Get Smart: The Internet of Things

Claude Solnik, The Daily Record Newswire

Always a showcase for the next big thing, the International Consumer Electronics Show’s big focus in 2015 seemed to be talk. Big talk. And that’s a good thing.

Companies at the Las Vegas show this year rolled out objects that let cellphones, appliances, thermostats, cars and ships “talk” to each other through what’s being termed the “Internet of Things.”

After the Web revolutionized the economy with email and e-commerce, it’s connecting machines rather than consumers. Devices are transmitting data to other devices – thermostats, burglar alarms, machinery, etc. – all of which can be operated remotely.

“In the past, you might be able to get data from a device, but you had no ability to control or change,” Globecomm CEO Keith Hall said. “With the Internet of Things and two-way communication, you can monitor and control. That ability to control is very powerful.”

Internet of Things 101


A walk through CES might make you think IoT is more flash than function. It’s full of niche devices, like the device that lets you remotely start heating a teapot or know when your bicycle is stolen. Devices on display unlock doors when security cameras recognize faces and turn lights on when you get out of bed. Washer/dryers run on quieter mode when residents are home and phones forward calls when residents leave the house. The Internet of Things is all about tailoring technology to real time.

The IoT revolution has already been making its way into many homes with thermostats and alarm systems controlled by a resident’s smartphone, but the endless possibilities of the technology have yet to take a firm hold in most businesses.

“People are more aware of the technology for the home; they don’t realize how it applies to businesses,” said Bob Williams, president of fire and security system distributor Briscoe Protective Systems. “Remote managed services are good for buildings; building owners don’t have to have somebody on the premises [at all times].”

Some companies are catching on. Verizon cut costs by reducing electricity at 24 data centers through sensors alerting a system when people are present. Prominent landlords, meanwhile, are monitoring their buildings and controlling thermostats via their smartphones.

“You can save on energy costs,” Amityville-based NAPCO Security Technologies CEO Richard Soloway said. “Everything you can do manually, you can do electronically.”

The Iconomy

A Goldman Sachs 2015 report on the Internet of Things describes IoT as “emerging as the next technology mega-trend with repercussions across the business spectrum.” The report describes this Internet wave as the “biggest one yet,” following the emergence of the fixed Internet and rise of mobility.
It’s not new: MIT researcher Kevin Ashton in 1999 coined the phrase to describe connecting devices via the Web – a hard-to-implement concept in the pre-Y2K era. But ever-increasing bandwidth, cheaper sensors and wireless networks have given rise to the smartphone – a virtual control panel for all these devices.

The number of devices connected to the Internet is skyrocketing – there were roughly 1 billion devices worldwide in 1996, 6 billion in 2006 and current projects estimate Internet-connected devices will reach 28 billion by 2020, or roughly four devices per person on the planet.

“One of the focus areas for us is machine to machine,” Hall said. “We’ve been a company that connected people and things around the world. Now we want to help people with that data and the analytics and make that information worth the return on investment.”

Wearable Web-enabled devices also are busy collecting and transmitting data. Revenue from fitness bands, smart watches and glasses reached $5 billion in 2014 and is expected to near $20 billion by 2017.

In the medical field, healthcare devices monitoring weight, pulse and diabetes are gaining steam, informing physicians via the Web of any negative changes without the need for an office visit.

“It’s evolving,” said Marcy Dunn, chief information officer at Catholic Health Services of Long Island. “If you can prevent a patient’s condition from deteriorating to the point where they need hospitalization, it’s good for the patient and it saves money.”

Hauppauge-based Intelligent Product Solutions helped create smart pillboxes that trigger alerts if patients fail to take medications.

“It lets your doctor know whether you’re adhering to medications or not,” said June Severino Feldman, Intelligent Product Solutions spokeswoman.

Cashing in on connectivity


While we may all soon use the IoT, many local firms are rolling out Web-enabled products of their own. NAPCO, for example, debuted its iBridge system in late 2013, letting customers control their home’s HVAC and security systems with their mobile devices.

“Connectivity is the future of the alarm business for the dealers and consumers,” Soloway said.

Feldman said sensors give companies insight into their business. In a smart society, vending machines inform corporate offices of what’s been sold and equipment lets companies know when it malfunctions. You can even find out when or whether a door opened.

“You collect, assemble and send data to be analyzed,” Feldman said of IoT where real-time information is the coin of the realm.

It’s not just HVAC and security systems connecting to the Web either; everything from TVs to washing machines to blinds for windows are now being made with Internet connectivity in mind. Underwriters Laboratories projects smart appliance sales will top $15 billion this year, six years after the first smart appliances debuted.

While more companies are getting in on the action, IoT is creating more cooperation than competition. Globecomm, for example, recently worked with
Ericsson to create systems monitoring fuel levels and container security for shipping giant Maersk. Globecomm also helps Maersk monitor container humidity and temperature, creating ideal conditions for perishables – even determining when fruit ripens.

“We can control the temperature, see the humidity level from when they’re loaded to when they’re shipped,” Hall said. “We can decide to make bananas more or less ripe, depending on the demand at the port.”

That type of connectivity is just the tip of the possibilities iceberg for large corporations, said Feldman.

“Companies haven’t adopted it in a huge way,” she said. “We see some motion toward that.”

Risky business
There are risks and obstacles to moving sensitive data and operating things remotely. While most devices will soon be capable of talking with each other, they may not always be speaking the same language, creating a fragmented IoT.

Honeywell’s Lyric smart home system is designed to accommodate Honeywell devices. EchoStar’s Sage system only works with products it certifies. Apple rolled out HomeKit to automate homes and compete with Samsung’s SmartThings.

And the space is consolidating, as companies find they can make more selling out than selling product. Google bought Palo Alto, Calif.-based Nest, which makes smoke detectors and thermostats connected to cellphones, for $2.2 billion.

Remote activation also could be dangerous. UL developed standards for smart appliances that could pose safety hazards. And hacking could create a whole new house of horrors.

“I think security is a huge aspect,” Hall said. “This is the world of cyber. You saw the movie industry get hacked. Providing secure private networks for our company and customers is a huge part of our vision.”

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