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Where’s the hype in IoT now?

Wheres the hype in IoT nowIoT Hype & Reality’ was the title of a 2019 presentation I made at a Global Semiconductor Alliance event just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. At that time, I recall some tech journalists were still wondering out loud if the IoT would ever happen, and I was arguing that it was already well underway.

We all know what happened next. During the pandemic, the IoT was pivotal in keeping countless businesses and organizations functional in a locked-down world. And it’s not an overstatement to say that before the arrival of vaccines, the IoT helped the world survive the pandemic.

But it still bothers me that the IoT was so casually criticized because new technology is a fragile thing. And it’s the easiest thing to criticize anything: it requires no effort. The hard thing is the doing. And the IoT had been doing its thing for quite some time, well before COVID-19. Something I termed the “invisible revolution” in a blog article I wrote back then.

But nowadays, I’ve increased my predictions for IoT even further: I believe the next step for the IoT is that it will help save the world. And that we won't save the world without it.

And the IoT will do this mainly in a million small ways, even if there will be some very big ones too.

I will give four wide-ranging application examples to ensure there are no more accusations of this all being hype. They are all applicable to or drawn from what my company's customers are doing today.

Example 1: Smart refuse bins in Oslo

I've given this example a lot, and people keep telling me to stop going on about the "stupid garbage cans in Oslo, where you live!”

BUT … it works … emptying public trash cans when full avoids unnecessary collections and allows extra collections to avoid environmental pollutions when cans suddenly become full. If every city in the world had smart trash cans, they would be greener and healthier and do their bit to combat global warming.

This is helping to save the world … Where's the hype in that?

Example 2: Smart energy using water heaters

One of the biggest challenges for energy utilities is meeting spikes in demand without the ability to store unused energy at scale.

Domestic water heaters are estimated to be responsible for up to 20 percent of power usage per house in the U.S. By using a cellular IoT wireless water heater controller, they can be selectively switched on and off during the day in an optimized way. Hence, water is still near optimal temperature, but unnecessary electricity consumption during peak periods can be minimized. This avoids spikes in demand that can significantly increase the cost and inefficiency of running local power grids.

During times of peak electricity demand, asking dormant hot water heaters to reduce their energy consumption temporarily is a very effective power load reduction method. With some simple local monitoring, it is possible to allow water heaters in use to continue heating while reducing standby heating of water heaters not in use.

And by making a large number of previously dumb hot water tanks smart you are in effect creating a huge energy storage tank. You can 'charge' this in a much more optimal way if allowed to control the times of day when the tank is actively heating stored water.

This brings down costs for both the utility and consumers by optimizing energy production and is exactly what Nordic customer Apricity has been doing for some time.

Oh. And did I mention that in the example I’ve just given, smoothing out spikes in demand also prevented having to fire up environmentally-polluting auxiliary power stations to meet demand during peak periods?

This is helping save the world … Where's the hype in that?

Example 3: Continuous glucose monitoring of diabetes

Today the number of people with diabetes is higher than it has ever been and is continuously rising worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization, diabetes is the world’s ninth biggest killer and cost the world $827 billion in 2016 alone.

In the U.S. alone, about 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes, and more than 1 in every 3 Americans has prediabetes, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers worldwide aren’t that far behind either.

Untreated diabetes can cause severe complications and damage almost all parts of the body, including major organs such as the heart, kidneys, and eyes.

The good news is that with effective treatment, diabetes can be managed as a long-term, chronic illness like high blood pressure.

The state-of-the-art today is comparatively dumb and comprises wearable IoT continuous blood glucose (CGM) monitors that feed data to an insulin infusion pump that the user is then prompted to manually activate themselves when alarmed. Both of these devices can also link to a user's smartphone, which is done via Bluetooth LE wireless technology.

But right now, due to a combination of cost and complexity, this approach is typically reserved for Type 1 diabetics (an autoimmune condition) – a tiny fraction of total diabetics worldwide who are mostly Type 2 (lifestyle-induced).

But if we’re going to live with diabetes—as in most people are going to have it—the Holy Grail is what’s termed the ‘artificial pancreas’.

This would comprise a wearable CGM linked to a wearable insulin pump via Bluetooth LE that monitors and adjusts a wearer's blood glucose levels automatically. Also, such devices will almost certainly use machine learning to more accurately understand when the user tends to eat and when their blood sugar levels tend to spike.

Finally, and critically given that Type 2 diabetes is considered a diet and sedentary lifestyle-induced illness, sharing such data with a user’s smartphone will make them more aware of how their behavior impacts blood sugar levels. This could help them make healthier choices.

This is helping to save the world … Where's the hype in that?

Example 4: Elephant conservation

Biodiversity is vital to the long-term health and prosperity of our planet. And animal extinction is one of the most pressing challenges we face right now.

Elephants in Africa, for instance, are under threat of extinction in as little as ten years from now. Just think about that: no more elephants.

Something has to be done. Last year, to stem the growing crisis, (an Avnet community) and pro-conservation organization Smart Parks came together with leading technology and conservation partners including my company Nordic Semiconductor, with the ElephantEdge competition challenge of developing the world’s most advanced wildlife tracker for elephants in the form of a collar that could be attached to the elephant.

One of the winning projects employed a single Bluetooth LE wireless technology SoC and TinyML machine learning to use camera vision models to monitor the risk of poaching and predators to an elephant and monitor elephant movements; accelerometer data models to predict and classify common elephant behaviors; and audio data models to detect and classify elephant musth data and mood swings. (Musth is a periodic condition in male elephants characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones) 

All from a single Bluetooth LE SoC! Video, vibration, and audio combined with AI and machine learning. This was unthinkable ten years ago.

All of this combines to provide on-demand alerts to park rangers in a way that finally gives them the tools they need to protect elephants over vast spaces and who are under constant threat. It also provides a blueprint for how to protect other endangered animals all over the world.

This is helping to save the world … Where's the hype in that?

The only hype about IoT is that it is hyper critical

The IoT wasn’t designed to save the world, but I believe we won’t solve many of the world’s major environmental (climate change, freshwater) and societal issues (aging populations, feeding a record global population) without it. It’s not an overstatement to claim the IoT has the potential to help save the world and could prevent the world from passing a tipping point.

If COVID-19 had any upsides, at least one was that it put the IoT on the map once and for all. But the real work of the IoT has only just begun. The world has never needed the benefits of the IoT more than now. The pandemic, in a sense, was just one global emergency of many that the world now faces.

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