Internet of things ‘start of something big’ for Scots firms
The rise of the internet of things (IoT) has the potential to revolutionise households across the world, as everyday items from washing machines to kettles become able to record and send basic information.
It represents a huge business opportunity for tech firms based in Scotland which develop the sensor and imaging systems required for IoT to work.
Consumers also stand to benefit as the reliability and performance of domestic products improves as manufacturers learn from usage data.
While smart watches, fitness monitoring apps and even heating systems are already established, few homes have become truly “connected”.
Industry experts from tech giants such as IBM and Microsoft emphasised the potential for growth in the sector at the third annual CENSIS technology summit, which was held at the University of Strathclyde on Thursday.
“One of the challenges of IoT can be bringing it to the market place - is it technology looking for a problem, or are we trying to solve problems with technology?” said Charles Joel, who leads IoT activities for IBM in the UK.
“We need to embrace emerging technologies today and move quickly. We are in the fourth industrial revolution - commonly called Industry 4.0.
“I’m thinking about Industry 4.0 from a smart manufacturing perspective - it relies on devices and sensors. IBM doesn’t make those things, that’s the role of specialist manufacturers.”
Helping those specialists in Scotland is the role of CENSIS, launched in 2013 to bridge the gap between university research and industrial uptake north of the border.
Based in Glasgow, it assists small and medium enterprises to grow beyond initial models quickly by allowing them to develop new innovations with university research teams.
With an estimated 20 billion connected devices across the world requiring IoT networks by 2020, the race is on to develop market-ready solutions.
The growth of the sector is likely to be fuelled by small, autonomous devices which can service new business and information models.
Around 450 delegates from across Scotland attended the CENSIS conference, an increase of 50 per cent on last year’s event.
“IoT is the start of something big,” said CENSIS chairman Bob Downes. “We’re only in the foothills just now.
“I think society needs to waken up to the tremendous force for good that IoT represents. We must embrace it. But what I worry is there is too much fear about it - we must shift that.”
One of the challenges IoT faces to win widespread acceptance is security.
The recent Yahoo emails hacking scandal has brought data storage back into the spotlight, meaning new technologies must ensure they have ever more rigorous safeguards built in.
A recent survey by PwC also found a majority of consumers currently lack an interest in IoT technology or are unaware of its benefits.
PwC added that it took around eight years for a tech revolution such as broadband or smart phones to become the norm.
Suppliers therefore “have a short timeframe in which to win the hearts and minds of consumers and turn smart energy tech into a sustainable revenue stream”.
Steve Jennings, the group’s power and utilities leader, said: “Momentum is continuing to build in the connected home market and we believe smart energy will have a key role to play.”