The Internet of Things—the term conjures thoughts of a vast but impersonal network of devices and machines performing routine tasks that keep our businesses humming and our homes running—from smart sensors that control industrial equipment, to networked appliances that shut off automatically.
But there is a bigger picture to this new computing architecture that will soon power, and empower, much of our world. Behind all the technology is the promise that IoT can help solve some of the biggest challenges humanity faces on this increasingly connected, resource-limited planet.
“It’s time for the global discussion about the possibilities of IoT to move from a focus on smart homes, offices and factories, to smart communities, smart nations and a smarter world with better living standards for everyone, everywhere,” said Oh-Hyun Kwon, Vice Chairman and CEO at Samsung Electronics.
The notion is simple, yet the implications are profound. Kwon believes IoT can not only make a smarter world, but also a better one if companies and regulators focus on the human benefits, not just the technological. It’s about managing resources to tackle everyday problems like transportation, pollution, hunger, disasters and elder care – both for individuals, and at scale for society.
Consider this scenario, based on a real SmartThings consumer. Jeff, who suffers from Lewy body dementia, a disorder caused by protein buildup in the brain, often wanders from home. So his daughter Cath installs a SmartThings hub in Jeff’s house and attaches a sensor to his keychain, which he always carries. If he goes out, a sensor alerts his wife and Cath by triggering an audio warning and texting her phone.
These applications mean Jeff can stay in his home longer, and his family can have more peace of mind. “It’s time now to look at IoT, not just in terms of efficiency or convenience, but also in terms of meeting essential human needs,” Kwon said.
IoT offers new ways to solve the planet’s most intractable problems. Imagine a lake that can tell environmental responders when it is becoming too acidic, or roadways that automatically direct driverless cars to the most congestion-free routes.
Vibration sensors could also measure the health of the U.S.’s 600,000 bridges, thousands of which are decades old. Every day, 200 million trips are taken over spans that are considered deficient. The cost of putting sensors on each one would be prohibitive, but sensors could be placed on publicly-owned vehicles like firetrucks and ambulances, which would automatically collect vibration data as they cross over. This could make millions of Americans safer every day.
“These benefits – and cost savings for society – cannot be ignored,” Kwon said.
The IoT vs. drought
Samsung is developing products and services for IoT on a number of fronts—from foundational technologies such as the Tizen operating system and the ARTIK platform to devices like the new Galaxy S7 smartphone. “We built them because we see IoT as central to our company’s future, but also to the future of the entire tech sector,” Kwon said.
Samsung’s Makers Against Drought challenge offers more than $200,000 in prizes to developers who can help solve California’s water crisis by building solutions atop the ARTIK platform. One entrant developed EDDI, which helps farmers monitor soil salinity to get better crop yields without wasting water. “This kind of innovation is crucial at a time when drought is threatening ecosystems and living standards in many parts of the world, including the U.S.,” Kwon said.
For all its benefits, IoT also raises questions about security and privacy. To function at peak efficiency, IoT systems need data—lots of it. Samsung believes privacy and security cannot be added after the fact, but must be built-in from the beginning. “At Samsung, our commitment to privacy-by-design and security-by-design has informed all of our technology, well beyond IoT,” Kwon said.
The IoT conversation needs to happen because countless IoT innovations taking shape every day. “It’s time to embrace the transformative benefits of IoT for our societies, and learn how to achieve those benefits at scale,” Kwon said.
According to a recent McKinsey report, IoT can have a global economic impact of more than $11 Trillion annually by 2025.