The Internet of Things

The much-derided Internet Fridge may well become a household item now that the Internet of Things is now, well, a thing. It’s a buzz-phrase you might have heard bandied about, but what it boils down to is a proliferation of ‘uniquely identifiable’ everyday items which are able to communicate over a network.

A new generation of tiny, low-power and low-cost processors means that these connected objects won’t cost much more (if any more) than their non-smart counterparts. Hence, when you next upgrade your fridge/freezer, it could tell you when you’re running low on the essentials and might even be able to order the stuff from Ocado for you. Alternatively, your bath could send you a text message when it’s finished filling up your preset temperature or you fire up an app on your smartphone and choose whether to have a double espresso or a latte from your coffee machine.

By 2020, estimates suggest there will be between 25 and 75 billion devices connected to the internet which is considerably more than there are now (roughly 13 billion). We’re already buying these smart objects: thermostats such as the Google Nest and wearable devices such as the Fitbit Flex.

Within the next few years, a smart meter will be fitted in your home, if one hasn’t been already. This will do away with the need for the guy who comes to read the meter, and means that your electricity company can bill you for the exact amount you’ve used rather than estimating.

Of course, as more and more appliances and devices get connected, a few problems arise. One is technical: how do products communicate if they’re made by different manufacturers? Currently there’s no Internet of Things standard so it’s an issue that’s yet to be resolved.

Another is the issue of privacy. If devices such as smart meters, thermostats and even your car are sending data back to base, who has access to that data? What will they use it for?

Perhaps more worrying is that these devices could be hacked into and misused. It wouldn’t be a disaster if a hacker remotely turned on your kitchen lights, but it’s a completely different story when it comes to your car and its electronic fly-by-wire controls.

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