08-10-2020 | By Robin Mitchell
The use of Industry of Things has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. What is the IoT, what types of devices are generally considered IoT, how has IoT reacted to COVID, and what future role will IoT play in pandemics to come?
The Internet of Things, or IoT for short, is the name given to the global network of basic devices being given internet capabilities. While internet-capable devices such as laptops and PCs have been around for a number of decades, IoT is mostly concerned with devices that are computationally basic (such as microcontrollers and SoCs), and often have basic roles. Each year, the number of IoT devices increases significantly, and it is now estimated that there are currently more than 10 billion devices worldwide with an estimated 21.5 billion by 2025.
IoT has helped to improve key technologies such as AI thanks to the large amounts of data being gathered, and there are even offshoots of IoT such as Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, which is integrating IoT devices into industrial applications. While most IoT devices operate on networks such as Wi-Fi, other commonly used networks and communication protocols include Bluetooth, Ethernet, and Cellular.
IoT devices come in all shapes, sizes, and functions being found in almost every application. One common example of an IoT device is a room temperature and humidity monitor; these devices record the temperature and humidity of a room, then relay this data back to a server. Once on a server, other IoT devices (such as AC and window control systems), can then react to this data to make changes to the environment.
Another common example of IoT devices in widespread use would be agricultural systems which need to monitor crops and the weather. These devices, just like room sensors, will also be able to monitor outdoor environmental conditions, but may also be able to measure the moisture content of the soil. From there, sprinkler systems can be remotely controlled to provide water to crops intelligently (i.e. making decisions based on the weather).
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen widespread unemployment as a result of lockdowns. While many businesses have shut down, others continue to operate and have become heavily reliant on remote working. As a result, demand in technology that enables remote work, such as personal devices and internet connections, have seen a rise in demand. But the IoT industry has also seen an increase in adoption thanks to its ability to operate remotely, provide functionality, and generate key data.
A recent report by Vodafone which surveyed over 1,600 businesses showed that 84% of businesses which had begun to adopt IoT technologies found that it has made a positive impact on their ability to function during the pandemic. Of those companies that were surveyed, 73% of mature adopters of IoT devices found that not only has IoT helped to free up employee time, but have also seen a significant return on investment. The survey also found that 87% of companies who adopted IoT technologies determined that IoT is critical for future-proofing their business, and allows them to adapt to changes in the market more rapidly.
The report by Vodafone demonstrates how IoT can help business cope with remote working as well as helping to react to sudden market changes, but this does not mean that IoT is a solution for all businesses. For example, cafes (which have been particularly hurt by the pandemic), cannot deploy IoT technologies to help maintain their business as it requires employees to be physically at the site with customers. Of course, other technologies such as drone delivery could be a solution to businesses being able to ship products to individual customers remotely but is more than likely to be impractical for many businesses (delivering a cake and coffee via drone may not be appropriate).
Of course, IoT is not just about simple devices that record environmental data; they can also be used for recording any data remotely. This can include arriving shipments to a warehouse, monitor equipment health, and track the locations of vehicles. The ability to access this data remotely allows for intelligent systems to be developed that can respond to events in real-time, and this is especially important during a lockdown when most are confined to their homes.