Digital devices are not just in our pockets or our offices, but increasingly in our homes, buildings, and many places and cities. Taking a key role in helping collect, analyse and monitor data and information about their surroundings, these devices are able to communicate with each other through a massive intertwined network known as the Internet of Things.
Smart toasters, connected thermometers and fridges are just some of the everyday "dumb items" being connected to the internet as part of the Internet of Things (IoT).
By combining these connected devices with automated systems, it is possible to "gather information, analyse it and create an action" to help someone with a particular task, or learn from a process. In reality, this ranges from smart mirrors to beacons in shops and beyond.
Why do connected devices need to share data?
An argument has been raised that only because something can be connected to the internet doesn't mean it should be, but each device collects data for a specific purpose that may be useful to a buyer and impact the wider economy.
Public sector organisations such as hospitals can also use sensors to monitor patients more effectively, and local governments can monitor pollution, traffic levels, weather data, and much much more.
Connected machines and objects in factories offer the potential for a 'fourth industrial revolution', and experts predict more than half of new businesses will run on the IoT in the next year or two, this is known as (IIoT) Industrial Interet of Things. Within industrial applications, ffor example sensors on product lines can increase efficiency and cut down on waste.
What's next for the IoT?
Even those who have purchased one of the myriad smart home products from lightbulbs, switches, to motion sensors will attest to the fact IoT is still far from fully developed. Products don't always easily connect to each other and there are significant security issues that need to be addressed.
A report from Samsung says the need to secure every connected device is "critical". The firm's Open Economy document says "there is a very clear danger that technology is running ahead of the game". The firm said more than 17.3 billion devices will need to be made secure by their manufacturers and this still has some way to go.
IoT botnets, created using a network of out-of-date devices took large websites and services offline in 2016. A Chinese firm later recalled 4.3 million unsecured connected cameras. The ease of bringing down the internet using IoT devices was revealed when instead of malicious purposes, the botnet was revealed to have been created to game Minecraft.
What about privacy?
Everything that's connected to the internet is vulnerable to being hacked, IoT products are no exception to this unwritten rule. Insecure IoT systems led to toy manufacturer VTech losing videos and pictures of children using its connected devices.
There's also the issue of surveillance. If every product becomes connected then there's the potential for unbridled observation of users. If for example a connected fridge tracks food usage and consumption, takeaways could be targeted at hungry people who have no food.
The convenience, time saving and efficiency is a big benefit of the IoT and it will take great strides in the near future. More and more devices are connecting to the IoT all the time, but the manufacturers needed to do much more to protect the devices, although connected devices are in the billions worldwide the IoT world is still in its infancy and needs to mature very quickly.