in India? Already, Mumbai-based Eureka Forbes has connected around 150 homes across India. Says Marzin R. Shroff, CEO-Direct Sales and senior vice-president-Marketing, Eureka Forbes: “What we are offering the consumer is a smart home that he can run from outside. That covers home security and energy management.” The current users of the system are largely double income families who travel a lot and are early adopters of gadgets. They can monitor people coming to their house, keep track of elderly parents, switch lights on and off, and walk into a cool home by turning on the air-conditioner a few minutes before reaching home at an initial investment of close to Rs 1 lakh. Meanwhile, security systems that allow you to keep track of your home, air-conditioners that can be switched on when you are 15 minutes from home, and refrigerators that can alert you when you are running out of milk or eggs are already available.

Another concept that is gaining popularity is the smart city. The Lodha group is in the process of building Palava City in Thane district, on the outskirts of Mumbai. It has tied up with IBM to offer a truly interconnected and intelligent city that integrates energy, water, transportation, public safety and smart cards with a central command centre. Of course, Indian smart cities have a long way to go before they reach the levels of Boston, where park benches draw energy from solar panels and allow you to charge your music device and other gadgets, while sensors automatically capture air quality data and send it to the city centre.

While products are being developed across the spectrum, the focus in India could be on healthcare. Jaideep Mehta, vice-president and country general manager, IDC Centre for Consultancy & Research, says: “It will take some time for IoT to happen in India, but healthcare will be one area where we see the most activity happening.”

In the wearables space, Secunderabad-based Ducere Technologies has developed Lechal shoes. The shoes sync with an app on your smartphone and tell you how much you have run and the calories you have burnt. That apart, they connect to Google Maps, so you can easily navigate your way to places you want to get to. Much of the action in IoT will be in services.

“In the next five to six years, IoT is going to be real. In India, we are already in talks with some of the leading automobile companies to embed QNX in vehicles,” says Sunil Lalvani, managing director, BlackBerry India. QNX, which was acquired by BlackBerry in 2014, offers a variety of connected automotive solutions. Other areas that could see a high level of IoT activity are power and food security. Says Dinesh Malkani, president-Sales, Cisco India and SAARC: “IoT can be a big player in security. After all, in areas like uranium mining, we can deploy sensors to ensure there is no loss.”

Germany’s Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions is setting up a development centre in Coimbatore, complete with a programme manager. Domestic startups like SenseGiz Technologies have already developed products to cater to the IoT market. “It’s been a year since we started working (in this space). We realised that this was a nascent space and it looked promising,” says Abhishek Latthe, founder and CEO, SenseGiz Technologies. Says Naveen Chopra, director, Vodafone Business Services: “We are also looking to provide solutions in healthcare, energy management, retail asset management and telematics very soon.”

But while IoT offers a huge business opportunity, consumer rights advocates and privacy watchdogs fear complete chaos. So far, only Google and a few other sites you visited while surfing the Net or posting on a social website kept track of your interests. But as personal devices increasingly get connected to the Internet, and transmit data, it will be hard for you to keep any part of your life a secret. A smart car  will log the roads you drive on and your driving style and will share the captured data with your car workshop. The toothbrush will inform your dentist each time you forget to brush before going to bed. The refrigerator will tell the grocer how much and what you are consuming. The smart television set will send out data on the programmes you watch. And the sneakers you wear will upload your walking pattern to the fitness website. Pretty soon, every bit of your life will be tracked and uploaded as you start embracing smart devices.

If privacy is the big casualty in an IoT environment, a cyber attack is a nightmare. The worst Trojan attack today can, at best, paralyse your work and home computers — and perhaps damage your mobile phone. In a connected world, such an attack can very well cripple your life — from shutting off your smart air conditioner to preventing you from entering your house or starting your car by attacking the onboard computers. That is why IoT is seen as a huge opportunity by all kinds of cyber security firms.

Whether you are one of its cheerleaders or among its detractors, IoT has become a reality — and it is not something you can press ‘rewind’ on.

Welcome to the world of smart machines!

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 25-08-2014)