16:45 20 September 2017
While it might raise concerns for some, the technology is being tested around the world for use in industrial environments, transport systems and even home use in the form of smart home automation. If it’s possible for factories to develop the technology to completely replace their manufacturing and production lines with automated technology, then the possibilities for home use are endless. One of the key technological developments which has made automation possible is the Internet of Things, commonly referred to as the IoT, which enabled devices to connect to the internet and communicate with each other. Blockchain technology has the potential to ensure that the IoT succeeds in mass adoption.
There are a number of household ‘smart devices’ already available on the market, and these gadgets operate themselves. These range from thermostat devices, which allow your home’s heating to be controlled from any device with Wi-Fi, to hubs which operate all your other gadgets, like Echo. In the future, this trend is likely to continue. Smart devices are designed to make life easier and technology more efficient, allowing a single device to control everything else in your home. Imagine a world in which your alarm clock is set to not only wake you up but also tell your kettle to start boiling water for your morning cup of tea! As well as being highly convenient, these devices have the potential to save homeowners money on their energy bills and reduce waste of energy. In turn, this could have a positive impact on the environment by reducing carbon emissions and fossil fuel use. However, adopting the IoT technology on mass poses a number of problems.
Security is the main issue that the IoT currently faces. The question of how people will keep all of their individual devices secure to prevent mass-hacking and theft of personal data is yet to be answered. The current security methods in place are already struggling to keep personal data secure, with several high profile hacks and cyberattacks having occurred on a huge scale in recent years. The most recent example of a huge security breach was WannaCry, a ransomware cyberattack which caused mass disruption to organisations in over 100 countries around the world.
The extreme volume of data being transferred by devices which are connected over the IoT for automation could also put individual’s privacy at risk. The storage of this data also poses an issue, finding a suitable storage method which allows data to be processed and stored on mass is problematic.
Blockchain technology, which is commonly associated with the highly volatile cryptocurrency Bitcoin, has been widely referenced as a solution to these problems. Blockchain technology is a distributed ledger, which allows records to be kept and shared around the world. For those with limited technical knowledge, it is easiest to imagine it as an enormous Excel spreadsheet which is continuously update and can be seen by anyone who is in the network.
The benefits of blockchain technology are extensive, it could be used to secure the network just as it is used to improve cryptocurrency security. The blockchain database provides users with reassurance that all transactions made using bitcoin are legitimate by storing transaction data in cryptographically coded blocks, which cannot be easily altered or amended without anyone noticing. This means that every transaction made using bitcoin can be viewed by those in the network and it is extremely difficult to manipulate this information. This technology could use the IoT to register automated devices within the home to a network, meaning that only those with access could receive the data from individual’s devices.
A brief SWOT analysis of blockchain technology’s potential to transform the IoT highlights that it could also prevent security breaches from occurring. This is because blockchain relies upon a decentralised network, meaning that without approval from 50% of the systems within a network changes can’t be made to the data or devices within the networks. This means that hackers guessing a weak password on one device won’t allow them to have access to your entire automated technology network.
Despite this, it’s possible that blockchain technology won’t provide the perfect solution. A large amount of processing power is required to run a blockchain database, which means that the hindrance caused by large volumes of data being transmitted won’t be resolved by simply introducing blockchain technology. In addition, the introduction of such technology is straightforward. It will take a considerable amount of work to develop a means of adopting blockchain technology on such a wide scale. In order for large numbers of homes to run automated technology, which is connected via the IoT, an appropriate network must be found which is able to cope with the enormous data demand. Otherwise, the smart homes which we all envision in the future may fail to become a reality.
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