"That thing called the ‘Internet of Things’"- Praveen Rajan - The Coverage
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“That thing called the ‘Internet of Things’”- Praveen Rajan

What is the deal with the ‘Internet of Things’ or IoT? I first heard the phrase back in 1999, the same year Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) coined the phrase. According to him, it is a metaphor for having all objects in daily life equipped with identifiers so computers could manage and inventory them. In layman’s term, it means connecting any device that has an on and off switch – from coffee makers, microwaves, porch lights, home stereos, heart rate monitors, wearables, vehicles to almost anything else you can think of – to the Internet and to each other.

It’s been 18 years since IoT was brought into the spotlight. We now live in a world where the Internet has become a necessity, it’s now more affordable and accessible, more devices are being created with WiFi capabilities and sensors built in, technology costs are decreasing, and smartphone penetration is through the roof. What does this mean? While the idea of IoT is not new – machines talking to each other, smart home appliances, and self-driving cars have been a staple of science fiction for decades, just ask Marty McFly – IoT is one of the most exciting technologies on the horizon for us all.

Everything will be connected

Why would you want so many connected devices talking to each other? How would this profoundly impact how we go about our everyday lives? Let us consider these situations – my fridge at home. What if it could text me and say it was out of eggs or that they were expired? And it goes a step further to ask me if I would like to place an order with my neighbourhood’s mini-mart for a fresh batch.

Another example, you are on your way to a meeting; your car could have access to your calendar and already know the best route to take. If traffic is heavy, your car will send a text to the other party while you’re driving to notify them that you will be late. What if it could also let you know beforehand that it needs repairing so you would never find yourself stranded on the roadside with your car broken down? What if your office equipment inventory knew it was running low on supplies and automatically re-ordered more? And your alarm clock wakes up you at 6 am, telling you it is time to hit the gym but also alerts your coffee maker to start brewing for you?  What if…what if…what if…?

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The possibilities are endless for you and me, as well as all aspects of commercial life. The truth is, if it could be in your home, it could also be realised in components of machines in oil fields, factory floors and intensive care. With the advent of technology and innovation, and as IoT becomes more prevalent in the next few years, more devices will join that list. In short, if you can build it, the chances of it connecting to the Internet is fairly high.

On a broader scale, IoT can be applied to things like transportation networks and smart cities. Quite simply, smart cities use IoT devices such as connected sensors, lights, and meters to collect and analyse data. The cities then use this data to improve infrastructure, public utilities and services, and more. Cities like London have said it would begin its tests on a smart parking project to help drivers locate parking spaces quickly. If successful, it solves not only the common issue of lengthy searches for open spots but lessens traffic congestion and not to mention carbon emissions.

Copenhagen, on the other hand, has piloted sensors to monitor the city’s bike traffic in real-time, using the insightful data to improve bike routes in the city. This project is invaluable considering over 40% of the city’s residents travel by bike daily. A bigger population of a city also spells for an increased rate of utility services consumption. The larger the consumption, the more crucial it is for cities to be sustainable in the way it consumes these resources.

Energy consumption should be a consideration for all smart cities, including Malaysia, given that our electricity consumption per capita is higher than the more industrialised China. That’s why the smart metering pilot in Putrajaya and Malacca is a welcomed news for us. Smart meters provide access to information that will help Malaysians identify and manage their energy consumption. This is a good step towards encouraging more sustainable consumption patterns for the long-term.

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The world’s leading information technology research and advisory firm, Gartner, says that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices, with some even estimating this number to be much higher, over 100 billion. Not surprising since the IoT is a giant network of connected ‘things’ covering the relationship between people-people, people-things, and things-things. In Malaysia, the IoT market is valued at RM9.5 billion GNI creation by 2020 and RM42.5 billion by 2025, with largest potentials in Utilities and Automotive (Source: National IoT Strategy Roadmap, 2015). By 2018, connected vehicles, insurance telematics, personal wellness, and smart buildings are predicted to be the four key verticals that will account for RM3 billion in spending (Source: IDC Malaysia, 8 March 2017). Based on these numbers, IoT is really the future of the world’s currency.

 

IoT is here and within your reach

We see glimpses of the potential and real value of IoT being slowly but surely unveiled before our eyes. There are many local companies taking strides forward into the future by creating solutions that digitally integrate our lifestyles and workplaces. You’ve seen this in many instances, and maybe experienced them yourself – being able to switch lights on and off remotely, using baby monitors with sensors to auto-change temperatures or play soothing music using voice triggers, and home security and surveillance systems at a touch of your smartphones’ buttons.

We’ve worked on some of these interesting products ourselves over the years, building on our history of connecting devices-to-devices by adding a smart solutions layer that makes it more meaningful for you. From our family safety app which, among other things, has an auto geofencing alert to tell parents when their children venture out of safety areas, to most recently, a solution for businesses to manage their vehicles smartly. The hardware, software and connectivity fleet solution helps translate digital into real business value with bottom-line impact for business owners.

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For instance, Mr. Business Owner can now know where all his company vehicles are in real-time, how safe his drivers are on the road, which cars are due for maintenance, how much fuel each vehicle uses, and should an accident occur, who caused it. All this with clever use of a hardware placed in the vehicle, with information being instantly transferred by the internet and a smart software to analyse vehicle data made available for you on any smart device. And when this solution is available for private vehicle owners like you and me (which I hear is sometime this year!), it would be very useful. For example, if you shared data on your safe driving habits to insurance providers, it could mean more affordable insurance premiums for you. And we’re just scratching the surface.

Connected vehicles and insurance telematics are two of the fastest growing use cases for IoT in Malaysia. The outlook is promising, where commercial vehicles carrying goods are increasingly required to have real-time tracking systems as per SPAD’s ICOP safety guidelines, and the number of registered vehicles total more than 27.6 million in 2016 with growth rates set to maintain at over 60,000 and 500,000 per year respectively for new commercial and private vehicles. Imagine how much value IoT will bring to vehicle owners.

Clearly, IoT offers us the opportunity to be more efficient in how we do things, saving us time, money and often emissions in the process. It allows companies, governments and public authorities to re-think how they deliver services and produce goods. The quality and scope of data across IoT generates an opportunity for much more personalised, contextualised and responsive interactions between you and ‘things’ to create meaningful solutions and experiences for you. From safety and security, vehicles, health, virtual reality, entertainment to energy. So, if you could use IoT to change the way you live every day, what would it be? What if…what if…what if….it will soon become a reality.

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