11:23 17 August 2017
The Internet of Things (IoT) might sound like a slightly sinister concept but it is a rapidly growing industry which will transform our lives and businesses, helping them to make them more intelligent and efficient. The idea behind the concept is not new or as complicated as it sounds. It simply involves connecting devices via the internet so they are able to communicate with each other and us. At the moment the main purpose for the IoT includes collecting data and remotely monitoring and controlling devices. One of the most common uses for the IoT, is in heating and energy controls. The smart meters allow people to control their heating remotely, helping people to save money and energy. However, in the future we could see some changes in the way the technology works as it continues to grow.
As the IoT becomes more widely used in homes, businesses, factories and farms, the technology will face several key challenges. The first issue is that our current internet infrastructure may not be able to support such a huge demand. Additionally, there are problems that could arise in regards to identifying, securing and managing so many devices at once. These challenges pose significant roadblocks for the advancement and mass-adoption of the technology in the future. However, blockchain technology has the potential to provide the solution.
Blockchain technology is most commonly associated with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. It’s a common misconception that Bitcoin and blockchain are the same thing. In actual fact, blockchain is the technology which makes it possible for the digital currency to work. Bitcoin has been under scrutiny since it first rose in value and it is not certain how long the technology will remain in use. However, blockchain technology has many uses.
The blockchain is essentially a large, decentralised database which can keep records of any digital transaction made within its network. The database can be accessed by anyone who is in the network, or it can be made public so it can be viewed around the world. The initial purpose of blockchain technology was to remove the need for an authoritative third-party, or “middleman” when making financial transactions. Every transaction is recorded in the database, making it a reliable network. However, there are a number of other uses for blockchain technology, including record keeping and trade management.
So how can blockchain technology change the IoT? It could help to make networks of hundreds of devices more secure by forming secure mesh networks. This will help to reduce the threats of identity theft through device impersonation, as each device will be given its own unique identifying code. By creating a network where every device that is considered legitimate is registered the devices will be able to identify each other without the need for any central authorities.
Some startup businesses are already using blockchain technology for their IoT networks. Filament, an industrial startup, uses wireless sensors to create small autonomous mesh networks allowing companies to manage operations remotely without relying on cloud technology- another kind of remote storage system. They have made their network secure by using a bitcoin blockchain, which gives each device a unique identity so that only recognisable devices are communicated with. Filament could be particularly useful in factories, allowing machines to communicate with staff and inform them of any errors or issues with resource supply.
An Australian communication company, Telstra, is also using blockchain technology to make IoT ecosystems for people’s homes. The blockchain is private, allowing people to minimise verification time and ensure that none of their devices are being tampered with. Telstra has implemented advanced security measures, such as making it possible for the network to identify both IoT devices and the people who are using the devices, to ensure that compromised mobile devices can’t access and control the network.
It’s also possible that blockchain technology could allow the IoT to be monetized on a large scale, people could make secure micro transactions over the network just as is currently possible with Bitcoin transactions.
Although blockchain technology does provide a potential solution for security issues, it doesn’t necessarily solve the problems that sheer demand for the technology can pose. It has been proven that small scale networks are working effectively but there is still a long way to go to develop the technology before it is able to support huge IoT ecosystems. Security remains the number one priority for businesses that are beginning to implement IoT technology into their workplace.
In the future, the IoT is set to grow and huge networks of devices which are autonomously controlling themselves and each other could be possible in the future. These devices would be able to make decisions based on their environment without any human interaction, imagine the central heating controls deciding for themselves that it was hot outside so they should turn down. It’s highly likely that blockchain technology will continue to be used alongside the IoT in order to help create secure networks which are independent from a central controlling authority. This is reassuring for people who are concerned that progressing towards having such widely connected networks of devices could allow their devices to be controlled and monitored by central governments. However, at the moment the IoT is still in the early stages of development and it is not likely to reach such widespread use for several years.
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