As the world’s tech giants make homes smarter and cars drive themselves, a small group of researchers and enthusiasts are making IoT affordable and building it around what the rest of the people in the world really need — such as mousetrap alerts.
There’s more to IoT than pushing videos to phones and pulling data from self-driving cars. Outside the big cities, a huge number of communities will continue to live on farming, fishing, mining for decades to come. In developing nations, vast areas and populations are yet to be connected to the Internet.
Connecting huge populations and community industries will not only help enrich their lives, it will enrich the Internet of Things. Major industry players, communities of enthusiasts and new technologies are very quickly providing new approaches to connect them all.
Let there be light beams
Despite being an IT-rich country, many of India’s vast and populated areas lack online infrastructure. Linking households from cellphone towers with internet cables in these areas are difficult and costly. But where there are no cables, there can be light beams. Alphabet, the company which owns Google, plans to bring the Internet to web-hungry developing countries such as India using space optical technology. With this technology, light beams carry data of up to 20 gigabytes per second between transmitter-receiver boxes on the roofs of households.
Pioneering this new approach is X, the research division of Alphabet Inc. For major players in the online service industry, helping developing countries expand internet accessibility also means helping themselves to a big piece of the global internet pie. Andhra Pradesh, where this project will embark, has 53 million people and 15 million high-speed internet subscribers, with an additional 12 million by 2019.
This light-beam project evolved from X’s earlier Project Loon, which beamed cellphone service to India’s low-populated rural areas from a large network of balloons.
The two thousand rooftop boxes in Andhra Pradesh is only the beginning. This technology will lay the foundation for the bigger picture, the Internet of Things — smart towns, smart villages, and a smarter, much larger pool of IT talent. In the context of India’s massive population, it would more like an ‘ocean’ of IT talent.
LoRa, for a dollar or less
Farmers, fishermen, and mining companies even, are seeing the potential of the Internet of Things in their daily working lives.
LoRa is short for Long Range, a narrowband radio wave technology. It is cheap because it connects devices over the unlicensed spectrum, covers vast distances, and needs very little power.
IoT can help shrimp farmers in Bangladesh measure and maintain the salt levels for their shrimps. A smart coal mine would have LED lamps that can be controlled remotely. A squirrel trap could alert hunters when there’s a catch. A bio-sensor can gauge the health of farmed oysters. In many small communities across Asia, unattended donation boxes can give out alerts when they’re full. These are small but essential Things the Internet can help improve.
Rishabh Chauhan of The Things Network says, ‘It seems people have a use case but want to see it on a small level. They’re still prototyping.’ In other words, IoT makes sense to them.
The Things Network is a community of open-source LoRa gateways which has begun experimenting, by sending small data packs such as messages about a tenth of the size of an SMS, in cities from Colombia to Russia.
Necessities first, Mars can wait
From monitoring mousetraps to making sure rental boats are moored, IoT is able to do less for more real people in the real world. Perhaps these are all we need; not highly-trained robots or self-flying planes. Necessity remains the mother of all inventions. And if IoT is to truly become the way we live, it has to serve our most essential needs first, not the dream of some billionaire space cowboy.