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How the IoT is helping save lives

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

The age-old adage of wanting to be ‘safe and secure’ has never been truer than in today’s society – that includes ourselves, our family, friends, and work colleagues in all walks of life. Yet, what we mean by being safe and secure, especially when we think of the digital world and in particular the growing network of the Internet of Things (IoT), is worlds apart from what it once meant. 

It’s true that the natural progression of modernisation, be it technological or otherwise, continues at speed regardless of the average consumer’s awareness of the multitude of devices, domestic and industrial, that make up the IoT. Further, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is now growing at such a similar speed it is beginning to impact consumers’ lives at a personal level – to the point it’s now increasingly difficult to tell the IoT and IIoT apart.   

Yet even knowing that the IoT and IIoT exist and are only going to get more prolific, our understanding of what they are and how they are already significantly improving our lives isn’t keeping pace with its exponential growth.

When we think of the IoT and IIoT, we instantly put safety and security in the same box. Almost every other day there is a story about cybercrime, the leaking of personal information or an accusation of hacking that reaches even international levels. However, these dominating headlines surrounding the IoT are purely focused on security and not safety.   

Further contributing to the thought that safety and security when it comes to the IoT are one and the same is the fact that the IoT industry is still heavily focused on improving security at the now millions of end-points that make up the ever-growing network. This is creating a negative feeling around the IoT, leading to many of the positive and important benefits being completely overlooked.   

What is needed is a shift in focus away from IoT security towards how it is helping to improve safety. There is so much the IoT can do to help everyone become ‘safer’ and many organisations are already adopting methods to improve conditions in our everyday lives today.      

Protecting people with the Internet of Things 

IoT has been used in vehicles for a number of years now but never before has the barrier to entry been so low for both businesses and public bodies. While autonomous vehicles are far from the default we see on the roads, they are ‘here and real’, especially in medium or large commercial and haulage services.   

General consensus at the moment is that we prefer to have a person at the wheel. However, we now have a growing duty of care for how such autonomous IoT vehicles are used and handled on the roads. The adoption of interconnected smart devices and IoT as seen in low-jacking vehicles with remote sensors are already common place. These vehicles are not only delivering environmental improvements but also improving safety levels through monitoring driving behaviours and enabling proactive driver awareness and education.   

In the industrial space, IIoT, also known as smart manufacturing, is becoming the norm rather than the exception – whether this be in small form manufacturing, industrial application functions or production line business. The IoT is further contributing significant value towards employee safety and performance as well as machinery compliance – reducing downtime and often providing real-time insights that can help avoid operation downtime and safety risks.   

IoT technology is used widely by our police and emergency forces across the UK already. Through harnessing a variety of interconnected technologies, from extensive CCTV networks to business and personal alarm systems, as well as drones and sound detection devices (more prevalent in countries with high gun use and crime) they are able to keep the general public safe to an extent never seen before.   

The forces also use artificial intelligence and complex machine learning algorithms to analyse all the data captured from the thousands of IoT devices they harness to predict crime and safety of life. This technology is incredibly valuable when it comes to online crime, such as cyberbullying, identity fraud and money laundering. AI analysis is also very important for analysing the continuous streams of video footage collected through personal camera feeds and drones.   

Environmental and regulation controls for private and public services have always been important and are a duty of care obligation. These stretch from communal centres like sports and swimming facilities to hospitals and wider health care. Companies and organisations are starting to harness IoT to improve safety standards as well as providing more cost-effective services to drive down public spending.   

Historically, ensuring such facilities were up to the required standard and in line with regulation would require a physical visit to the facilities in question followed by a written report. This outdated method is quickly being replaced by IoT solutions which are able to monitor facilities constantly throughout the year for significantly lower costs. Safety levels can never be compromised for cost efficiencies, but through harnessing the IoT, major safety improvements can be made while dramatically reducing costs.   

On a more personal note, the majority of people, now including a growing number of vulnerable and elderly people are now using personal and fitness trackers, connected to the internet. There are now thousands of common and easy to adopt use cases where such devices have been used to dynamically detect situations where we could be in danger or at risk. With simple detection methods that produce alerts to say either someone has ‘fallen down with undue force’ or that their heartbeat is abnormally high, these IoT devices are improving safety at such a personal level never before seen. It’s only a short time ago that these devices were in the imagination of science fiction writers! Thanks to the innovation and adoption of the aspects we label as IoT, they are here right now.

While these examples show how IoT is helping to protect people’s lives here and now are impressive, it is understandable that security is still a major priority. As business experts and technologists continue to improve the security threats posed by the IoT, we will see consumers begin to self-police and improve their security understanding which in turn will drive improvements all round.   

At the same time, we must encourage everyone to embrace the genuine benefits IoT is bringing in terms of safety. Only by acknowledging what we all want to be ‘safe and secure’ will we truly gain the most benefit from the IoT.  

Mark Hunt, CTO of Oneserve 

Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock

Mark Hunt
Mark became CTO of Oneserve in 2017 and in a career spanning over 30 years, has worked for a number of organizations including the Met Office and a decade at Landmark Information Group, a leading provider of land and property search information.