Mar 11, 2020

19 min read

From smart dust to smart cities - 11 awesome real-world IoT applications

We have entered an era of hyperconnectivity. The Internet of Things (IoT) is no longer just an overhyped buzzword pointing towards an exciting future. It is well and truly here. Connectivity across devices (phones,computers etc) is already passé - Today, we live in a world of connected things. Thanks to some groundbreaking technology like batteryless sensors and machine learning, we have managed to erode boundaries between the physical and the digital. That is to say, we have managed to connect simple everyday objects to the internet, opening doors to all sorts of exciting possibilities. Through this post, we wanted to lay out just a few of the amazing real-world applications the Internet of Things  has. Read on ahead to know about some truly spectacular ways in which IoT is changing life around us.

If you are reading this, you probably don’t need anybody telling you how amazing the internet is. It would hardly be hyperbole to claim that connecting computers together to form a network (internet) is possibly the single most revolutionary idea that anybody’s ever had on this planet. But that’s just the regular internet that everyone and their mother is already savvy with. Today, connectivity has been taken to a whole new level. Far from just computing devices and mobile phones, we are now moving towards a world where quite literally everything could be connected to the internet. 

IoT revolution - no longer just fantasy 

“Smart” products have started flooding our lives, en masse. A recent report claims that a staggering 90% of U.S consumers already have at least one smart device at home. All the way back in 2014, Cisco predicted a market opportunity of 14.4 trillion in the “Internet of Everything”. Six years down, skeptics have been left gawking, as billions upon billions of everyday objects are starting to get connected to the internet. According to Gartner, there will be a jaw-dropping 20.6 Billion connected things, worldwide, as of this year (2020). The number is only expected to continue climbing to outrageous heights, in the next few years. We will soon be living in a seamlessly connected world, practically without any boundaries between the real and the digital. 

“The world is made up of trillions of things - cars, planes, jet engines, exercise equipment, the items on my desk. And then there’s the Internet. This category is about all of these things and the Internet, as we know it, coming together. Anything I can do over the Internet, blended with my things. It’s a brand new category, and it’s getting formed in real time.” 

- Chet Pipkin, CEO and founder of Belkin

Sounds a lot like magic

Sir Arthur.C.Clarke once famously remarked, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. 

These words are especially pertinent now. We are on the cusp of the next industrial revolution. The IoT revolution is actually happening right here and now. This is not a flowery metaphor - it’s actually changing every aspect of everyday living for everyday people.

To most people not neck-deep in the world of tech, all this might just sound like magic. Why is this? Let’s face it - There’s just too much jargon in the tech world. We hear words like machine learning, cloud computing and for that matter, Internet of Things, thrown around all the time. Then, to make matters worse, there are the two-letter acronyms that techies throw around- AI, AR, VR, ML. All this serves to do one thing really well - it creates a whole lot of unwarranted confusion around really simple concepts. 

As we mentioned in our “What is the Internet of Things?” article, IoT is actually not all that complicated. It’s literally taking simple everyday “things” and getting them hooked onto the “Internet”. 

Demystifying IoT

The needlessly technical explanations aside, there is another problem that stops most of us from truly wrapping our heads around just how much the IoT revolution is going to change our lives - It’s too all-encompassing and general. 

When it comes to the Internet of Things, most people struggle to contextualise what they hear about it. We hear about the IoT in so many contexts and so, it can be hard to really get what it is about - Is it about home appliances like “smart fridges” that have Wi-Fi connectivity? Is it about using big-data to transform healthcare? What about the really nutty-sounding stuff like smart cities? Well, the simple answer is, yes! 

The Internet of Things refers to all of the above and even more! This can all, no doubt, be very confusing. So, we thought we should dismantle some of the mystique around the Internet of Things by listing out some practical, real-world examples of IoT technology. 

Here are 11 awesome real-world applications of IoT

1. Smart homes

Home automation has existed as a dream for many decades now. In his memorable short story, “There Will Come Soft Rains”, writer Ray Bradbury envisioned a fully automated home that, chillingly, continues to function long after its occupants cease to exist. Today, smart homes don’t conjure any such macabre associations. And, what’s more, they have made their way from fiction to reality. 

These days, the term “smart home” is one of the most hotly searched IoT topics on Google. Over a quarter of all British households now contain a “smart home” device. 

So, what does a real-life, smart home look like? On the surface, there’s nothing distinctive about them. Two smart-homes can be as different from one another as any two ordinary “dumb” homes. However, what sets these futuristic homes apart is the dazzling array of IoT gizmos that they have been decked out with. 

Smart home technologies, as a broad rule, fall into one of 3 categories - Security, convenience and entertainment. 

Imagine lounging on a beach in Seychelles and turning your living room lights on, through your smartphone, to ward off potential burglars. That’s an example of security-focused smart home technology. Don’t like waiting for the air conditioning to get going? Imagine being able to turn on your AC unit exactly 15 minutes before you arrive home for the oh-so-perfect Goldilocks temperature. Now that’s true convenience. 

As for entertainment, you don’t need to look very far. When your smart TV recommends new shows for you to watch, based on your previous viewing history, it’s a very basic example of how IoT can use data to optimise entertainment. 

Inside Smart Homes Around the World - Helsinki, Finland


2. Smart dust

This application is definitely a bit out there, but hey, we promised it in the title. It’s exactly what it sounds like - Imagine super-tiny wireless devices that are smaller than individual grains of sand - This is yet another idea that can be traced back to musty old pages of science fiction, but is now very much a thing that exists! 

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are just that - smart dust! Whether this is a development that you see as revolutionary or just downright eerie, MEMS (or motes, as they are called) are just something you’re going to have to get used to. 

MEMS are essentially tiny sensors that can collect different types of information. These devices usually pack sensing capabilities, autonomous power supply and communication hardware into an unbelievably tiny (few millimeters) space. The massive proliferation of 3D printing has definitely been instrumental in overcoming manufacturing hurdles that made such miniscule sizes impossible to achieve, in the past. Smart dust is likely to have a major impact on a wide range of sectors, from security to agriculture. These sensors can collect all types of data, like acceleration, pressure, humidity, temperature etc, just to name a few. 

For instance, they can hang around in the air over fields, invisible to the naked eye, clicking high-quality aerial photographs and wirelessly relaying the information to the cloud/ IoT system. 

The applications of smart dust are endless. Just as an example of how they can enable seemingly impossible innovation, here is a video from researchers at UC Berkeley, discussing  “neural dust”, an idea for an implantable brain-machine interface which involves speck-sized sensors being sprinkled on human brains to give feedback about brain function. 

New “Neural Dust” sensor could be implanted in the body

“No batteries, no replacement, no hassle. More importantly, batteryless MCUs have fewer moving parts, which makes it really practical to integrate them into accessories and apparel.” 

3. Wearables

The wearables market has exploded in the last few years. This is an IoT application that has already achieved high rates of adoption, in the mainstream consumer-goods market. The who’s who of the tech world, including Google, Apple and Samsung have made heavy bets on building next-gen wearable technology. 

“Wearables” is an umbrella term that refers to a host of different devices, aimed at serving various needs. But they all have one thing in common - basically, all wearables contain sensors that collect data from the wearer. Smartwatches are probably the most relevant examples of wearable IoT devices. However, wearable technology has several other verticals (notably, smart apparel), catering to a variety of needs such as health, fitness, entertainment, etc. Fitness and health trackers are a prominent vertical within the IoT-enabled wearables segment. There are numerous trackers in the market today, to measure a wide range of physiological/fitness parameters. 

However, smart clothing is probably the most exciting and talked-about, when it comes to wearable IoT applications. Smart clothing essentially refers to articles of clothing that have been embedded with tech in order to add non-traditional elements of functionality. A number of clothing manufacturers have experimented with incorporating tech-elements into their apparel. Notable examples include Under Armour’s “Athlete Recovery” range, which absorbs heat from the body, supposedly aiding faster recovery and these next-gen yoga pants which analyse your poses and offer real-time haptic feedback on your form . 

Wearables come with a rather unique set of pre-requisites and conditions. For obvious reasons, MCUs designed for wearable applications need to be ultra-low power and compact. Batteries don’t make for a great solution in these cases, because of the huge costs associated with maintenance and replacement. This is where innovations like energy harvesting come in. Solutions like wearable technology are only made tenable by self-powered sensors. It is hard to overstate the importance of self-powered MCUs when it comes to wearables. 

For instance, let’s take the example of our very own - is a self-powered MCU that can be integrated into any solution - no matter the size or form. It harvests energy from ambient RF-waves to power itself - i.e no batteries, no replacement, no hassle. More importantly, batteryless MCUs have fewer moving parts, which makes it really practical to integrate them into accessories and apparel. 

What will people wear in the future? | The Economist

4. Healthcare (Connected health)

Healthcare, traditionally, has been a very conservative industry. Owing to the huge stakes involved, institutions directing healthcare policy have understandably been hesitant to embrace radical disruptions. However, many experts actually hold healthcare to be the “sleeping giant” when it comes to IoT applications. According to Technavio, the global smart healthcare market is expected to be worth $169.3 Billion in 2020.

Aptly named the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), connected health bears a tremendous amount of potential. There are several segments within connected health - on body, in home, community and in-hospital/clinic. Much like it is with IoT overall, there are so many potential applications for IoMT devices, that it can be hard to summarise the huge role IoT is going to play in healthcare, in the years to come. Healthcare is a dense and vast ecosystem and when you include personal healthcare, health insurance, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, hospital management etc, it becomes practically impossible to make even a reasonably thorough list of IoT applications in healthcare. 

Remote monitoring is possibly the biggest use case in this category. Remote monitoring makes it possible for a patient to get back to “normal life” faster. It also eases the massive burden on healthcare workers, who are overworked, as it is.  

Today, we have innovative solutions like fall sensors that can help remotely monitor elderly patients at a high risk of falling. This is just one example of how remote monitoring can help facilitate better outcomes and reduce the costs associated with in-patient care. Home monitoring makes high-quality diagnostic tools more accessible to the common man. Here’s an example from closer to home - an unobtrusive plaster that you paste onto your skin can show you detailed analytics on your body temperature trends, right on your smartphone!

5. Automobiles

Automobiles represent another treasure trove of opportunities and possibilities for IoT. The automotive industry has been ripe for disruptions and today, connected cars have become a reality. Here are some of the most popular use cases within the automotive industry. 

Driverless cars are by far the most popular use case within this segment. Autonomous cars promise to have a dramatic impact on road safety and are poised to slash accidents caused due to human error. Big names like Tesla and Google have started making big splashes in this space. Tesla, for one, is already selling cars that use their “Autopilot” system. Although self-driving cars still face a number of hurdles, both technological and regulatory, they are definitely an exciting development worth keeping an eye on. 

Another exciting use case is what the automotive industry calls predictive maintenance. Wouldn’t it be incredibly useful to have your car constantly collect feedback from its parts and let you know about an impending maintenance issue before something actually falls apart? Well, this is now very much possible. Now, this has some pretty serious advantages - over time, predictive maintenance makes for significant cost savings, as maintenance tasks only need to be performed as and when required. 

The internet of things is also being used to gather swarm intelligence that can help ease urban congestion and flow of traffic. Additionally, the IoT can also being used to build better roads and reduce pollution


6. Smart manufacturing

For obvious reasons, consumer-facing applications of the Internet of Things tend to generate a lot of interest and fanfare. However, the manufacturing industry is probably one of the most lucrative applications of IoT technology. 

The so-called Industrial Internet of Things is growing at a breakneck speed. More and more manufacturers are making the switch to smart factories. Smart factories or connected factories, have machines, tools and devices that are connected to the internet. This enables them to be highly flexible with the manufacturing process. Far from just simple automation of a few basic processes, IoT enabled smart factories are able to self-optimise and adjust to shifting demands with remarkable ease. To put it very simply, all the components and personnel in a smart factory communicate with each other at every stage of the manufacturing process. This makes for smarter and more efficient manufacturing. 

The IIoT is enabled by a whole host of cutting-edge technologies like big data, RFID, IoT, cognitive computing, cloud computing etc. Smart manufacturing also makes extensive use of advanced robotics. These industrial robots are able to work alongside humans (co-assembly) in some advanced manufacturing operations. Often, they are even to make manufacturing decisions autonomously.

As we move further into this new decade, IoT based smart manufacturing will start taking over, as the norm. Check out Audi’s high-tech smart facility in the video below. 


7. Smart cities

Smart cities are exactly what they sound like - Just like we saw in the previous sections, they use IoT sensors to collect and share data, that is used to facilitate optimisation and seamlessness. The term “smart city”, however, is non-specific and is apt to be interpreted in several ways.

Essentially, smart cities deploy large numbers of sensors to collect various kinds of information. This is obviously done on a much larger scale than with some of the other applications mentioned above. Smart cities are an IoT application with an incredible amount of potential and a large number of use cases - pollution control, traffic management, waste management, water supply, crime detection etc, just to name a few. 

Smart cities are a great way for city officials to garner high-quality feedback from its citizenry and use this data to improve the responsiveness and usability of city services. A smart city is potentially much more responsive to its citizens’ needs and is able to communicate with its inhabitants (and vice versa) in real time. Smart cities allow city dwellers and authorities to interact meaningfully and have more than just a transactional relationship. This, in turn, contributes to the livability of urban spaces and fosters trust and ownership among the people living in these cities. 

This is another IoT application which has benefited tremendously from the advent of battery-free chip technology. Powering thousands of sensors, placed in various types of locations around a sprawling metropolis,using batteries, is downright unfeasible. Now, with the increasing popularity and availability of inexpensive self-powered sensors, smart cities are set to become increasingly common. 


8. Agriculture

Agriculture may not be the most lucrative IoT application there is, as of today.Nevertheless, it is an application that will progressively gain importance and relevance, as our population continues to soar. A lot of interest has been generated by smart farming, in the wake of concerns about meeting the rapidly increasing global demand for food. IoT-enabled precision agriculture is widely believed to be the solution to this crunch.

Over the last few years, many big names in the tech/IoT space have invested hugely in making agriculture connected and data-driven.. IoT based smart farming makes use of IoT and cloud computing in order to make agriculture more efficient, ecological and economical. 

Click Here to read our piece on how IoT is dramatically altering the landscape of agriculture and food production

9. Smart retail

The rise of e-commerce and online shopping has had the retail sector on its toes for quite some time already. The retail industry has had to find new ways to evolve, in order to keep customers interested. 

The Internet of Things is helping retailers offer their customers an immersive and personalised in-store experience. Smart retail outlets are also able to shave off bits of friction from their customer’s shopping experience. This allows them to compete, if not on an entirely level playing field, with internet outlets. 

Amazon Go is probably what comes to most of our minds when we think of smart retail. However, this is hardly the only use-case for IoT in retail. For instance, based tags, when integrated into consumer goods, offer a lifetime of added value - Starting from logistics (sorting, distribution), all the way to collecting usage data over the product’s lifetime (after purchase). This is yet another use case where battery-powered sensors would be impossible to use, on both ergonomic and economic grounds. In-tag sensors on the other hand, don’t require any maintenance. 

Smart retail solutions could help retailers offer their customers a more satisfying shopping experience while also helping them manage their inventory more efficiently. The slimmest of margins means a lot in the retail segment, which is brutally competitive. 


10. Smart grids

The IoT revolution is all set to make a tremendous impact on the energy industry. Smart grids are an extremely promising concept in the IoT world. 

A smart grid is an electricity supply network that uses digital communications technology to automatically gather and integrate information from both generators and consumers, facilitating a sustainable and efficient distribution of power. Electricity is a precious resource and smart grids allow it to be securely distributed with very low losses. To put it even more simply, smart grids allow for more flexibility in power networks, in order to keep up with the changing needs of the consumer. 

Smart grids allow for outages and other issues to be identified much more quickly, which leads to quicker response times and reduces the duration of blackouts. What’s even cooler is that smart grids can automatically reroute electricity during power failures. 

All in all, smart grids are a massive improvement over traditional grids in terms of sustainability, efficiency, reliability and economics. The digital innovations that are being implemented in this segment have already made their presence felt throughout the supply chain

11. Disaster warning

While IoT technology can’t prevent natural disasters from taking place, they can go a long way in alerting us about disasters, enabling better preparedness and mitigating losses to life and property. 

Disasters like earthquakes, forest fires, landslides and radioactive leaks account for a lot of human pain and suffering. They also tend to have debilitating effects on the economy of the affected region or even the entire country. This is especially the case in developing countries, where the quality of infrastructure and the effectiveness of official

IoT technology can be used to build early-warning systems which can offset poor infrastructure and lack of resources. Today, we have sophisticated IoT platforms designed to provide early alerts about forest fires, radioactive spills and earthquakes. Again, while these measures may not insulate us from nature’s fury, they are incredibly effective at avoiding disasters due to human negligence (like Chernobyl). 

Summing Up

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list of IoT applications. The tremendous power of IoT technology is being harnessed in a variety of other ways - be it smart supply chain management, noise-level management or packaging - you name it! 

We, at ONiO, are extremely optimistic about the huge role that the Internet of Things will play in building our future, as a connected world. With, we believe we have a product that will catalyse even more innovation in the bid to make our world more connected and therefore, healthier and more productive. 

About the author

Runar Finanger


Runar, the co-founder and CMO of ONiO, adeptly connects product innovation to customer desires. Championing brand-building, he heightens consumer awareness and consistently propels brand preference through diverse channels.

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