'Internet of Things' could help drive economic growth

CowsImagine a world where your car contacts your home’s heating system to tell it that you’ll be home an hour earlier than normal and it should switch itself on in 15 minutes time. Or your house informs you that because of change in the weather it has turned the heating on half an hour earlier than scheduled.

This may appear far-fetched, but it’s actually happening. It’s called the ‘Internet of Things’ and it has the potential to be a truly life-changing technology.

But what exactly is the Internet of Things? Well, in simple terms, the Internet of Things describes objects - including vehicles, clothing, portable devices, environmental sensors, traffic sensors and all kinds of consumer goods – that have the ability to sense things and communicate with one another.

“What do shoes, cows and lorries all have in common?” asks John Davies, chief researcher at BT. “They have all been connected to the Internet of Things via tiny devices that can connect to the internet. In fact, there are now more devices connected to the Internet than people.”

Transforming lives

That’s interesting to know, but why is this important?

“Because a widespread Internet of Things could transform how we live in our cities, how we travel, how we manage our lives sustainably, how we age and how services and entertainment accompany us and adapt as our surroundings change” said John.

And he’s not alone. The UK government has given BT – along with nine other British companies - £50,000 each to conduct research to better understand the potential of the Internet of Things.

Announcing the ten companies selected to receive the funding David Bott, director of innovation programmes at the Technology Strategy Board (the UK’s national innovation agency) said: “The Internet of Things has the potential to stimulate large scale investment, create jobs and bring substantial economic growth.

“The number of connected objects is estimated to reach 50 billion by 2020, and the potential added value of services using the Internet of Things is likely to be in the range of hundreds of billions of pounds a year, with new business models, applications and services across different sectors of the economy,” he said.

The smart way to beat the traffic

BT’s idea – chosen amongst stiff competition – is to devise a service using information from a number of different traffic-related sources. Scientist and engineers at BT’s world-renowned research centre at Adastral Park near Ipswich plan to build transport applications which could, for example, accurately estimate your journey time based on what’s happening on the road right now. Or it might be used to help the Highways Agency or police identify and deal with incidents such as accidents or hold-ups to get traffic moving more quickly.

Innovation at Adastral Park

Said John Davies who works at BT’s Adastral Park: “Coming up with new ideas and developing new technologies is in our DNA.

“We have an important role in the Internet of Things by providing the networks to connect devices. But we can also develop the platforms that enables data from such devices to be easily published, analysed and combined to develop a whole range of exciting new services.

“We believe our idea to make use of information from road sensors, cameras, metereological devices and many other sources has the ability to create a ‘smart’ road network that would ease congestion and make our roads safer,” he said.

John and his team begin work on the study in March. Following the completion of the preparatory studies, the Technology Strategy Board plans to invest up to £4 million later this year that it hopes ‘will show the benefits to be gained by merging applications and services together through an Internet of Things.’

Maybe cars and boilers talking to one another isn’t quite so far-fetched after all.