By Charles A. “Drew” Settles
Innovation in the Internet-of-things (IoT) marketplace is increasing. Startups and established companies are creating new sensors or utilizing old ones in new and interesting ways to increase insights and profits.
Defined simply, the IoT is the concept of a Web-connected world. As sensors, computing and networking devices decrease in size and cost, Web-connected machinery and appliances become feasible. The push to collect and analyze big data has accelerated the growth of the IoT, but it can be difficult to realistically assess potential investments.
Research firm Gartner gave the Internet of things top placement on its recent 2014 Hype Cycle. As more companies enter the marketplace and Gartner’s “Plateau of Productivity” approaches in the next five to 10 years, the industry is likely to see some retraction and consolidation.
At TechnologyAdvice, we work with businesses seeking to adopt and adapt to new technologies. As a result, we stay abreast of recent IoT developments, and how businesses can integrate these devices into their processes and workflows. The devices and their uses outlined below are examples of current and potential innovations in this space.
Envisioned by its founders as a “tiny and affordable computer for kids,” Raspberry Pi has potential far beyond the classroom. The low cost—around $35—and open platform has encouraged thousands of tinkerers, inventors and engineers to develop Raspberry Pi-based solutions to a host of problems.
From fermentation controllers to remote weather stations to supercomputers, businesses have barely begun to scratch the surface of Raspberry Pi’s potential. We anticipate continued interest in this device, as well as increasing investment by enterprises in white-label solutions or the development of similar platforms.
ION Energy Solutions
ION Energy Solutions makes “the smartest utility meters on the planet,” according to its Website and business development director Chuck Britton. ION’s water meters and thermostats are providing a huge return on investment for the commercial and multifamily apartment buildings where they’ve been installed. A few clients we interviewed have already recouped their costs (at up to $350 each) in as little as six months.
The meters monitor gallons, events, temperature and time—much more than traditional meters do. Connected to each other and monitoring software via a 2.4 GHz wireless mesh network, the meters allow for real-time monitoring and leak detection. ION’s systems and similar products from competitors have real potential in a world where changing weather patterns, political winds and growing populations have made water shortages a problem.
These meters are currently only available to large, multifamily and commercial real estate companies. However, Google’s Nest and related products are bringing similar technology to the consumer market.
RFID and NFC
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and its cousin, near-field communication (NFC), are another area of opportunity for IoT-focused businesses. While the technologies are hardly new, companies are still figuring out how to use them to create business value.
Breweries and distributors are using RFID to track kegs; hospitals are using the tags to track patients, staff and medications; and a company called Roving Networks is even exploring tracking packages, mobile devices, and other items with RFID and WiFi.
Apple Pay and other NFC payment technologies are the latest developments in this market—and likely the best known. However, marketing, supply chain management and other industries have as much or more potential for NFC development. One particular area to watch is how Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) devices, or beacons, will be used by various enterprises.
The ubiquitous smartphone is perhaps the biggest area of opportunity for businesses investing in IoT. While these devices are, of course, primarily consumer-focused, the business applications for smartphones are undeniable.
Field service technicians use smartphones to log work, communicate and scan QR or barcodes to track inventory. Physicians are using smartphones and tablets to transition to electronic health records and input orders. Sales representatives can update their CRM system while on the road, and can use the GPS functions of the phone to get directions to their next sales call.
A more interesting business use of smartphones is encouraging consumers to collect data on behalf of a business. Google, through its Niantic Labs subsidiary, has developed Ingress, an augmented-reality game that melds capture-the-flag with geocaching. So far, over two million players have voluntarily reported their GPS-tracked movements and submitted photos and descriptions of landmarks, businesses and other points of interests.
By developing this game, Google has created a giant network of devices and people that generate millions of data points to enhance Google’s Maps application, self-driving car and other navigation-centric business segments.
The Internet of things may be experiencing a period of hype, but there’s a good reason for it. Businesses are creating huge amounts of value thanks to Web-connected sensors and devices.
If your research and development department comes to you with a seemingly crazy request for what appears, to the uninitiated and uninformed, to be consumer technology, don’t dismiss it out of hand. Your competition is likely already creating new and more interesting ways to use these devices.
Charles Settles is a product analyst at TechnologyAdvice. He covers topics related to business intelligence, gamification, health care IT and project management. Connect with him on LinkedIn.