Internet of Things a Bright Future in Australia

Every now and then a phenomenon comes along that is so aptly named, you can’t help but grasp it immediately.  The Internet of Things is one such phenomenon.   Things, connected to the internet.   If you’re still having trouble comprehending how that might work, just imagine a thing and then imagine being able to interact with it from your laptop or smartphone.  Street lamps, trains, cows*, cash registers, doors, roads, cars, rubbish bins, fridges, air conditioners, watches, jewellery, store displays, lightbulbs, your keys or your major organs.  It’s really limited only by your imagination.

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A cow wearing a sensor at the TIA Dairy facility where Sense-T Dairy and Beef Project Team are unlocking the secret lives of cows using sensors.

Making all of this possible are tiny sensors that can be attached to things, and communicate with  systems that understand and interpret the data they collect.   Sensors read changes in their environment and report these changes back to an internet connected device.  A person walks beneath a streetlamp, a cow stops moving, a door opens, a heart beats, rubbish fills a bin, the temperature changes.

Already, the houses in your street alone probably generate more internet traffic than the entire internet did only 5 years ago.   There’s a fair chance most of your neighbours don’t have many sensor driven appliances… yet. But according to the Ericsson Mobility Report this is set to change in the near future.  Malaysian, Singaporean and Australian Internet users are the most likely to use wearable technology, use connectivity in their cars and have devices in their homes connected to the internet.  In Australia one in three daily internet users are interested in using connected home services and 19% already have them in use in their homes.  A similar 17% are interested in personal connected devices such as smart watches and fitness devices like armbands that track your performance.

Interest in Connected Services

Opportunities to use sensors have triggered a burst of activity in tech hardware startups in recent years.  After many years of software being the centre of startup activity, Australia’s emerging maker movement is the “light behind the storm clouds” for the Australian manufacturing industry, according to a research paper from Deloitte.    We are certainly seeing a lot of local innovation in this field.  Local entrepeneur Rob Crowder has developed Smash Wearables, a wearable for tennis players that is now seeking investment and pre-orders.  The product is a lightweight wristband which is worn while playing tennis and feeds information back to a smartphone app.  The smart wristband analyses your technique as you play and provides personalised recommendations.

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It’s not just consumer devices like smart watches and fitness trackers that will join the Internet of Things.  Urban environments are ripe for connectivity as well.  Some cities are already trialling street lamps that know when people are walking beneath them.  Cities like Barcelona estimate these smart streetlamps will cut the annual cost of street lighting by up to 60%. Already many streets and laneways in Barcelona track pedestrians and adjust their street lamps to brighten as people approach and dim when they’ve passed by.   These street lamps are not one trick ponies either; they are also fitted with trackers to report on traffic flow and pollution levels.

You can bring similar smarts into your own home with another Australian invention – LifX lightbulbs.  They ran a  Kickstarter campaign a few years ago and raised their target of $100,000 to fund the project in less than a day.  In fact according to Kickstarter they ultimately raised over $1 million.  LifX is a wifi enabled, multi-color, energy efficient LED light bulb that you can control with your smartphone.  The big brands are also getting in on the action, so we’re sure to see a lot more in smart lighting in the next few years.   Apparently by 2020 there will be over 100 million internet connected wireless light bulbs and lamps worldwide.


Another recent local innovation comes from Melbourne based startup Curo.  Curo have developed a clever response to concerns about caring for elderly relatives who live alone in their own home.  Curo offers a set of sensors which are installed around the home and connect with an app on the carer or relative’s smartphone.  The sensors collect simple but useful signals about activity to confirm that regular routines are taking place.  Sensors can be set up to make sure the paper is collected, the medicine box is opened, the front door opens and closes throughout the day or the bedroom doorway is crossed each morning.  Any missed actions trigger alerts to the linked smartphone app.

The Internet of Things will change forever the way we interact with previously passive items in our home.  Information that used to be complex and tedious to collate is now at our fingertips.  Australian innovation Wattcost is attracting attention overseas with a sensor driven device that attaches to your household power meter.  With no need for expensive electrical work, the sensors will read the electrical signals coming through your power meter and interpret them.

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Wattcost recognises each appliance by its unique digital signature and sends real time power usage data to your smartphone.  The app also compares your data usage to plans from local power companies and recommends ways to save money.  The Wattcost app also generates alerts that help you reduce electricity usage, such as suggesting you run the dishwasher after 9pm or letting you know when a particular device is draining electricity.  With carbon footprint on everyone’s radar,  innovations that reduce resource consumption like Wattcost and others that attach to thermostats and other electrical devices will be extremely popular.

We are teetering on the edge of an explosion in global internet traffic.  When the Internet of Things really takes off it will have an enormous impact on both our data usage and our reliance on personal devices to manage the world around us.   This time next year it is predicted that there will be more 15 billion interconnected devices in the world. Already there are around 9 billion things, and if you exclude the obvious ones like computers, tablets and smartphones you’re left with 2 or 3 billion ‘things’ as of today that are connected to the internet.   Cisco likes to call this the Internet of Everything and they predict that by 2020 there will be around 40 billion things on the network.  In fact of all the things that may one day join the network, around 99% are still unconnected.  With 2020 only 5 years away, we should be prepared for significant change in the very near future.


* Admittedly it’s probably not PC to call a cow a ‘thing’.

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