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Protecting people with the Internet of Things

Posted: 11 October 2017 | By Mark Hunt

Most of us will know the age old saying, we want to be “safe and secure” – that’s ourselves, our family, and our work colleagues in all aspects of life. However, our understanding of what it means to be safe and secure, especially when considering today’s modern digital age and in particular the growing era of the Internet of Things (IoT), isn’t the same as it once was.

For sure, the natural evolution of innovation, technological or otherwise, continues irrespective of the accelerating awareness and adoption of the interconnection of consumer and industrial devices which makes up the IoT. The world of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is also evolving at a similar pace and now more than ever is bridging into consumers’ lives on an individual level. So much so that it is becoming more difficult to differentiate the IoT from IIoT, outside of those in the industry of course.

However, even accepting that the IoT and IIoT is real and will only keep growing exponentially, our understanding and appreciation of IoT isn’t keeping up with the technology’s rapid evolution.

Is being ‘safe’ and ‘secure’ the same thing?

When we think about technology, and in particular IoT, we quickly and easily think of safety and security as being one and the same. There doesn’t seem to be a day go by where we don’t hear about another cybercrime, the leaking of personal information or hacking accusations even at an international level. Yet this is purely focused on security. Adding to the conflation of safety and security is the fact that the IoT industry is still heavily focused on improving the control and security of an ever growing, and now significantly sized, global estate of devices out in the edge.

We need to refine our appreciation and understanding of how IoT can help improve safety overall outside of the security aspects that dominate the media and our thoughts around the technology. There is so much more IoT can do to help become ‘safer’, and many such capabilities are already being adopted around us in our everyday lives.

How IoT is already creating a safer world

IoT technology and solutions are used extensively by our police and emergency forces across the country today. They harness varying interconnected technologies from business and personal alarm systems to extensive CCTV networks and are beginning to use drones as well as sound detection devices, which are more prevalent in countries with high gun use or crime.

Safety of life can never be compromised through cost efficiencies, however through leveraging the IoT, significant safety improvements can be made while also dramatically reducing costs

Our forces are also using artificial intelligence and complex machine learning algorithms to analyse the data captured from the myriad of connected IoT devices to predict crime and safety of life considerations. This technology is especially valuable when considering on-line crime, such as cyberbullying and identity fraud. It is also incredibly important for analysis of the ever-increasing amount of video footage, encompassing both drone and personal camera feeds.

Regulation and environment controls for public and private services has long been a focal area and a ‘duty of care’ obligation – stretching from communal services such as sports and swimming facilities to health care and hospitals. Organisations are starting to leverage IoT to not only provide more effective services and drive down public spending but to also improve safety standards.

Traditionally, verifying facilities are up to standard and in line with regulation required a physical visit to the facilities in question. However, this is rapidly being replaced by IoT solutions which improve monitoring capabilities at much better price points than before. Safety of life can never be compromised through cost efficiencies, however through leveraging the IoT, significant safety improvements can be made while also dramatically reducing costs.

Personal devices have been used to automatically and dynamically detect circumstances that could put us in jeopardy from a safety perspective

IoT within vehicles isn’t exactly new, however never before have the barriers to entry for both businesses and public bodies been so low. While autonomous vehicles are ‘here and real’, they are far from being the default approach for handling the +movement of vehicles, especially medium or large commercial and haulage services. For the time being, we still prefer to have a person at the wheel but we also have a growing ‘duty of care’ for how such autonomous vehicles are handled or used.

Avoiding moving into a tangent on how vehicles have recently been used as weapons, the adoption of IoT and interconnected smart devices, such as low-jacking vehicles with remote sensors, is already commonplace. Not only are such vehicles delivering improvements for the environment and cost to business, they are also improving safety levels via improved driving behaviours and proactive driver awareness and education.

On a more personal level, so many people, including a growing number of elderly and vulnerable people, now have personal and fitness trackers. We are seeing common and easy to adopt use cases where such personal devices have been used to automatically and dynamically detect circumstances that could put us in jeopardy from a safety perspective.

Industrial use cases for IoT are definitely the norm rather than the exception now

With simple detection methods that produce an alert that says someone has ‘fallen down with undue force’ to showing vital signs for at risk individuals, these IoT devices are helping to improve safety like never before. Only a short time has passed since such devices were the making of science fiction movies! These capabilities are here right now, thanks to the adoption and innovation we label as aspects of IoT.

In the industrial space, IIoT is fast becoming known as ‘smart manufacturing’ and such organisations that adopt these principles ‘connected enterprises’. This means that industrial use cases for IoT are definitely the norm rather than the exception now – whether that be in a production line business, small form manufacturing or in industrial application functions. IoT is contributing substantial value towards employee safety compliance and performance, as well as machinery compliance, reducing downtime and often provides real-time insights to avoid future safety and operational efficiency concerns.

 

While the above examples of where and how IoT is helping to improve safety are impressive, it’s understandable that we still keep security at the top of our list of concerns. As time unfolds, technologists and business experts will continue to refine the security threat levels and impact of the growing adoption of IoT in both consumer and industrial scenarios. This will happen organically as consumers begin to self-police, improving security understanding and driving such improvement.

Alongside this, we must encourage everyone around us to also embrace the real and valuable benefits IoT is bringing to us in terms of safety and wider aspects of life. Only by recalling what we all want: to be both ‘safe and secure’, will we gain the most we can from this digital transformation IoT is enabling.

Mark Hunt is the CTO at Oneserve, an award winning Field Service Management software company based in the UK.

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