I have to say, at the beginning, I was skeptical of the Internet of Things. Yes, I concede many smart devices are useful—even indispensable! Smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, even smart lights, speakers, and routers make sense to me. But I draw the line at smart forks, smart plates, and smart fridges. These tools won’t catch on for the same reason that we don’t have motorized tables. There’s just no purpose for them.
The argument goes like this, from Andreesen Horowitz’s Benedict Evans:
My grandfather could probably have told you how many electric motors he owned. There was one in the car, one in the fridge, one in his drill and so on.
My father, when I was a child, might have struggled to list all the motors he owned (how many, exactly, are in a car?) but could have told you how many devices were in the house that had a chip in.
Today, I have no idea how many devices I own with a chip, but I could tell you how many have a network connection. And I doubt my children will know that, in their turn.
I have 8 wifi-enabled devices. Will I always be able to count how many I have? Probably not, but will every item I own be attached to the internet? Probably not.
But that’s not the right way of thinking about the Internet of Things. Connected devices will continue to change the way we live, yes, but it will largely be invisible from public view.
According to Business Insider, the IoT will create $1.7 trillion in value added to the global economy by 2019. The vast majority of these devices will fall into the Infrastructure and Enterprise categories:
In other words, most of the benefit of smart cities will come from the Internet of Things. Cities like Santander in Spain have been chosen to be test subjects for the sort of sensors and smart infrastructure required for smart cities to work. A clip from NPR:
Those gadgets include street signs equipped with digital panels that display real-time parking information for every block. In addition to sending data to Santander’s command-and-control center, the sensors also send it to a suite of applications on citizens’ smartphones.
So Santander residents can access up-to-the-minute information on road closures, parking availability, bus delays or the pollen count.
And in this electronic democracy, citizens can contribute, too — by uploading a photo of a pothole or broken streetlight, for example, and sending it directly to city hall. There’s an app for that.
While the price for these sensors may have to fall a bit before the cost curve allows most cities to make the investment, the building blocks are all in place for this new urban revolution. Technical barriers such as compatibility and privacy issues will be overcome in due time.
With this technology coming online, it may make more sense to refer to “smart cities” as the “urban internet of things.”