So far, the internet has primarily been used for data transfer, e-commerce and communication (social media). Now a new era has arrived: the Internet of Things (IoT) has already become part of everyday life in many areas. In the area of logistics for example, containers and packages are equipped with RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips. Thus these objects are provided with destination information, which can then be used to track them, simplify decision-making processes on location and obtain information on delivery. RFID chips are being used in a similarly routine way in libraries to automate the check-out and returns process, and in supermarkets they are helping avoid empty shelves. In addition to this, they provide customers with detailed information and recommendations based on the goods in their shopping cart.
Communicating objects are also playing an increasingly important role in production environments. In “smart factories”, intelligent machines independently coordinate manufacturing processes, assembly robots intelligently cooperate with people, and production/logistics processes are interwoven throughout the enterprise so as to optimize the flow of material, increase efficiency and reduce costs. This makes it possible to respond in a highly flexible way to changing customer requirements and market conditions, which is a basic necessity for long-term survival. After all, customer have higher and higher expectations not least due to the fact that they are becoming accustomed to the vast spectrum of technical possibilities provided by smartphones or the (just as real) “Smart Home”, in which an increasing number of things can be controlled by software and networked with one another and with the outside world via the internet. This all serves the purpose of increasing convenience, security and energy savings. While the much-quoted refrigerator, which automatically orders new food, has not yet become reality, many other technologies have entered the home almost unnoticed. This ranges from remote control of light, heating, stove and TV via smartphone to washing machines that can automatically choose the lowest electricity price. Or toothbrushes that provide the user with feedback about their brushing technique.
On the long term, the success of networked devices will depend on technology that is robust and reliable, serves as a future-proof investment, and which is acceptable with regard to important aspects like privacy and security. One thing is clear: a huge amount of data is collected and transferred, which could provide points of attack for cyber-criminality and industrial espionage.
The knowledge gained from this data makes way for new services, which complement the traditional product business. Customers and companies remain connected long past the purchase at the point of sale and interact continuously as long as the customer uses a product and the accompanying services.