Internet of Things, a neologism coined by Kevin Ashton, a researcher at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston), is the common denominator of a set of technologies that allow an object to become connected and communicating through the network, with the purpose to monitor, control and transfer information useful for carrying out consequent actions.
More and more often we hear about smart objects, mistakenly identifying them with computers and smartphones. At least in theory, anything can become part of the IoT universe, if it is possible its unique identification via IP address and if it has the ability to exchange data on the network without the aid of man. Refrigerators, light bulbs, streets, bracelets, but also animals, plants and ‘people’ become smart, starting from the premise that intelligence is not in fact linked to things but to the services they can offer.
The IoT counts now 5 billion devices, a number destined to grow exponentially already in the short term. At the same time, however, we are already widening the horizons of this universe with concepts such as the Internet of Everything, which aims to connect everything that exists, or the Internet of Me, indicating all those objects belonging to the wearable category, and not only, able to interact directly with the end user to give him an extremely personalized experience.
On closer inspection, the IoT universe has been present in our lives for much longer than the time when it became customary to use the term that characterizes it. Many of us share their daily routine with bracelets or smart watches, without realizing their characteristics to the full. In the common imagination, the IoT remains something very sophisticated, linked to robots, but it is increasingly gaining curiosity and a general consensus, unlike the skepticism caused by artificial intelligence.
Everything that surrounds us can acquire, through for example the RFID code (radio frequency identification) or other technologies, an electronic identity capable of making interact real objects and places of any kind. The result of this close relationship between Big Data, Analytics and IoT is intelligent management capable of optimizing production processes and economic activities in real time, reducing pollution and waste of resources.
The active role of objects can find its own application in the most varied fields of man’s public and private life. Much has already been said and written on intelligent cars with assisted driving or on the so-called wearable technologies intended for the control of physical or environmental parameters. Less known is perhaps the potential related to public services and traffic. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Mit), the Institute of Informatics and Telematics of the National Research Council (Iit-Cnr) of Pisa and the Swiss Institute of Technology (Eth), have developed a new traffic management system of vehicles that can replace traditional traffic light intersections, thus reducing queues and delays. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, the smart traffic lights are already operative, capable of autonomously evaluating the presence of pedestrians and lighting up accordingly, while in Los Angeles and Indianapolis the parking lots have become smart with the Streetline app. Even Italy is beginning to think in terms of IoT and Anas, the manager of the national road and motorway network, has already allocated over 150 million euro to realize the first smart roads in our country, able to communicate real time information about traffic, weather and accidents, thus making autonomous driving possible.
According to analysts, the sectors that have benefited mostly and immediately from the IoT are those of energy and transport, the latter perfectly represented by the recent evolution of the bike sharing business model. But also other areas, such as food, at first sight less close to the technological world, can use the IoT with smart packs capable of transferring important information on the quality of the product and the supply chain, even warning the consumer about the loss of nutritive properties of the fresh product over time. Or the packaging of a drug can monitor the mode of intake and warn us about its approaching expiry date, perhaps giving the opportunity to our doctor to intervene in case of need.
In the industrial world the diffusion of the IoT completely changes the life cycle and the way in which the company manages the products, follows and controls them. This technology will allow the reorganization of production in an integrated form with the planning, the organization of the work, the control of the product, the marketing and the sales, the relationship with the customers and the subsequent maintenance, radically changing in better all the operational aspects.
The future of IoT has already arrived and represents an important lever of business for its ability to optimize production processes generating considerable savings, but at the same time also encouraging the development of numerous tech companies engaged in research and production of the needed devices. Intelligent objects designed to communicate with each other are multiple and the related industries are called to update their products according to the current connectivity needs. The main fields of application of IoT cover a large part of our daily life: smart home and domotics, robotics and industrial monitoring, healthcare and biomedical world, automotive industry, surveillance and security, smart cities, smart agrifood and animal husbandry.
The major research companies, including Accenture, expect the use of 25 billion IoT devices by 2020. With the increase in the number of devices will also increase the amount of data to be managed and the number of applications that will have to be developed. As a consequence, an exponential growth of System Integrators and consultancy companies is also expected.
Not only those who design and produce IoT devices will be able to enjoy the thrust that this new way of understanding objects will give, and is already giving, to the economy. Even skepticism and potential dangers arising from the networking of our private, public and productive life can represent significant business and development opportunities.
The privacy and protection of personal and sensitive data is an important and potentially weak point in the Internet of Things. A world of sensors, security cameras and everyday objects that collect and exchange information about our daily habits, health and consumption can be a serious threat if control is lost. A simple fitness bracelet, as well as the thermostat at home, can signal to any person with bad intentions our position in real time and give the go-ahead to act undisturbed. More simply, if our habits were sold to marketing companies, the personalized advertising we would be exposed to would be difficult to avoid. In addition, insurance companies may use our health data to propose policies to our disadvantage.
At the moment there is no clear legal framework that effectively establishes the ownership and destination of the data collected by ‘things’, as well as the rights and duties of all the parties involved. Furthermore, the ethical implications concerning artificial intelligence and its use in the development of the functions of the intelligent objects that surround us remain numerous and unresolved. While the various bodies responsible for ensuring privacy investigate the situation from a legal point of view, it is up to Cybersecurity experts to propose solutions and good practices that can ensure us the development of the IoT and its potential in full security.
The Internet of Things has reached an important turning point that must be managed with skills and professionalism, in order to be able to grasp its full potential, developing in parallel an appropriate control on risks. Bologna Business School aims to train managers able to understand and recognize the technological promise of the Internet of Things in order to bring this innovation in companies and organizations of all kinds and create value. The Master of the Internet of Things is a full-time English language program, combining technological and business aspects, presenting real-life examples, while business-oriented training employs case studies close to the IoT application domains.