Thinking about Things

Every January, we’re flooded with trend lists and predictions. This year, we learn that the Internet of Things will take off. Again.

The Internet of Things has had a firm position in these top 10 ‘promising-things-listings’ for many years now. So why is it still ‘almost’ taking off? Why is it important for service designers and design researchers to keep an eye on developments within this field?

Small, cheap, digital sensor technology has been around for a while, and seems that it’s ready to scale up. Recently, KPN introduced LoRa, providing a network for IoT applications. So there are products, and there is an infrastructure. What else is needed for the Internet of Things to develop further?

An obvious observation is that the IoT is about services, not devices. Having cool sensors that communicate with each other in a network is one thing. But many people do not understand ‘connected systems’. So we need to look at things from the perspective of people and their everyday lives, to build services around those new technologies that are easy to understand and easy to use.

Looking at the latest IoT applications, we see a myriad of applications that make life at home a bit more efficient. There are promising developments in the transport and mobility sector, and we can expect disruptive innovations when information is openly shared and connected.

My hope for 2016 is to see some more meaningful, game changing and social applications with IoT, for example working on how we can make cities safer places.

However, developments in IoT also make me afraid of what can go wrong. Take for example responsive street furniture that lights up when a visually impaired person passes by. What if people just follow the bright lights to commit crime? Or what if someone hacks the system? And what can happen when the system doesn’t function properly?

I also have concerns about our privacy and security – the more data we leave in the world, the more likely it seems that at some point your data will be stolen. With every new service, application, and device it is crucial to consider the consequences for the safety and privacy of its users. Developments in IoT still make me curious, and anxious at the same time. I look forward to seeing if 2016 is indeed the year that the Internet of Things ‘takes off.’

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