4 ways the internet of things will radically change your life

For consumers, the much hyped internet of things is hardly visible yet. It’s also hard to imagine how this new layer of infrastructure would look, feel and behave, and how we will interact with it.

In other words: how will it be different from the fridge that sends e-mail when you run out of milk (who reads e-mail anyway?), that seems to pop up somewhere every year, much to the indifference of the public?

Very different, says Jean-Luc Maté. Maté spoke to Whiteboard in his capacity of chairman of Euripides, the European industry cluster that is doing research and development in the field of smart systems. We talked to him when he was visiting the Eureka headquarters in Brussels.

Jean-Luc Maté: “Many people seem to think about gadgets when the topic comes up. But that’s not what it’s about. And anyway: people these days struggle to buy a € 300 fridge – let alone a € 1000 euro fridge that’s on the internet.”

“When you talk about the internet of things, you’re really talking about smart systems, and more importantly: a system of systems.”

1. The internet of things will be about smart, energy harvesting sensors inside you and around you

“The first key element is that the system should have smart sensors. That’s the key. It means that we build systems that can sense, gather information and transfer that information wireless. If possible, without consuming any external energy. This means that the devices should harvest energy from their environment and bring it to a place that can diagnose the information, that can react and bring value.”

“A perfect example would be a pacemaker. Today, I can go to the doctor with my pacemaker, who can extract info from it and if necessary adapt my medication. That’s a process with a long feedback loop.”

“With M2M, a pacemaker becomes a smart sensor, and it communicates continuously. At home, my pacemaker talks to my internet box and sends the encrypted info to my doctor. And it’s not just miniature, and not just low on power consumption – it has the capacity of extracting enough energy from my body temperature to send a packet of data every ten or twenty minutes.”

“In my car, it does the same with an emergency call box. By 2015, every car will have an emergency call box. When I’m on a long trip, the pacemaker sends the data over this network to my doctor. Suppose I get a heart attack – the pacemaker sends the info to the cockpit of my car, which will park itself thanks to its smart sensing devices and send an alarm to the nearest emergency room, along with my medical data.”

2. The internet of things will adapt to and anticipate what you need

“There are many, many more examples of how smart sensing will change our life. We all carry a wallet full of “smart cards” that can be replaced with NFC approaches an various new interfaces. You’ll see applications everywhere: from access and security, to personal identification and payment. I want to take a car in Paris from a car sharing service: the car recognises me, makes sure I can enter the car, and takes care of the payment.”

“In a smart system approach – an ecosystem of machine to machine communications – it’s about detecting that someone entered and configurating the environment for them, to support entry, seating, service – whether it’s a highway, a train or a gas station. It’s not just about paid services, too. People with a disabillity often have trouble finding a parking space. With an M2M ecosystem, it will become possible to assign that person a priority parking space, whether or not that parking space is painted blue.”

Also, says Maté, expect “smart clothing” to emerge over the next years. “Not in the sense that you will be instrumentalized – you will just put on your clothes. But your clothing will be thermally optimized automatically, it will measure your health. It will come to professional clothing in the near future, like police, fire brigade, security people, astronauts. But soon after that, it will move to consumers.”

3. The internet of things will finally enable you to control and measure your energy use

And most importantly, says Maté: smart systems will make things like energy more measurable. “Energy is a key element that nobody takes care of. Nobody realises the real cost of energy, or how to measure it. But the price of energy will only increase, so we need to find better ways to reduce our consumption.”

“M2M will put control over energy back at an individual level. If you buy an electric car with a battery of 40 KW – that’s a lot. At that moment, you become an interesting partner for storage of energy. You can start trading energy to help the grid handle peak demand. Smart sensing will make energy bidirectional. It monitors what’s in your battery, and allows you to buy and resell energy.”

Again, the key here is that the M2M is not about individual gadgets, but rather about the infrastructure anticipating what people do or need, says Maté.

“Today, domotics are too complicated. Nobody knows how to install and configure them. But M2M will be a system of systems that are self learning, and self harvesting – I push the button on the light, and the sensor harvests some energy from that. Do you know how much energy a pavement could yield? Millions of people walking across it, weighing 60 kg?”

4. The internet of things will be about the smart sensing of everything around you

“When you think of smart sensing, it’s really the smart sensing of everything. This room: it will know how many people are here, what we’re doing here. It will lower the sun blinds if necessary, or open them – or open a window. The same on city level: a smart city will adapt to the needs of its citizens in a self learning, unobtrusive way.”

Maté ends the interview with a pitch about the importance of smart sensing. Smart systems are an area where Europe is currently a world leader, says Maté.

Maté: “Some people think Europe is no longer a leader in manufacturing, and that everything in electronics is produced in Korea, Taiwan or China. That’s wrong. We’re no longer a leader in consumer electronics and telecom. But we definitely are when it comes to professional industrial fields like automotive, railway, aircraft, space and health. And if you see how many people work in smart systems – we are talking about billions of euros in sales and millions of employees. ”

“To maintain leadership we have to invest in smart systems, really put the foot on the pedal. 95 percent of the technological innovation is happening there. The next years will be all about miniturization, cost, quality improvement, reliability, robustness. It’s a strategic ingredient for the European economy.”

Where will it start?

In the comments to a recent blog post on Whiteboard, here’s what Sigfox business developer Thomas Nichols wrote:

“At Sigfox we’re focusing on the connectivity part of the equation and as such we’re a horizontal enabler that isn’t linked specifically to B2B or B2C. On our end we’re seeing lots of activity, but for now it’s mostly in Smart Grids, Smart Transportation, Healthcare, Safety, and similar. These solutions aren’t that visible to the general public and the actors aren’t aware of conferences such as LeWeb.”

By the looks of it, the first big commercial battle will be about what the infrastructure will look like. French startup Sigfox is developing a horizontal “open internet” for communication between M2M enabled devices. Belgian startup Viloc, on the other hand, is developing a ‘walled garden’ – a private, ‘vertical internet’ of things that will be used for construction tool tracking. Car-to-car communication (expected by 2015) will operate on yet another frequency.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts about how this young, still messy field will evolve.

Photo: Audin, Flickr

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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