The hype and press around the Internet of Things is in full flow, with mobile, social, cloud and embedded technologies encircling IT and the Web with a faint, nebulous glow - like WIMP particles or The Force. But, how does something as exotic-sounding as Japanese smart cities, American university labs racing driverless cars or monstrous Chinese smart factories become relevant to us on a wet weekend in Leeds?
The truth is, businesses and consumers are already surrounding ourselves with the Internet of Things, and have been for years. It might have started for most of us with smartphones, or fitness bands, but has crept further into our lives through smart cars, smart home lighting to heating gadgets and grid-linked solar power panels on our roofs. As the Internet of Things grows, it will increasingly affect everyone through digital health initiatives, elderly care, social mobility and in other ways.
There are many opportunities to benefit from the Internet of Things. But a common question is, how do you find out about local initiatives, how can you get involved and, ultimately, make use or profit from them?
Beyond the gadget news pages, often dominated by US gizmos and initiatives, one good place to look is at a national or local government level. A recent Government Office for Science report by the government's Chief Scientific Advisor highlights the areas that they expect people in the UK to focus on. These include areas such as transport, renewable energy, health, and for business markets such as farming and buildings.
Looking at health, which will play a major part in all our lives, the Internet of Things will have a massive impact. Right now, robots are appearing in hospitals doing the menial tasks of taking fresh and soiled bedding to and from the laundry to the wards. Others take medicines to where they are needed, saving sending nurses back-and-forth. In old peoples' homes, robots will soon be helping to lift and massage the infirm. That might be scary for current pensioners but will be cool for us come old age, and save nurses breaking their backs day in and out.
As users, we can soon expect to see all out IoT data vanish into the cloud. That can be compared will billions of similar records to help solve all sorts of big data problems, from potential traffic hold ups to finding people who may have a heart condition. In these and ways yet to be imagined, the Internet of Things will provide new opportunities for firms to provide proofs of concept, demo apps and other ways to raise their profile as leading digital powerhouses and creative forces.
Naturally, the Internet of Things presents a host of new questions, many of which are focused around hot topics like security and trust issues. There is a long way to go before businesses, the government and the end user will be satisfied about just how safe we are, and there will be data leaks and dramas to come (wait for an IoT disaster movie blockbuster). Much of the media will stir up panic about these issues, but its been going okay so far, and companies are aware of the risks.
The Internet of Things might sound like the preserve of multinationals and major cloud players, but increasingly it is individuals, startups and small businesses that are developing the big ideas that will become key to success. Local projects like the Digital Catapult Centre could prove useful sources of information and inspiration.
Ultimately, the Internet of Things will affect every person, every business and most facets of life. Spotting those opportunities now, whether it is porter robots in hospitals, smart lighting requirements for new housing estates or techno-pumps at your local pub, gaining access to the business opportunities behind them is key to getting on board. Not only will they help your bottom line, but they could improve lives, save the environment, power and money, which are always worthwhile investments. For users, it makes for a fascinating future, full of endless possibilities and (yeah, just maybe) killer robots!