An Internet of things

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taginlineimportIn this two-part blog post, I talked to Geoffrey Zbinden, corporate director of M2M at Orange Business Services. He gave me a better understanding of the emerging concept known as the 'Internet of things', and explained some of its applications.
 
What is the internet of things?
 
The Internet has become more pervasive in our lives in a shorter period of time than any other communications technology in history. It has revolutionised the way that people communicate with each other, but this revolution is only the start. The next phase involves the use of the Internet for direct communication between machinery. Equipment, software, and everyday objects will be able to connect to the Internet directly, using a unique IP address, and speak to each other without human interaction. This has led to a new term that has emerged in recent years: the Internet of things.
 
What kinds of things would 'things' on the Internet say to each other?
Much will depend on the machine-to-machine application that they're participating in, but collectively, they could optimise the productivity of businesses and public sector organisations. They could excel at automating tasks that currently require manual input or those that generate excess greenhouse gasses.
 
What are the practical applications?
 
This could help the 'smart cities' movement, as large municipalities battle to reduce their carbon emissions and increase their operational efficiency. Imagine, for example, sensors in roads that monitor traffic flow, and adjust traffic lights to facilitate a more effective passage of vehicles throughout the city. Or washer/driers that told the grid when they had been left full of laundry, so that it could instruct them to start when overall demand lowered and prices were cheaper.
 
How much work has already been done?
 
Such solutions are not as far-fetched as people might think. In some French municipalities, glass recycling containers are fitted with ultrasonic sensors that send information about how full they are. When containers are three-quarters full, a collection is triggered, leading to the more efficient use of collection and dump trucks, and a corresponding reduction in carbon emissions. And in Maryland, in the US, policy makers have implemented a 'pay as you throw' system, in which household recycling containers feature an embedded RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tag that is automatically read upon collection. The weight recycled is credited to each household, and can be used to reduce taxes, or as credit towards municipal services such as creches and parking.
 
In our next blog post, we will examine some specific examples of machine-to-machine communication in more detail. But make no mistake; the history of the Internet of things is already being written.
 
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.