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The Internet of Things at home: Why we should pay attention

Robert L. Mitchell | July 1, 2014
Some of the current consumer products could lead into important enterprise tools. An explanation, a slideshow and some data.

The same intelligence that unlocks your car may also be streaming data back to the manufacturer, creating a big data repository that can be analyzed to predict failures and improve overall reliability and performance.

Product-specific apps and cloud-based controls for individual smart devices, such as those that come with Wi-Fi thermostats and cloud security cameras, are slowly giving way to consolidated home automation systems that allow basic monitoring and control of every smart device on your home network, all from a single console. These systems often include a mobile app and website, a physical hub in the home that serves as a consolidation point and a third-party service that connects smart devices in the home with the mobile and Web application consoles that monitor and control them.

Home automation systems can also orchestrate how all of the intelligent things in the home react to an event by, for example, turning on lights, unlocking the front door and turning up the heat as you're driving home; or by arming the home security system, turning down the lights and thermostat, and shutting the blinds when you tell the system it's bedtime.

Eventually, home automation systems may collaborate with your local utility as well. Pacific Gas & Electric, for example, has already installed 9 million smart gas and electric meters on customers' homes. The next step, says CIO Karen Austin, will be to communicate directly with devices within what she calls the "home area network" to save energy, smooth out demand and allow the grid to run more efficiently. "The smart meters need to interact with smart thermostats and home networks so they can make informed decisions," she says. For example, if demand has peaked on a given day, "We could communicate that from the smart meter to the smart thermostat, and it could take appropriate action."

Ultimately, the combination of the IoT and analytics may lead to a world that anticipates our needs before we know them. Consider 24eight, a startup that sells smart slippers with pressure sensors in the soles. The slippers know when a person is standing and can predict the likelihood of a fall. But based on an analysis of data on how many users walk, says Tully, 24eight says that it can also predict whether a person might be in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's or is developing some other mental or physical condition that needs attention.

In the future, Tully says, most of the opportunities presented by the IoT will derive not so much from the little conveniences that smart things can offer to consumers as from what can be done by analyzing, in the aggregate, the vast volumes of data that all of these devices produce.


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