You can connect a lot more to smart devices than just coffee machines. There are several personal and business application scenarios where IoT can enhance existing solutions or even create new approaches. In this section, we will discuss the most important applications of IoT – and look at how the opportunities offered by IoT are continuing to expand. Please note, some of these examples are more like a concept today, while others are existing products.
A studio, flat, or even an entire house can be equipped with IoT technology according to our needs, habits and daily routines. When building up an IoT system by yourself, you are the integrator who puts together these smart "things", connects them to the internet, and designs and describes your needs. Building up an IoT system to make a flat or house smart and able to respond to our needs requires basic IT skills and general self-knowledge as well. Several companies sell IoT devices to owners to set up an IoT-based solution so they can have a customised home that responds to their habits and needs.
In most IoT systems, as well as in IoT-enabled homes, sensors and actuators form the complete local IoT solution. To supervise and interact with the system, dedicated controllers or specific applications on smartphones and tablets can be used.
There are several gadgets that can be used as smart home IoT elements. Let's examine some of them:
Smart light bulbs can be connected to the IoT network of a smart house. This connection allows lights to respond to notifications set by the user. For example, through facial recognition (a camera at the front door), lights can automatically turn on when we arrive at home and automatically turn off when we leave the house. Or with motion sensors, lights can be switched on and off according to the user’s movement. The lights can also adapt to weather conditions downloaded from the internet or adapt to our emotional state – guessed by the IoT system based on our behaviour.
Doors are also "smarter" with IoT. Another example of facial recognition with camera-based IoT systems is to have a smart lock/unlock sensor on the door, which is connected to a camera. Whenever all family members leave the house, the door locks itself, and when the first family member returns home, the door opens.
Windows and window blinds:
Windows can react automatically with sensors responding to weather changes, inside and outside temperature, and air quality. For example, the windows can automatically close if it rains or may open if the air quality inside worsens. Window blinds can respond to the amount of incoming sunlight by automatically drawing the curtains.
A smart fridge can detect and monitor the number of available products inside. When running out of any essential food, the fridge notifies the user and it can also automatically order from the internet.
The outside of a home can be equipped with IoT devices as well. Sensors can measure the dryness of the soil and if it is too dry, an automated system waters the garden. If the grass surpasses a certain height, a robotic lawnmower mows the lawn.
Considering the complete network of IoT sensors, our home can become even smarter in many ways, like security and energy efficiency.
Based on the connected lights, doors, windows and curtains, a smart security system can be created that mimics the presence of the family and also sends alerts if a non-family member tries to enter the property.
Energy consumption optimisation:
Based on the data collected about our behaviour at home and our energy consumption, an energy profile can be created and optimised by automatically switching off unused lights, ensuring smart ventilation based on the temperature and air quality inside and out, and also having an adaptive and automatic heating system.
These and further sensors and actuators can be involved in an IoT enabled smart home. The user, as the integrator, decides which components to include to meet their specific needs.
If we can equip our houses with IoT devices, what about ourselves? Can we have an IoT-enabled body? Of course we can! But don't worry – this doesn't mean that you necessarily need implants. There are many IoT sensors that you can wear without any hassle – smartwatches, smart shoes, or a blood oxygen monitor, for example – and IoT devices like smart pillows and smart medicine cabinets you can use.
With the help of these sensors, a large amount of data about the user can be collected. This can then be analysed, by the user, by professionals or by computer programs in order to have a healthier life or better performance in sports.
Let's see some examples of applying IoT sensors to sports and healthcare:
Today the most used wearable products are smartwatches. They can track the number of steps taken, calories burned, active time passed, heart rate, sleeping time and sleep quality. Based on these numbers, people can adapt their daily activities and sleep times to improve their health.
For semi-professional and professional sportsmen and sportswomen, the collected data is sent and reviewed by a trainer (personally or remotely over the internet). Based on this data, the trainer makes suggestions for the training plan. Specific sports at a professional level may include more advanced sensors which help the trainer to develop a more precise training plan, like a shoe with a power-meter for cycling and running or a blood oxygen meter.
Personal responsibility and risk prevention are critical to healthcare. Even without involving any medical professionals, data-based knowledge of people’s health status can save lives. ECG-enabled smartwatches can detect some serious heart diseases, pulse monitors can alert you to abnormal pulse regions, and even knowing your daily activity and sleep times can have a big impact.
Health-related data can also be supervised by doctors. People suffering from chronic diseases often don't follow their treatment plan. With the use of wearable IoT devices, a patient's habits and health status will be completely transparent to doctors. Thanks to IoT, doctors are now able to warn their patients to follow the medical plan and are also able to adapt the plan if needed. If necessary, the doctor can also suggest setting up a personal appointment.
Even if just the currently available IoT devices were used in sports and healthcare, people would have a significant improvement in their overall health status. And we are only at the beginning of the IoT revolution!
We saw in the previous two case studies how IoT can improve personal well-being, life at home and health. What else do we need? Food! Let's see how IoT can help us to consistently produce better quality food – and more of it – at lower costs.
As the population grows, food production levels must keep pace without a degradation in quality. IoT may bring a true revolution in agriculture.
For most of humankind's history, data was not collected by machines, but farmers shared their experiences with their family and neighbours. Based on their own and shared experiences, they developed a strategy for growing plants and breeding animals. And this strategy was always upgraded with the latest experiences and adapted to environmental and weather changes.
But now, the needs of society have changed and increased, and production has adapted to it. The utilisation of data is the biggest success factor in production planning. Data collection is not a manual process anymore – it's automatic and can operate worldwide. If a data-based strategy works in the USA, it would probably work in Europe too so long as all the important aspects are considered, like temperature, humidity, seed/animal types, minerals in water, and so on.
When sensors are used to collect data in agriculture, and the data is used to make decisions, we already have smart agriculture. In a completely IoT-based smart agriculture system, sensors not only collect data, but an automated strategy adapts the process according to the collected information to improve production.
In agriculture, almost every nuance of production can be monitored by sensors: temperature, humidity, soil moisture, nutrient content, weights, hours of sunlight, etc. The collected data is sent to a central computer, where farmers and applications analyse it to make smarter decisions about the next steps.
For example, by monitoring the humidity of the soil and considering the weather forecast from the internet, the amount of watering needed can be calculated automatically. In this way, money is saved on unnecessary water consumption, and plant diseases can be avoided by preventing overwatering.
What about animals? Indeed, we would like to have healthy animals. An animal's daily activities can also be monitored with sensors on their collars or legs, for instance. Based on the movement patterns collected by the collar, the animals' location and activity type (resting, moving, eating) are known. Based on this data, a consistent daily routine can be developed which optimises the production of milk, eggs, and so on. Animals may also have IoT sensors inside their body. By helping to ensure that animals are healthier, the result can be an improvement in quality and quantity for products like milk – which also means humans will be healthier too.
After understanding how IoT can improve our life (home, health and food), let's think about the other sectors where IoT can achieve significant enhancements.
With manufacturing, the story is similar to agriculture – without collected data the experience (and feedback from customers) determined the strategy of the next production cycle. By making a factory IoT enabled, data can be collected from several sources, which helps to optimise production in terms of quality, quantity, consistency and cost efficiency.
After the previous examples, you should have many ideas about the types of sensors that can be applied in manufacturing. In manufacturing, IoT sensors can be used to measure parameters of:
the environment, like humidity, temperature, air quality, seismic activities, noise levels and sounds
the production process, with camera images, current and voltage, torque and angle measurements, to name just a few
Think about IoT-enabled smart soldering printed circuit boards (PBC) as an example. The most important steps are adding solder paste to the exposed pads, placement of the components to be soldered, placement of the soldering device, temperature set through time for melting the solder paste, and cooling. To make a high-quality product, all of these steps must be performed precisely with proper settings. However, the proper settings may be different on different days and at different times of year. Temperature, humidity, materials, wear and tear – all of these can influence the overall quality. By collecting and analysing data – possibly on many machines, in many factories – a deeper understanding and knowledge can be developed, which means the settings can be adapted to the other parameters of the system.
In production the data collected from IoT sensors can not only be used for optimised production performance, but for predictive maintenance as well. To do this we collect data from the production process when we are sure that everything works well. Later, if some machines in the production line have a minor issue (such as gears becoming worn), which doesn't have a negative effect on the products produced, the collected data can still indicate the early symptoms of later failures. This means the required maintenance can be scheduled with the least downtime – which saves time and costs.
Smart schools can be equipped with IoT-enabled sensors, including in the building, the classrooms, the gym and the canteen. The building can be equipped with IoT devices in a similar way to smart homes to optimise costs and improve security.
Classrooms might have sensors (for example contact sensors on chairs) to monitor attendees and create attendance sheets automatically. The attention of the students in the class can be quantified with camera-based eye tracking and microphone-based noise detection. According to the collected data, the performance of students and lecturers can be monitored. Also, actuators might be triggered to open the window and let in some fresh air if the attention of the class decreases.
Autonomous driving will probably change the world. However, in 2020, the best approaches are mostly so-called “Level 2” solutions – which means partial automation, including steering, acceleration and braking while the driver is holding both hands on the steering wheel to intervene if needed. However, it is likely that humanity will be able to achieve a higher level of autonomous driving in the future. As self-driving vehicles are connected to the internet, these machines involve many IoT-enabled components.
For example, the sensor data from the engine is sent to the cloud and analysed by computer applications, sending an alert if any current or possible future problem is detected, like in the case of manufacturing. Also, health data can be collected by the car, like in the case of wearable devices, as discussed before. Such data can be used to handle critical situations (for example if the driver has a heart attack) or to improve safety and the driving experience as a whole (for example to suggest the driver stop in case of fatigue). Furthermore, cars can be connected in the cloud and share information, and even the road itself may have sensors. Connected cars and roadside sensors can collect data about the traffic and weather in large areas, making better data-driven strategies possible.
If all or most of the techniques discussed so far are used, then cities can be transformed into IoT-enabled smart cites. In smart cities, sensors and actuators are used on both a micro and macro scale. Microscale means within the different sectors where IoT is applied – examples of which were discussed in this section. Macroscale refers to connecting these individual sectors with each other to build a city-wide network of IoT devices. Smart cities involve IoT-enabled devices on many levels, like smart homes, smart hospitals, smart schools, autonomous driving, smart bikes, smart transportation, smart waste management, smart streetlights, and the internet everywhere, amongst other things.
As the number and types of connected devices increase, there will certainly be more sectors and scenarios that are improved by IoT. That’s why it’s important to know and follow the latest news about IoT and to use these technologies in your personal and professional life.