When you think about the Internet of Things (IoT), when do you picture it arriving? In five years? Ten?
It’s a trick question, because the IoT is already here. Don’t believe me? Answer this: How many IP addresses do you have at home right now?
It wasn’t that long ago that every house had only a single IP address — one for a PC modem. These days, nearly every new smartphone, tablet and speaker has an IP address. If you’ve got a thermostat, security cameras or connected lightbulbs, they’ve got them, too. Add all these things up, and you’ll find you’ve got 10, 20, or maybe even 30 IP addresses at home. I’ve got 43.
Just being connected only gets us so far. Intelligence is required to build truly useful IoT devices.
What do IP addresses have to do with the state of the IoT? They’re an indication that our lives and our homes are already full of connected devices. We’re surrounded by them. And many of these devices aren’t just connected — — they’re also intelligent. This means that homes and cities aren’t suddenly going to become smart at some point in the future. There won’t be a “eureka!” moment or a flipped switch. Instead, we’re building an intelligent IoT one purchase at a time. And that’s already changing the way we live our lives.
Take televisions. You’re going to have a hard time buying one that’s not connected today. A good set will be able to download its own software updates and stream your favorite shows from your favorite streaming services.
And TVs are just one piece of the trend; connectivity is being added to an amazing array of devices, from simple to complex, all over the world. In China, for example, companies like Haier, Hisense and Midea launch hundreds of appliances every year, and more than half are connected. We’re talking rice cookers, vacuums, dishwashers, and even air conditioners. The number of connected devices worldwide is expected to be in the billions in the next few years.
That connectivity brings plenty of convenience to our devices, but just being connected only gets us so far. Intelligence is required to build truly useful IoT devices. The TV of the future will work with other devices and sensors in your house to recognize when you’re sitting in front of it, and will automatically flip on your favorite show. You’ll also be able to use it to control your lights, thermostat, and probably everything else.
And those benefits aren’t limited to the home. Imagine intelligent freeway lighting that only illuminates roads when it senses a car approaching, or connected cars that interact with parking meters to tell you where the closest available parking spot is.
We need to break down the barriers that keep smart devices as islands, unable to communicate with one another.
The IoT also needs to evolve to be truly functional. The next step is a seamless network of devices that live at the edge and have intelligent processing. Take that security camera in your house. Right now, you get a barrage of useless notifications, because it can’t tell the difference between a car on the street and a stranger at your door. Thinking ahead: A smart security camera would not only be able to differentiate between friends and strangers, but also pets and stray animals. And it would only notify you when someone you don’t know is knocking at the door.
Intelligent processing has its challenges, though, like storage, security and seamless interactions. We need to break down the barriers that keep smart devices as islands, unable to communicate with one another. Your TV should be able to talk to your refrigerator if it wants to.
And, of course, you still need to meet consumer expectations: Simplicity, durability and extended battery life. You don’t want a fitness tracker that requires you to constantly check your phone, but neither do you want a bulky smartwatch that runs out of batteries in a couple of hours.
There’s no one technology that will address all these issues. It’s going to take multiple kinds of connectivity, from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth to LTE. We need complex information processing capabilities that work on the edge and in the cloud. It’s much more than just adding a bunch of sensors to the environment. It requires new thinking and the creation of platforms and systems that can take all of these challenges and deliver them in a format that works.
The evolution will be incremental. But add up the many small changes, and we’ll soon be living in a new kind of smart, connected world. The future of the IoT will be here faster than you think.
Raj Talluri is a senior vice president at Qualcomm Technologies Inc., where he manages QTI’s Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile computing businesses, among others. Talluri has been granted 13 U.S. patents for image processing, video compression and media processor architectures, and has published more than 35 journal articles, papers, and processor architectures. Reach him @rajtalluri.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.