Today it seems that every electronic device now has some type of connection to the Internet, whether it's via a USB cable to a computer, a Wi-Fi hotpot or over a cellular network. All of these Internet-enabled products have driven many of us to ask "what exactly defines a connected device?"
You may be surprised to learn how many ways this question is answered. And in a lot of ways it depends on who is answering the question. In its simplest form, a connected device is a sensor with an Internet Protocol (IP) address. For consumers, this could be their Kindle, iPad or smartphone used for downloading books, accessing online content and/or mobile applications. Someday, home alarm clocks, coffee makers and virtually all other home appliances may become connected devices, bringing new conveniences and energy-saving applications to homeowners. Imagine the convenience of controlling your "smart home's" lighting, heating/air conditioning, entertainment systems, security systems and more from anywhere via any Internet capable device.
However, in the B2B world of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, connected devices are delivering more than just convenience. They're revolutionizing industries, reducing costs, increasing margins, improving employee productivity, conserving natural resources and more.
In the agricultural industry, wireless sensors in the soil determine moisture levels. Using this information, sprinkler systems know when to turn on – or stay off – keeping crops from becoming too dry or preventing fields from being watered on a rainy day. In the State of Arizona, one million homes have been converted from standard electric meters to wireless meters. These meters are connected devices, transmitting usage information wirelessly so utility workers don't need to spend entire days driving around reading analog meters. The utility companies are able to make better use of their workforce and save countless dollars on gasoline and truck/equipment costs.
Connected M2M devices also help rail freight carriers monitor train cars and comply with regulatory location-reporting and hazardous waste requirements. The technology is being used for everything from processing credit card transactions on hand-held point-of-sale devices and parking meters to tracking and securing Indy race cars and even NFL player personnel.
Connected devices are also saving lives. The "mHealth," or mobile healthcare sector is the fastest-growing and most watched emerging connected device marketplace. Using wirelessly connected medical devices, historically homebound patients are able to literally travel the world while still reporting diagnostics to their healthcare providers. Healthcare facilities specializing in Alzheimer's or autism treatment can employ wireless wearable sensors to simply and quickly locate patients that wander beyond the boundaries of the physical facility into the world at large. Visiting nurses are able to meet with patients in the field and send data back to a central database.
In short, connected devices are many things to many people. In the coming years, we can expect to see many new, innovative uses of IP-enabled sensors to create business value for companies while providing convenience and improving the quality of life for consumers.