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28 April 2015

The 'Internet of Things' 

The Apple Watch, finally showing up on customers’ wrists last week, promises to raise the so-called ‘Internet of Things’ to a new level.

Researchers and corporate strategists are feverishly exploring the potential for networks of physical objects that collect data for transmission to the manufacturer, operator or another connected device – and that data’s subsequent interpretation and use.

For many people, one of the first practical applications is in “activity monitors” to measure information such as number of steps walked, heart rate or sleep patterns, then helping the wearer change behaviour accordingly – increasing exercise, for example.

Until now, this field this has been dominated by niche providers, but the Apple Watch brings it firmly into the mainstream.

The collection of data has implications far beyond health. In the fast-approaching world of self-driving cars, autonomous intersection management could replace traffic lights at road junctions. Instead of stopping at red lights, autonomous vehicles would schedule a slot through an intersection in real time, speeding up or slowing down to arrive in the right place at the right moment.

Such information collection capability could even help combat a threat to the world’s bee population by tackling the varroa destructor, a parasitic mite blamed for wiping out colonies. Data from a circuit board camouflaged to blend in with a traditional honeycomb frame could be instructed to raise the temperature inside the hive enough to sterilise male mites before they can fertilise the females’ eggs without harming the bees.

Researchers say there may be as many as 30 billion connected devices by 2020, and that the healthcare Internet of Things market alone could be worth $117 billion. A myriad issues relating to the use and confidentiality of data still must be resolved, but the opportunities are huge for companies that can harness the trend.