Each year someone predicts that “this year” will be the year that the Internet of Things (IoT) will break out. The expectation is that IoT will explode in much the same way that Android and iPhone did over the last decade.
Here’s the secret: IoT already has. Smart devices that communicate data are everywhere. The challenge is that there is no single technology that drives IoT. It is a collection of technologies that drive the influence of IoT. The focus of IoT in 2020 will be on the following four areas:
- Cheaper hardware
- Cloud services
- Artificial intelligence
Combining these four categories will add billions of IoT devices to your digital life.
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It is easy to state that hardware is getting cheaper and better. Moore’s Law is very much alive. Fortunately, for IoT, technology continues to become more affordable and more sophisticated. The evolution of System on Chips (SoC) and compressed, single board computers continues to make it easier to build smart devices.
An example of a single board computer that continues to provide makers and developers new opportunities for innovation is the Raspberry Pi. The concept of the device is simple: make a computer in a credit card-sized format. The device does not have a case; it’s just a tiny computer to which you can add operating systems such as Linux.
The original version was a 700Mhz chip, introduced in 2012, which was more akin to a laptop from 1997 but cost only $25. Fast forward to the present and the form factor is the same size, but now you get a 1.5 GHz, 64-bit, quad-core ARM Cortex-A72 processor, with 1MB shared L2 cache with up to 4Gb RAM that supports two 4K monitors. And you will only spend $35.
For pennies on the dollar, you can now effectively experiment with hardware that was too expensive even five years ago. Expect the prices for IoT sensors, equipment, and SoCs to continue to fall (along with an increase in performance) during 2020.
It’s almost impossible to talk about IoT without referencing the cloud. Cloud service providers such as AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure offer many different IoT services, but they generally fall into the following three categories:
- Device management
- Core cloud services
- Edge services
With billions of IoT devices, there is a pressing need to manage them all. Device management can be seen when you activate an Alexa device. The same services that manipulate Amazon’s products are available through AWS to manage your own custom devices. AWS IoT Device Management gives you the tools to register, organize, monitor, and remotely manage connected devices at scale.
Data from your devices can be connected to cloud services. Wireless technologies such as Bluetooth enable continuous data connection to consume services from your cloud provider. Once you can connect to the cloud, you can take advantage of serverless functions and Lambda commands to trigger events. As an example, you can have a sensor measuring temperature. The data can be sent back to the cloud and, when a specific temperature is reached, a command can trigger a text message to notify you.
There are still many instances where there is no internet connection, but the power of the cloud is still needed. This is where edge services that put the cloud on your IoT device continue to prove their value.
Cloud services will continue to expand in 2020. Expect to see more ways to keep IoT devices always connected so that a constant stream of data can be sent back to the cloud and analyzed.
In late 2017 and into 2018, the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) specific processors began to appear on mobile devices. The goal is to make your smartphone more intelligent. AI-specific hardware will soon become essential to IoT as GPU chips shrink.
Company support from frameworks such as Google’s TensorFlow will accompany the rollout of AI-specific hardware in 2020. TensorFlow has already been optimized for mobile devices and can quickly run on single board computers. In many ways, AI frameworks have an advantage over other mobile frameworks such as ReactJS. AI frameworks are not designed to work with a user interface. This is ideal for IoT.
By the end of 2020, AI will be as crucial to your IoT device as the cloud.
One of the reasons why it’s easy to miss the explosion of IoT devices in our world is that, unlike phones and tablets, which are general-purpose devices, many IoT devices have a set of specific functions. For instance, a glucose monitor only tracks the level of sugar in a patient.
Expect continued specialization in 2020. An example is a smart kitchen. Today, Amazon sells Alexa enabled microwaves, ovens, speakers, and lights that can be found in your kitchen. I recently bought an Alexa oven, and it is incredibly natural to ask the oven to cook a chicken.
IoT is Ready for Adoption
Timing is everything. You can have the coolest product in the world, but it will go nowhere if your audience is not ready to use it. Three basic principles drive adoption:
- Clear ability to address a problem. Your device must solve a problem
- The technology is an enabler and not a blocker. the iPod, one of the first IoT devices, made it easy to have 1,000 songs in your pocket
- What your friends think. Yes, peer pressure is fantastic!
Interestingly, price is not a barrier. If you deliver a compelling product that dramatically solves problems, then people will line up and pay.
What Happens in 2021?
The Internet of Things will emerge from 2020 not as a dramatic change agent (as was Apple’s release of the iPhone) but rather as a logical evolution of our symbiosis between technology and personal lifestyle. As humans, we’re addicted to technology. During 2020 it will be apparent that the marriage of cloud, AI, and a focus on healthcare will result in IoT devices that impact our personal lives. Moving into 2021, we’ll see continued investment in IoT for healthcare and continued adoption of smart devices in our homes. Siri and Alexa will be monitoring our daily lives to provide an enriched life.