It seems like everywhere you go someone is having a conversation about IoT. You have likely heard the buzzword at your office, a party or overheard the term at Starbucks. But what the heck is IoT? IoT stands for “Internet of Things.” More specifically, IoT is the ability of seemingly ordinary appliances to communicate via the Internet. Okay, so my fridge can talk to the Internet, what does that mean to me?

Home entertainment

Let’s start where we are already comfortable, our family rooms. We have all become used to the ability of Blu-ray players to go online to stream movies. Smart TV’s do the same thing and can be found everywhere. Most of the new AV receivers have Ethernet ports or Wi-Fi built right in so we can stream our favorite music from Spotify, Pandora or Apple iTunes Radio. Our cable, or satellite boxes also let us stream on-demand content over the Internet. What IoT means to most of us is the ability of our electronic devices to entertain us better. The communication is two-way though. Content providers use the information they gather from what we stream to better manage their offerings. This information is also used for advertising and to determine rate structures. In the case of entertainment, it’s a win-win situation. IoT seems to only make our entertainment experience better.

Energy savings

In order to manage something you first need to understand it. IoT allows energy companies to gather information on how electricity is used and how its use can be reduced. It also allows those same energy suppliers to make more money using IoT technology. Have you heard about your energy company charging higher rates for peak power usage? In California, PG&E and Southern California Edison charge peak energy rates to both residential and commercial users when the demand for electricity is highest. They can do this because they have replaced traditional, analog electric meters with digital smart meters. These meters change the rates charged for the electricity used depending on when that energy is used. If you have a smart meter, ask your electric company for a detailed energy report on your home and see for yourself how it works.

As a consumer you can take advantage of the same technology to save money. Your smart thermostat can reduce your energy consumption in your home by raising the temperature that your air conditioner kicks on when the price of electricity goes up. Your IoT thermostat knows when this happens because of its ability to gather that information online. If you have a smart refrigerator, it can also reduce its cooling cycles when the price of electricity goes up. Washers and dryers can be programmed to start when the rates drop overnight. As more electronic devices are IoT enabled, more opportunities will come about for them to save you money.

IoT is here whether we want it or not. By understanding what IoT is, and what it can do for us, we can all find ways for it to make our lives better.

Safety

If you are reading this article, you are probably using a computer. Everyone who uses a computer should know about software updates. As new features are developed or problems are identified, software companies issue updates that enable those features - or fix the bugs - in the programs that your computer uses. The same thing happens with IoT enabled electronic devices. Your TV, DVD player, AV Receiver and cable box all get updates over the Internet. I’ll bet you never thought about where your television guide gets all of the programming information, did you?

IoT enabled devices can do the same thing. Manufactures occasionally find out about potential problems with their products after those products are in the market place. By sending firmware updates over the Internet, they can often fix those potential problems remotely. The best part of this technology may be that it is invisible to the end user. The IoT appliance just seems to work better. Neat.

It’s not just home appliances that can benefit from IoT. New cars or trucks have more computing ability built into them than the first space shuttle did when it launched. Scary thought isn’t it? Bad things can happen if the electronics in your car go wonky. Remember the unintentional acceleration issues that some early Toyota Prius owners encountered? The fix was a firmware update that dealers administered during a recall. More and more vehicles are IoT enabled. This lets the cars update themselves when they are parked in the garage at night. One, high profile, example of this technology at work is Tesla. Their cars all get real time updates over the Internet. Tesla touts this technology as a feature that allows for features to be added remotely. This insures that all Tesla owners have the most up-to-date features available for their cars. While this is a fantastic selling feature, it is, arguably, more important as a safety feature.

Risks

With any new technology, there are usually risks involved. Hackers have figured out that our cars usually don’t have any anti-virus software installed in them. There have been isolated reports of engines being shut off, and of brakes being applied remotely. I’m sure the car companies are working with software engineers to stop this from happening in the future. While I believe the subject needs more attention from car manufacturers, I am also certain that anti-virus companies are already working on applications for your car. It’s just a matter of time. I haven’t seen any reports of home entertainment devices, or appliances being hacked, but I also don’t see any advantage in doing so.

As more and more devices are IoT enabled, hackers and evil-doers will undoubtedly find ways to hijack the technology for their own devious plots. I don’t think we have too much to worry about though. This arena is where anti-virus companies earn their keep. I am very confident that there will be applications available in the very near future to safeguard just about every IoT device in your home. Opportunities like this won’t be ignored by those that can capitalize on them.

Conclusion

IoT is here whether we want it or not. By understanding what IoT is, and what it can do for us, we can all find ways for it to make our lives better. The ability of my entertainment system to give me pretty much any content that I can dream up is just plain cool. My thermostat saving me money on my electric bill is just plain smart. My car has been smarter than me for a long time. Adding the ability to connect to the Internet is just going to make it safer. I also believe that the advantages far outweigh any potential risks. Time will tell if what I believe is accurate. Hopefully this article will help you form your own opinion.

See, that’s not so scary.


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About Brian Hill
Brian Hill is a home theater enthusiast who has an extensive background in sales. His interests include music & movies, F1 & NASCAR auto racing, hot rods (he has a '56 Nomad) and hockey — Go Sharks!
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