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Internet of Things (IoT) - or, as its sometimes called, the Internet of Everything - has recently been discussed in the industry. This essentially means that there will be a drastic increase in the number and type of devices that are interconnected to one another and to the cloud. The key to this IoT is that it will go well beyond business uses and eventually affect just about every aspect of human life, from healthcare to home automation to automobiles. Using APIs and improved standardization, many different devices from all manufacturers will be able to communicate.
We are already seeing home appliances such as televisions, digital video recorders (DVRs), and even refrigerators that communicate with one another via a wireless home network or the Internet. They also communicate via cable, satellite, and cloud-based content providers such as Netflix. Now take this even further into the home automation trend where a centralized computer (within the home or in the cloud) controls the lights, entertainment devices, appliances, heating and cooling, security sensors, and even the lock on the front door. All of these devices, and the entire home, can be controlled via your smartphone or by any computing device connected to the cloud. This gives it the ability to sense when you or a family member arrives home, automatically adjust the air conditioner, disarm the security system, turn on lights, and notify other family members of movement or activities sensed within the home.
One excellent example is the standard alarm clock that is a thing of the past. The future alarm clock (actually already available today) will be fully integrated into your home, detecting sunrise, adjusting room temperatures just before you wake up, slowly fading up the lights, opening window shades, and starting your preferred music playlist. Taking this alarm clock example even further, imagine just reaching over and pressing a button that automatically emails your office that you will be late or are sick and not coming to work today - shutting the lights and window shades so that you can go back to sleep.
Combine this automated home with the cloud and you get even more capabilities such as automatic updating of firmware in your appliances, unlimited music and video selections to download, visibility or awareness of home activities with an elderly family member across the country, and even synchronization of the home with your automobile. Using the alarm clock example again, imagine the home automation system waking you earlier than normal when abnormal traffic conditions exist on your normal commuter route. The cloud makes this and countless other scenarios possible when integrated into your home, automobile, and personal life.
Most modern automobiles have internal software (called firmware) that runs everything from the engine management system to the radio or entertainment devices. Extending the reach of your automobile to the cloud and to other devices such as your home, smartphone, and even other vehicles will bring a new driving experience that you can customize and integrate with the rest of your daily routine.
Let's look more closely at your cars firmware. Presently you must visit your local dealer or manufacturer to troubleshoot a problem or update the internal computer software. The newest trend - some could say started by Tesla Motors - is to design the cars with self-service or automatically upgradeable software as a core feature. With this functionality, the dealer can update the car with new features or improvements via the cloud even while you're driving down the road. So the days of just having satellite or streaming radio to the car from the cloud are evolving to cars that are permanently connected to the Internet and cloud.
When your car is connected to the cloud, it will take on significant new features, customization, entertainment, navigation, and even engine monitoring and troubleshooting capabilities. Imagine your car dealer or manufacturer automatically monitoring your car's performance, efficiency, or event logs and calling you when a problem is detected or even fixing the problem without you even noticing something was wrong in the first place. Now that is true customer service. Realize that this benefits the auto dealer and manufacturer, as well, with reduced visits to the service center and continuous improvements to their products by collecting and analyzing all the data from other customers of the same vehicle type. Yes, there are security and privacy concerns to be worked out, but we'll leave that topic for another book.
Now, let's take your cloud-connected automobile and integrate it with your home. Imagine that your home will sense that your vehicle has pulled into the driveway or garage and then automatically turns on lights or performs other customized tasks within your home. Take this a step further and let's have your home computer's music library automatically update wirelessly to your car so that you never have to put your music on a USB stick (or stream from your smartphone which drains the battery). Performance and efficiency data could also be synchronized automatically to your home computer for long-term trending and reports. You could also send navigation instructions or your favorite restaurants to your car, ready for your use via the onboard vehicle navigation system later. And, of course, real-time monitoring and tracking of your teenager as he drives: how fast is he going and where he is going is always popular.
Although not yet a reality, one of the most exciting areas in the confluence of automobile and cloud is the interaction with other vehicles, other people, stoplights, even the road itself; that will be the next evolution for the auto industry. There are already applications for your smartphone with which you can see and interact with other drivers to determine how fast traffic is moving and redirect your navigation system to find the fastest route. Currently, these peer-to-peer applications are based on smartphones communicating with one another, but this will soon be a part of the automobile's internal capabilities. Also consider the progress being made in autonomous vehicles that drive themselves by using continuous data from roads, sensors, and other nearby vehicles to help navigate and avoid one another.
The point to all of this is that the cloud is what enables all of these possibilities. Whether the cloud is used just as a communication channel (e.g., streaming music from the cloud), or as method of data transfer and interaction with other devices, it is the software APIs that makes possible the interaction with other cars and devices in the world, and that makes this a very exciting future.
Let's not forget personal devices and how they will interact with the cloud in the near future. We already have smartphones connecting to the cloud, but the number and diversity of personal devices that also integrate with the cloud is about to explode. Watches are now being developed that monitor your pulse, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and blood-sugar levels to name just a few. There are glasses that are now connected to the cloud, wristbands for fitness tracking, and even GPS tracking chips that you can embed in your pet. Key areas in which the cloud will change daily life include (but certainly are not limited to) the following:
Perhaps the scariest part of personal devices and cloud-based integration is the privacy. There will be privacy issues that we will all need to deal with and solve, but most of these technological capabilities will be optional for you and configurable in what data is held private versus what is shared to others (for instance, your doctor). One area you may not be aware of is the value of this personal health, activity, and presence awareness data to businesses. Businesses gathering and analyzing personal data at this level of detail can gain vast knowledge of habits and trends—personally or as a demographic. This data would be invaluable for companies to create and adjust their service or product offerings, safety, quality, and so on. This analytical data is not new; it is already common practice for most retail stores, healthcare providers, and even your Internet provider. When the data gets as detailed and personally identifiable as the wristwatch, embedded chips, and healthcare is where most people draw the line today on privacy. Ensuring privacy while still benefiting from these new technologies will be (already is) a significant challenge for personal interactions and the cloud.