theguardian.com – Next-gen tech
Connected spaces: the next step for the internet of things
The internet of things is too screen-focused. To be truly revolutionary, machines must link up to make our environments work harder for us
Xbox’s Kinect system is an example of how IoT can be used to create more connected spaces. Photograph: Graham Turner/Guardian
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Throughout 2014, the internet of things (IoT) was undeniably one of the most popular and widely discussed topics in our industry. Manufacturers, companies, brands and agencies have been exploring its merits and pitfalls, trying to decipher what it means for the digital industry and for society as a whole. CES 2015 fuelled the trend even further. Everyone wants to know where the next big disruption is going to happen, and how to capitalise on it.
The basic principle behind IoT is to connect every possible electronic device to the existing internet infrastructure. The goal is to allow “things” to tap into the unlimited resources of the world wide web, making them smarter and more useful. Beyond that, it means creating a huge amount of new data gathering points – data coming in from virtually everywhere.
According to Gartner and ABI research , there will be around 26 to 30 billion devices wirelessly connected to the internet by 2020 (some sources putting the number closer to 50 billion). That’s a lot of data being harvested from devices spread across the world.
In theory, IoT makes a lot of sense. It is easy to imagine how bringing a myriad of sensors and appliances online can produce many benefits: in our homes, workplaces and cities, resulting in new functionality at our fingertips. Nest’s Thermostat and Smoke Detector , or wearable smart wristbands like Nike’s FuelBand or Jawbone’s Fitness Trackers are good examples of IoT devices that already exist.
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Microsoft has been working for years on the concept of the connected living room with its Kinect and Xbox devices. Even more ambitious, Apple’s HomeKit and Healthkit , and Google’s Fit , aim to create connected device ecosystems to change the way we manage and share data. And there are already connected city initiatives deployed in Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Helsinki and Singapore striving to collect, manage and share data about the local environment, security, transport and finances.
The range of devices primed for connectivity is huge. But there is a catch.
The current IoT approach is fine for mobile interaction behaviours, but it’s not going to change the fundamental way we interact with the digital environment. It still counts on the mobile device and the digital screen in general. It’s still replicating behaviours that we have adopted and now see as normal. These interactions still require us to rely on screen interfaces, to trigger actions, to tap here or there, to load this site or application.
But the connectivity concept resonates way beyond the mobile device and the digital screen; it transcends all kind of environments: body, home, city, industry and the environment. If we chose, the connectivity phenomenon could take us to a far more interesting place: connected spaces.
Consider everything that can be connected in a space: it’s far more than connecting wearable devices and phones to a few gadgets or screens. It is about a fundamental change in the information flow direction. Most of us have some kind of device, most of them with some level of connectivity capability. Environments can detect our devices and react to them on many different levels. The more connected spaces are, the more information is available, and so devices can react better, faster and more accurately.
The beauty about this fundamentally different way of thinking about connectivity, is that it makes our environments, our urban spaces, work harder for us. It can power completely new ways to interact with our environment; interactions that go beyond the screen, wearables and simple connected “things”.
Connected spaces can truly change the way we interact with our world. As the intersection between the digital and the physical continues to blur, our environments could really start to create more accurate, engaging and useful experiences. Buildings detecting our presence, querying our phones for details we want to publicly share, tapping into public services and welcoming us with the right information.