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Getting Ready for the Internet of Things (IoT)

What Is the IoT?

Watch this video for a quick overview.

How Will the IoT Affect the Education Industry?

For several years, publishers have been developing “smart” curricula that can adapt to students. Cell phones were once banned in schools, but now they are often seen as a valuable asset. As technology changes, so do our expectations.

It will be difficult to anticipate all the changes the Internet of Things will bring. For a deeper perspective about the impact on education, see this recent blog post from our spinoff, metacog, Inc.

Why Now?

Back in the 1970s at MIT, some students wired a Coke® machine to the local network so they could remotely check whether the machine was empty, or even worse, had warm soda. They saved quite a few elevator trips to the basement.

So what’s different now? It’s all a matter of scale. Those students didn’t save much energy, but today in Austin, Texas, several utilities use Nest and other smart thermostats to save more than 5 Megawatts per day. The utilities may spend millions giving rebates to customers as incentive to sign up, but they save even more because the price of electricity is so high at peak demand (as much as $4,900 per megawatt-hour). That helps to explain why Google acquired Nest Labs last year for $3.2 billion. (For more details, see this MIT Technology Review article.)

We take it for granted that our phones and computers are connected full time to the Internet. But that is a relatively recent advance.

In the Internet of Things, just about anything can be connected. Each connected thing needs:

  1. a way to collect or generate data that is useful
  2. a way to send and receive data, either through wires or wirelessly
  3. a way to identify itself, so the data can be found on the Internet.

But there’s more to it. The Internet of Things has been technically feasible for a while, but it was too expensive to execute. Computer chips that send signals with radio waves are now much cheaper. And they are also much smaller, so they can fit into tiny things. The chips are also faster, which is very important for collecting real-world data that changes rapidly.

Internet bandwidth also has been an issue. Today, there are about 5 billion devices on the Internet. If the Internet is sometimes slow now, how will it fare when 25 billion devices are connected in 2020? Most of those new devices will be “things” feeding us data constantly.

Are We There Yet?

Here are few more examples from the Internet of Things to look forward to:

  • Before going to the gym, find out how many treadmills are available.
  • Energy-saving LED lights are already on circuit boards, so it doesn’t take much to customize lighting to match your music or mood.
  • Self-driving cars are being tested on the road now; you may see one in your rear view mirror sooner than you think.

Video credits:
Internet of Things infographic by Wilgengebroed on Flickr [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Radio transmitter chip by University of Southern California and Columbia University (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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