The Internet of Things: Where Virtual Opportunities - and Virtual Threats - Become Real

April 29, 2016 // By EDN Europe
Mark Patrick, Mouser Electronics
There is no doubt that the Internet has provided a vehicle for many entrepreneurs to become very rich. It’s hard to assess quickly how many Internet millionaires there are in the world.

First, define the term “Internet entrepreneur”. Perhaps the most glaringly obvious is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg , but on the other hand there will be many cases where the Internet has simply helped accelerate the growth of a multi-faceted business. Still others may be millionaires, or multi-millionaires, on paper, or in a cyber-currency: some would say that type of worth is as ethereal as Moshi Monsters’ Rox .

The Internet can be a confusing place, as far as knowing what’s real, and what’s virtual. The Internet of Things (IoT) is different. It’s about real devices that influence our lives in real-time – we are surrounded by them in our homes, at work, at the roadside, in our cars. We may be wearing them, or even have them implanted in our bodies for medical reasons.

Figure 1: Connected devices

Let’s think about medical applications for a moment. This, arguably, is the greatest area of opportunity to exploit the IoT to improve quality of life for people all over the planet. Within the health and wellbeing sectors, IoT applications can enhance disease prevention or enable early diagnosis, as well as helping manage existing conditions and enabling patients living comfortably and independently at home to receive high-quality treatment.

In today’s connected homes, everyone can be in contact with some kind of device that could improve wellbeing or quality of life, whether it is a simple fitness band that supports a healthy lifestyle, a personal medical device for monitoring signs such as blood-glucose level, or an implantable device such as a heart pacemaker or neuro-stimulator. Other connected devices that can improve care quality include in-home sensors such as fall detectors for the elderly. Through these types of innovations, the IoT holds out the promise of delivering huge cost savings in terms of managing chronic disease, in addition to putting more power in the hands of carers to ensure better outcomes for patients.

IoT technology can deliver equally profound benefits when employed in less well-developed areas of the world, which are often characterised by large rural populations, poor physical infrastructure, and historically low levels of access to medical services. The arrival of affordable mobile phone services over the last couple of decades has already vastly improved access to healthcare. The poorest no longer need to make long journeys to seek help or advice from experts at their nearest medical centre, many miles away. Instead, a short telephone call can now ascertain the nature of the problem so that the right action can be taken straight away. Medical professionals can even diagnose conditions remotely – sometimes aided by photographs taken with a smartphone – and guide friends or relatives of the patient to administer treatment or provide palliative care. The IoT, bringing better telemedicine and connected personal medical devices into the picture, can enable more accurate diagnoses and attentive expert care for larger numbers of patients.

Along with the opportunities, however, come significant new threats. The potential for various types of hacker attacks is an issue the industry must confront. The IoT is where the virtual world of the Internet