The internet of things (IOT) is great. The ability to have your lights switch on when your smartphone’s Bluetooth connection gets in range of your home for instance is the type of future we remember seeing in The Jetsons.

And while that scenario is about as luxurious as IOT comes, there is some real world value to found in machines communicating with other machines.

Granted, there is a lot wrong when it comes securing IOT at the moment but I believe that in time these flaws will be patched.

The ILOVEYOU computer worm from 2000 for instance was hugely destructive but security practices have improved and we no longer worry about that malicious tech. Given that IOT is still relatively new flaws are to be expected but does that mean we need to write off the technology completely?

To understand how great IOT can be we need only look around us at other Africans who have seen the potential this “revolution” holds.

Take Illuminium Greenhouses for instance. This Kenyan startup uses sensors planted in the soil to identify how moist the soil it.

These sensors are hooked up to an irrigation system that will identify when the soil needs water and provide it with the exact amount needed.
What’s more is that farmers can monitor the state of their crops within the smart greenhouse remotely.

A simple text message to the system will return information such as the humidity, soil moisture and temperature to a farmer. For even greater control, farmers can water crops when they feel it necessary.

In Africa water conservation is a big deal. By using drip irrigation Illuminium is able to carefully control how much water is being used while still allowing farmers to earn a living plying their trade.

It seems so insignificant but without IOT farmers might have been using labour intensive watering cans to control how much water is used to irrigate crops. An entire industry of small farmers can now thrive because farming and conserving water is being made easy. And from there, who’s to say that the small farmer can’t grow and ultimately employ more people.

IOT makes scenarios like that possible.

Credit (rating) where it’s due

Another sector IOT can make an impact in is the financial sector oddly enough.

Once again we look to Kenya but this time to a firm called M-KOPA. This firm offers pay-as-go electricity to homes that are not connected to electricity grids in East Africa. The systems it offers include three lights, a solar-powered radio and mobile phone charger. A system that includes a TV is also available and everything is powered by a solar panel.

The solution uses machine to machine communication to enable or disable the hardware that supplies folks with electricity generated by solar panels. The system requires a $30 deposit and a daily payment of 50c to keep the lights on.

The 8W of electricity generated is enough to charge a mobile phone, switch on a radio and with a 20W system folks can even power a TV.

So M-KOPA is using IOT to do two things, the first is providing electricity to those that don’t and might not have had access to the resource.

The second thing is that if you look at it closely, M-KOPA is helping its customers create a credit profile. It might be a stretch but when you consider that M-KOPA is essentially lending customers equipment on provision they pay a fee, that’s basically what credit entails.

So in summation, not only is M-KOPA providing folks with electricity, it’s also including them financially. All made possible thanks to IOT

And M-KOPA and Illuminium are just two African startups using the IOT for good. There are solutions throughout Africa that use this technology to solve issues of public transport or help those in highly polluted cities navigate safely by leveraging IOT and big data.

Addressing the security concerns

As I mentioned earlier in this piece, security is one of the bugbears of IOT at the moment but I would argue that this is simply a teething problem.

Consider this for a moment. The tech industry is a buzz with talk about IOT solutions and increasing the number of smarthomes.

The consumer electronics sector looks at this and dives in without even considering cybersecurity. Should they be slammed for this? I do think so. Much like if I were to build a car and forget the the safety belts, my product would be labelled flawed and dangerous.

Does that mean the entire motor industry is flawed? Not at all, it’s one manufacturer that somehow went from journalism to the motor industry and perhaps with a bit of guidance he’ll do better next time.

The point I’m trying to make is that like any other sector IOT needs to be regulated and best practices need to be established. At the moment it looks like a lot of firms are stumbling in the dark, creating IOT solutions that are terribly flawed.

Change that aimless stumbling to purposeful direction such as with Illuminium and M-KOPA and you have the potential to quite literally change the lives of millions.

As for fears of data collection en-masse I would argue that given what we know about the NSA and Prism (thanks Snowden) that the least of our worries are government institutions knowing how long you run your laundry for.

Yes, I’m making light of a serious problem (government surveillance) but these things are happening constantly and if you’re going to let it stop you from progress then perhaps you should wrap yourself in bubble wrap, disconnect your internet line and never leave your home again.

To my mind potential is more important to humanity than a few stories about how the IOT has been compromised by malware.

There are dangers to IOT, but ultimately we need to decide which is more important: fear or progression. I opt for the latter, how about you?

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