Here's Why The IoT Is Already Bigger Than You Realize – Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies


September 26, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Uncategorized


Sometimes it feels like the Internet of Things (or IoT) is a little bit overblown. Maddening commercials like this one try to make it seem like a spiritual revolution for humankind, and you may have seen our thoughts on the emergence of the term “smart” to define objects. Furthermore, the main IoT applications that people actually seem to care about at this point are pretty much FitBits and Nest thermostats-fun Christmas presents, but not exactly groundbreaking technological concepts.

For all of those reasons, it’s easy to dismiss the IoT, or roll your eyes at the entire idea. Fair enough. But the real reason that the IoT gets so much attention is not so much its potential for the future or its tangible impact on people’s day-to-day lives. Rather, it’s because it is already massively functional in a few ways that aren’t apparent on an everyday basis. Here are a few examples.

Making Cities Cleaner & More Sustainable

I know, I resent the term “smart city” as well, but it does make a little more sense in communicating the idea that intelligence comes through connectivity rather than through specific devices. I’d rather hear about a smart city than a smart thermostat. But no matter what you want to call it, there are some pretty significant IoT-based changes taking place in an effort to clean up our cities and make them more sustainable.

This Forbes article pretty much tells the story, covering everything from systems that will direct people to open parking spaces, to lights that will turn off in empty areas. It’s the latter that speaks to the real potential of the IoT in cities. The conservation of energy through automated lighting systems is only one of many features we’re starting to see in cities. Some are also employing analytical systems meant to provide the data needed to maximize walking and biking routes and thus cut back on automobile pollution. Some are setting up trash collectors to know where there’s waste that needs to be gathered. We’re even seeing the IoT being used to create more efficient power systems for WiFi and other things that run 24/7. Most of this as of now is happening behind the scenes, but the potential impact on the environment is enormous.

Improving The Shipping Process

Yeah, yeah, not many things could sound more dull than improving a company’s shipping process. It’s not exactly the kind of sexy, new-age tech solution that comes to mind when you think of the IoT, and it’s certainly not something the average consumer gives much thought to. But guess what? The smoother and more efficient a company’s shipping operation is, the more available (and possibly cheaper) its product becomes.

But what exactly can the IoT do to help with shipping? Basically, the idea is that by outfitting fleet vehicles with WiFi connections and the most advanced GPS, companies can gain a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on on the road. That means repairing vehicles efficiently, offering automated roadside assistance to drivers, and having routes planned out seamlessly to react to real-time conditions. Drivers are safer, vehicles are wasting less time on the road, and operations are quicker. Spread those benefits out across whole shipping divisions and major companies, and the impact is pretty significant. In fact, there’s even a nice environmental perk to shipping vehicles being on the road less.

Improving Healthcare

Many assume that the IoT and healthcare are linked primarily through fitness bands that help people measure their own heart rate, sleep patterns, exercise trends, etc. That’s great for individuals, but the bigger impact on healthcare is coming through hospitals and doctors and in ways that have the potential to drastically alter the medical landscape moving forward.

The IoT is helping healthcare on all levels, from operational efficiency (automatically managing inventory for medicine and equipment), to patient care (syncing patient data and relevant information on the cloud and portable electronic devices), to general innovation (being poised to benefit from future IoT changes). These types of benefits aren’t really visible to you until you need healthcare, and you may not even notice them then. That being said, they’re making hospitals more efficient and effective.

So while I agree that the IoT can feel a little bit overblown in some ways, it’s still important to recognize what it means behind the scenes. These are only a few examples, but they demonstrate the potential of the IoT far more than the fitness band you’re giving your dad for Father’s Day! 

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