From refrigerators that can check whether your food is still edible to smart cities that can clear up traffic congestion problems, it seems we’re edging closer and closer to a world where objects of all stripes will be embedded with sensors that collect, track and analyze data – in other words, the future of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Already now, millions of devices are connected to the Internet and this number is predicted to reach the tens of billions by 2020. If the projections are true, the ubiquity of IoT will certainly alter the way we live and interact with physical objects as well as our relationship with the data being gathered by these companies.
Not only that, there will be a huge opportunity across various industries to tap into the data amassed by these devices to optimize products, services and operations. According to research by McKinsey Global Institute, the global IoT economy could be as high as $6.2 trillion by 2025. Despite bold predictions by companies such as Cisco and Siemens about this sphere, the tech trend is still at its early stages and concrete business opportunities are still unclear.
With Tel Aviv Week fast approaching, we caught up with three IoT experts from Tel Aviv and Berlin who will be speaking at Factory Berlin to delve into the Israeli tech ecosystem, as well as explore emerging trends and technologies in the global IoT landscape.
Sensing areas of growth
Whether it’s wearables helping users make better decisions about their fitness or IoT solutions enhancing operations, it’s likely that IoT and its applications will become increasingly relevant to both consumers and businesses in the coming years across a number of industries.
“In Israel, there are some areas where we’re seeing clusters of interest,” says Eran Wagner, founder of the IoT Israel Summit, “Whether it’s a garden sprinkler control system or dog collars with special capabilities, we’re seeing more efforts in consumer electronics – and this is not something this market has been used to in the past.”
In particular, healthcare is an industry where IoT can have a big impact. Wagner is seeing more and more Israeli companies popping up and leveraging IoT-related technologies for better diagnostics, monitoring and image processing for X-rays. “In the future, there will be a gradual shift towards doctor assistants and other solutions that provide better medical care for people at home without even having to visit the doctor,” adds Wagner, who will be speaking about the hottest IoT trends buzzing in Israel at the Tel Aviv Week Conference.
A project that wants to tap into this space with a consumer twist is FeelIT, which develops flexible smart patches designed to sense touch as humans do. “Our fingertip is the most sensitive part of our body and FeelIT’s sensors have similar capabilities to the human fingertip,” explains Meital Segev-Bar, co-founder and CTO of FeelIT, “The smart patches are based on nano materials and printed technology, which make them very simple to produce and scale production.” Potential applications of FeelIT’s sensors include health monitoring wearables, rehabilitation monitoring and touch-sensitive surgical tools among others. “For example, the smart patch can measure your heart rate by putting our sensor at the wrist, just like using your fingers to take your pulse,” she explains.
Founded in 2013, Berlin-based IoT startup relayr is building tools and services to make it easier for device manufacturers, app developers and software companies to connect physical objects to the Internet. Relayr co-founder Harald Zapp also believes health is a space where IoT can help innovate systems but while he thinks consumer IoT is interesting, he sees even more opportunities in the business-to-business realm for IoT.
“For relayr, it’s more important to help industries transform their offerings from a pure product-based offering to a more service-oriented offering,” he says, “Whereas the software world is used to having everything as a service, for the physical world this idea is still relatively new.” Instead of buying a heating system or boiler, Zapp envisions a future where you buy heating as a service. Ultimately, he believes that IoT can enable service-led ideas as well as bring in new disruptive models into the market by working alongside vendors.
We could also see more smart energy networks in both homes and cities, says Zapp. Traditionally, the grid has been designed to deliver power based on when it’s needed and calculated on a yearly basis. But with Internet-connected grids, sensors would be able to monitor, coordinate and price the distribution of power periodically to account for peak and downtimes as well as accommodate renewable energy sources.
“IoT will shift everything, as the Internet has shifted everything – how we learn, play, consume things,” anticipates Zapp, “Everything that’s powered will be connected with the Internet or digitized in one way or another. And based on the digitization of these connected devices, we’ll build new services.”
Currently, Zapp is also working on Next Big Thing (NBT) to strengthen the IoT ecosystem in Berlin. “The purpose of NBT is to incubate, accelerate and invest in IoT ideas,” Zapp tells us, “With relayr, we realized that IoT can be quite complex because it involves some cloud knowledge, mobile knowledge as well as hardware knowledge. It can often be hard to find all of this expertise in a small team, so the aim is to help entrepreneurs, companies and investors from all disciplines improve the process of developing ideas, so it doesn’t take as long.”
Although demand is increasing for IoT applications, these technologies are still at an early phase. As with any broad technological shift, tapping into IoT’s potential poses some key technical and regulatory challenges.
While enterprises have been buying IoT solutions for a couple of decades – which means these organizations have the capabilities to buy more and continue to evolve – other areas will have to architect an infrastructure to integrate the technology. “In the agriculture industry, some parts of the medical world and the industrial space, it’ll be more difficult because the change will be quite significant,” predicts Wagner, who founded the IoT Israel Summit in order to spark discussions on critical issues in this realm and connect international players in the ecosystem.
Privacy is also a huge concern. Can we trust these manufacturers with getting the security right for these Internet-connected devices? What’s the impact of companies having “direct collection of sensitive personal information”? Everything from precise geolocation points, medical data, intimate conversations and daily habits would be connected to the Internet, increasing the risk for security breaches.
When asked about how the future of IoT might look like, Segev-Bar says she imagines IoT evolving into something that resembles the way a human body and its sensing mechanisms function. “So you have the basic human senses and then you have the peripheral nervous system which makes fast decisions and decides what data to transfer and what not to transfer to the brain, where the big decisions are made,” she says, “My vision for IoT is similar. There would be all of these sensors connected to one network that makes local decisions based on a set of rules we’d provide and then there would also be a larger system to take the general data collected to make other, smarter decisions.”
Data volumes will certainly increase in the future and new approaches for translating them into actionable insights will be needed in order for IoT applications to be transformative for both individuals and businesses. There’s no doubt that what’s next for IoT looks promising, yes, but there are also many hurdles to overcome before its potential can be fully captured. It’ll be interesting to see how this ecosystem evolves in the coming decade.