There’s been a lot of chatter in recent years about an emerging technology called the internet of things (IoT). Despite talk that the IoT will revolutionize the world, many people remain confused about what it is.

Is the Internet of Things Really a Revolution in the Making?

The hype surrounding the IoT is justified, as this technology does have potential to fundamentally transform society in many ways. The question is not whether the IoT has revolutionary potential, but how long it will take for that potential to be fully realized. However, although the IoT may not completely mature for many years, its implementation is well under way.

What is the Internet of Things?

Basically, if a device or machine can be connected to the internet, it’s part of the IoT; IoT devices and machines can generally connect to each other, too. Once connected, they gather, receive and transmit data, creating the internet of things. You’ll often hear and see these devices described as “smart.”

IoT devices are frequently used in conjunction with various sensors to help gather and process data; such peripheral components are considered part of the IoT, too. Other technologies, including machine learning, artificial intelligence and voice recognition also play an important part in IoT systems.

What Kinds of Devices Can Be Plugged into the Internet of Things?

The list of IoT-capable devices for the home is extensive: cellphones, coffeemakers, washers and dryers, speakers, lightbulbs and light fixtures, headphones, eBook-readers, dishwashers, refrigerators, TVs, watches, thermostats, DVD players, home security systems, cameras, and much more. Items that aren’t traditionally thought of as technology-related can also be adapted for IoT use, including clothing, office supplies, product packaging and much more.

IoT uses extend well beyond the home, though; this technology has vast implications for business, government, healthcare, agriculture, transportation, infrastructure and public spaces, too.

Examples of How the Internet of Things Can Change the World

Imagine you’re at work; the time is 3:15. You receive a text message from your refrigerator on your smartwatch alerting you that you’re low on milk, margarine and apples; you need to stop at the store on the way home.

When 5 p.m. hits, you walk to your fully automated, self-driving car. Once in the “drivers” seat, you tap in—or speak—the address for your supermarket of choice. The vehicle gets under way and does the rest—no driving required. On the way to the market, the vehicle stops in a long line of cars at a red light in a particularly busy rush-hour intersection.

The red light in question is part of your city’s IoT implementation. As such, it’s connected to and communicating with multiple sensors in the road and with other traffic lights and signs at nearby locations. This “smart” traffic light is also connected to and communicating with every car waiting for its signals, and so has a complete count; it also has this information for nearby intersections and uses it to coordinate optimal waiting and green-signal times to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible throughout the city. When the light turns green, your self-driving car, along with every vehicle in front of and behind you, automatically begins rolling through the intersection—in perfect synchronicity: Thanks to the IoT, gridlock is a thing of the past.

After your stop at the store, you check your smartwatch during the return home to see if you received mail that day. You didn’t and arrive home a few minutes later. When you unlock the front door and enter, your HVAC system senses you and adjusts the temperature for maximum comfort.

You give a verbal command—something like “lights on”—and the room lights up, maybe the TV, too, which automatically tunes to your preferred local newscast. You mute the sound so you can ask your smart speaker what the weather will be like tomorrow. After hearing the forecast, you decide you don’t feel like making dinner and that you’re in the mood for Asian food. You ask your smart speaker for a list of local restaurants, and after choosing one, you ask the speaker to recite the menu so you can choose what you want—maybe order for your family, too. After making your selections, the speaker takes care of placing the order and payment.

As you settle into bed that night, your smart thermostat adjusts the temperature again, so you’ll be as comfortable as possible and refreshed upon waking in the morning.

A World of Connected Possibility

This imaginary scenario only scratches the surface of what may be possible in the IoT-connected smart world of tomorrow: prescription bottles that alert you when they need refilled or when it’s time to take medicine; a coat that beeps to alert you when the outside temperature drops below a certain point, requiring the use of said jacket. Imagine a voice-controlled home that provides greater independence for the elderly or for those with disabilities; or a shirt that monitors vital signs and can sense a medical emergency and alert first responders. The full development and implementation of the IoT can make these and many other technologies possible—some of them not yet thought of.

Obviously, IoT technology is not yet at the level of sophistication required to make smart cars like those mentioned above a reality; however, the technology is currently in development and the blueprint established (the implementation of 5G wireless technology will be a critical, even defining part of self-driving technology).

Transitioning to a Smarter Grid

GVEC is currently upgrading and transitioning our electric grid to infuse it with the IoT smarts necessary for the communities we serve to thrive in the decades to come. We’re building a grid that can heal itself before outages occur, a grid that reduces both the duration and scope of outages that do occur and that can pinpoint trouble spots with razor-sharp accuracy, making it easier for crews—when needed—to find and fix the problem. The grid we’re building can even communicate with individual smart appliances in member homes, coordinating with them to subtly adjust power levels. Such communication could help GVEC create peak time rewards programs of greater precision and sophistication for members to opt into—similar to Rush Hour Rewards.

The IoT is here and growing, but society is still at the outset of what’s possible with this technology. GVEC members and customers can rest assured that we’re doing our part to help make sure the Guadalupe Valley moves forward with the rest of the world in reaping the benefits as the IoT matures.

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