As with any innovation or trend, as the Internet of Things (IoT) matures, we will see some ingenious applications for IoT devices and data. But we also will see some ignoble ones as well.
For example, IoT projects on Kickstarter include a smart trash can that can alert you when to take out the garbage, a smart jump rope that counts your jumps, and a smart desk that learns your habits and can even order food, make appointments, and set reminders.
Perhaps slightly more useful is the smart wallet, which has lights and alarms that go off when it’s stolen, as well as a GPS tracker to tell you when and where you lost it. This is a handy solution for a vexing inconvenience, but hardly an attempt to take on the greatest challenges facing mankind.
In other words, not every IoT-based innovation sets out to change the world. But this doesn’t mean that these efforts are without value. Although these innovations might seem insignificant or even silly, they share a common feature with IoT-based innovations whose value to mankind is immediately evident.
Could IoT Devices Cure Cancer?
Unlike the examples cited above, the contribution of some IoT-based innovations to the greater good is clear. Take IoT fitness trackers, for example. One of the first examples of mass-produced wearable technology, they are, for many people, their first foray into the world of smart, connected devices (beyond their smart phones, of course). Wearable fitness trackers have changed the types and amount of data we can collect about people’s health.
It used to be that if your doctor wanted you to wear a heart-rate monitor, the device was bulky and expensive. Now, it’s an affordable plastic bracelet.
But the possibilities go way beyond counting your steps or calculating your resting heart rate.
As Apple debuted its ResearchKit app, researchers already were imagining innovative ways to use it. And researchers already are using it to help patients with asthma, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
This is a whole new kind of data for the field of medical research, not based on patients’ self-reporting or on data that are gathered in a controlled lab setting, but real-world data. The usefulness of that kind of information can’t be ignored.
OK, so maybe the data itself won’t cure cancer or any of these other diseases, but it will advance the research and delivery of care faster and more reliably than any other innovation in recent memory.
Tracking Other Data
Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that the IoT is going to be focused only on curing cancer or improving how people with chronic diseases manage their conditions. Other new sources of data are appearing every day with new IoT devices, with their own applications to improve the human condition.
Test projects abound, including some proving that sensors can help grow healthier vegetables and protecting bee colonies with automatic heaters. They have even got Internet-connected cows (seriously) to help farmers catch disease among herds sooner and produce higher quality milk.
Smart electrical grids and smart homes have the potential to revolutionize the way we consume and distribute power. Internet-connected appliances will help manufacturers with research and development of new products and will help retailers predict consumer demand.
But what these “smart” innovations, with their obvious and immediate applications to the biggest challenges facing mankind, have in common with seemingly silly and frivolous applications of IoT technology is that they all are generating whole new kinds of data. And with the variety of IoT devices and all the many and varied new forms of data they produce, anything is possible. Even apparently inconsequential IoT devices, for example, like smart frying pans, yoga mats, or the aforementioned smart desk could turn out to produce invaluable data about cooking or exercise habits. And the applications for this data could reach well beyond furniture that can order your dinner.
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, strategic performance consultant, and analytics, KPI, and big data guru. In addition, he is a member of the Data Informed Board of Advisers. He helps companies to better manage, measure, report, and analyze performance. His leading-edge work with major companies, organizations, and governments across the globe makes him an acclaimed and award-winning keynote speaker, researcher, consultant, and teacher.
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