The Telegraph - 24 OCTOBER 2018 • 4:15PM
Find out how the internet of things and online sensors could simply tell you what is most valuable for your business
Kevin AshtonTechnology pioneer
It was about April 1999 when I first wrote “the internet of things” on a PowerPoint presentation. I was working for Procter & Gamble, manufacturer of everything from shampoo and soap to toilet paper, and I was pitching a new idea: build wireless, internet-connected sensors into our products and supply chain to improve efficiency.
That seems obvious today, but back then it was crazy. The late 1990s was the time of AOL, internet cafés and the dotcom boom. Almost every internet-connected device was a computer and almost every internet connection was wired.
The rise of mobile phones is simply the most important technological transformation of the 21st century
Wi-Fi was unheard of: the name wasn’t created until later that year. At that time wireless sensors cost pounds – and we needed them for pennies. Mobile phones were luxuries that only connected to other phones and were used for talking and the average person sent fewer than five text messages annually.
That world is hard to remember now, when the internet is wireless and everywhere, sensors cost a penny or two, and phones are internet-connected mobile devices carried by almost everyone.
Internet-of-things technology being used on fire enginesh
That last point is especially significant. The rise of mobile phones is the most important technological transformation of the early 21st century. In 1999, less than 30pc of the world’s population had a phone. Today there are more phones than people on the planet and many phones are smartphones, even in developing nations. This matters for the internet of things. Phones are not phones any more: “phone” comes from the Greek for “voice”, and today only 1pc of mobile phone traffic comes from voice calls. A surprising amount of the rest comes from sensors. The average smartphone has 10 sensors, including a camera, microphone, barometer, thermometer and locator, and all of them are connected to the internet. A smartphone puts the internet of things in your pocket.
Smartphones are just one example of how, in 20 years, the internet of things has gone from nowhere to everywhere. The question now is what to do about it, and there is a straightforward way for businesses to find out.
Create a three-column list: in column one, write some things you don’t know about your operations. Don’t worry about whether the things seem knowable; imagine you have the chance to become omniscient. This can be hard because we don’t always notice what we don’t know.
Smartphones are just one example of how, in 20 years, the internet of things has gone from nowhere to everywhere
In column two, estimate how valuable knowing these things would be – not just for you but also for your customers.
Column three will take some research. Evaluate how easy it would be for internet-connected sensors to help you get that information. You may not need to sense the information directly. Most internet-of-things systems use proxy data: for example, inferring fruit ripeness from colour images, or room occupancy by sensing if lights are on.
When the list is complete, pick the thing that seems most valuable to know and easy to discover, and begin a project to see if you can discover it. Start small and cheap. Try to sense the thing once, in a controlled location, in the simplest way possible. Use off-the-shelf components. Assemble them with duct tape, either literally or figuratively. Do not leap straight into the ocean. Splash in a puddle first.
Then expand gradually. Go to a larger environment, or sense all the time instead of some of the time. Make the data valuable, by sending it to people who can use it, or by triggering an automated response. Keep expanding. Soon, your solution will have grown from a crazy idea into something ubiquitous, just like the internet of things itself did between 1999 and today.