Internet of Things is transforming lifestyles the world over but Pakistan still seems to have some catching up to do
While the leading first world countries have decided to move from smart homes to smart cities, Pakistanis have trouble understanding the idea of Internet of Things and grappling the concept of how technology can integrate with humanity to create win-win solutions.
To give local population in-depth knowledge of Internet of Things, The Express Tribune reached out to experts specialising in this area to gain details about the phenomenon and to know how it can transform lives and give the world a bright future.
According to FiveRivers Technologies CEO Mahe Zehra Husain, the Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to billions of physical devices that are connected to the internet all over the world.
These devices range from cars and mobiles to all sorts of household equipments such as fridges, bulbs, air conditions, televisions and surveillance.
“All of these devices are generating zetabytes of data per day and because of the diminishing cost and size of electronic chips, it is now fairly easy to turn any device into a connected device,” she said. “Integrating all these devices and making them digitally intelligent via sensors allows people to do some pretty cool things.”
She added that the best example of Internet of Things would be a smart home system. Detailing further, she said a smart home is a home in which the fridge, air conditioner, bulbs and gates are all connected and the owner can manage settings of all these equipments via apps on their smartphone. This can allow a person to accomplish a lot of things.
“One can set a time for the lights to go off at night, schedule the AC to turn on an hour before they are due to reach home so that the house is cool and to managing groceries through 'intelligent' fridges,” she said. “We are living in exciting times where humanity is witnessing the technological landscape changing as the devices around it become smarter and more responsive.”
With all the data being churned out by these devices, businesses are now finding themselves at a point where they have huge amounts of data that they can derive insights from, she pointed out.
These insights are used to make business decisions that will lead to improved operations. One of the areas focused by Husain’s firm is Internet of Things.
She highlighted that her company creates apps for smart home appliance integration based on the Google home, Apple home kit and Amazon Alexa platforms.
“These solutions have then been used in robotics, vending machines and cars to bring next generation enhancements in various industries,” she said.
Technology consultant Mubashir Sakhi said that in simple words, Internet of Things refers to connection of everyday equipment with internet, be it a refrigerator or a vacuum cleaner.
“Through Internet of Things, devices communicate with each other without human intervention,” he said. “The network then gathers information, analyses it and performs tasks as it is programmed to perform.”
How it works
According to Investopedia, electronic devices that use Internet of Things utilise Internet protocol (IP) - the same protocol that identifies computers all over the world wide web and allows them to communicate with one another.
The goal behind the Internet of Things is to have devices that self report in real-time, improving efficiency and bringing important information to the surface more quickly than a system depending on human intervention, it states.
“The Internet of Things promises to transform a wide range of fields,” it elaborates. “In medicine, for example, connected devices can help medical professionals monitor patients inside and outside of a hospital setting. Computers can then evaluate the data to help practitioners adjust treatments and improve patient outcomes.”
Another field that is also experiencing a transformation is urban planning. When sensors that have an IP address are placed under a busy street, for instance, city officials can alert drivers about upcoming delays or accidents. Meanwhile, intelligent trash cans are able to notify the city when they become full, thus optimising waste collection routes.
The future of IoT
Husain forecasts drastic growth in Internet of Things in future. As more and more devices are connected across the world, the Internet of Things landscape will continue to develop and expand.
“It is impossible for this to not happen. The devices we are using in our daily lives are becoming more intelligent day by day and they are churning out crazy amounts of data,” she said. “This data will be used to create even more intelligent machines and hence I believe that future is bright for the Internet of Things.”
She added that machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality and data science will also grow along with Internet of Things.
Sakhi said that currently, there are more than 50 billion IoT devices in the world and with greater penetration of internet, availabiliy of higher speeds (with 5G around the corner) and affordablility, Internet of Things will grow exponentially.
Everyone wants to automate their daily work and they are constantly in search of solutions. That solution is Internet of Things, he said.
Salar Khan, an expert working in the field of Internet of Things for a renowned global company said, “With regard to Internet of Things, the world is nowhere right now compared to where it would be 10 or 15 years down the line.”
According to him, the actual potential of growth for Internet of Things is 10 times that what it is at present. “The world is moving towards introducing driverless cars and that will happen primarily through Internet of Things mode although artificial intelligence is also used,” he said.
Giving an example from January 2020 when Covid-19 was present only in China, he said that the government monitored six feet social distancing in Wuhan and other cities through smart watches by implementing Internet of Things.
He added that Internet of Things has now also given rise to two new areas called digital twin and connected worker.
A digital twin is a virtual representation that serves as the real-time digital counterpart of a physical object or process.
On the other hand, connected worker is any worker integrated into their environment by connective technologies.
Uses of IoT
Apart from residential uses, the Internet of Things has vast applications in industrial production, said Sakhi.
Internet of Things is able to collect data points to understand the ongoing and effectiveness of the applied process, he said.
Khan said that the modern drone industry is entirely based on Internet of Things.
“Amazon is practicing drone delivery model now hence it is using Internet of Things to maximise its profits and transform its operations,” he said. “Here in US, even cars are connected to Internet of Things.”
Khan, who owns a smart home in US, calls it a ‘next generation concept.’
“My laptop, watch, car and watch are all running on Internet of Things,” he said. “Even my toothbrush is IoT device and I can check on my phone how many minutes on average have I brushed each day.”
Giving details of the concept of smart home, he said that he can control thermostat through his phone and set exact temperature for heating or cooling.
Moreover, he said he could check his home temperature, car battery health, car mileage and heartbeat on his smartphone or tablet, he said.
He recalled forgetting to water the plants one day and he used his phone to start his sprinkler which to water the plants from office.
“Even when I am out of city, I can keep an eye on my house,” he said. “I can also turn the lights on and off despite sitting thousands of kilometers away.”
He added that smart homes were the future of living and distant future would witness smart cities and smart countries as well.
He, however projected Pakistan to take over a decade to normalise smarthomes.
“This is a new concept for Pakistanis and it will take few years for them to adapt,” he said. “There will be concerns of privacy, malfunction and hacking.”
Khan said that Pakistan is primarily an agricultural country and highlighted the many uses of Internet of Things in the field of agriculture.
“We can use Internet of Things to install sensors in fields to monitor crop health, irrigation, spraying, planting and soil and also conduct field analysis,” he said. “Moreover, Pakistan can implement drone seeding which will save time and money.” He added that such drones can be used to spray pesticides and insecticides as well as spread fertiliser on the field.
Pakistan can also use small robots to deal with the menace of weeding.
He said that remote sensing techniques can help understand soil quality, plant quality and predict the quality of harvest.
Endorsing Khan’s remarks, Sakhi said that Pakistan could use Internet of Things in several sectors, especially in agriculture to study crop’s health using multiple sensors which will help farmers improve the harvest and minimise wastage of resources.
“Same goes for cattle farming as well,” he said. “Internet of Things devices can be programmed to measure cattle activities and monitor any outlier or unhealthy activity and prevent it right away.”
On the other hand, sensors can also be used to monitor babies for working parents and taking care of elderly using a combination of cameras and health bands.
Moreover, there are too many applications of Internet of Things in Pakistan’s textile sector where different machines in the processes can be monitored in real time and optimised to improved the output.
Telenor Products Expert - Business Solutions (Internet of Things) Muhammad Habibullah said that his enterprise is playing a leading role in providing Internet of Things based solutions in Pakistan.
“We are playing a role in IoT Core area,” he said.
IoT Core lets companies connect Internet of Things devices to the cloud without the need or provision or managing servers.
He added that the company operated in three kinds of domains within the Internet of Things Ecosystem.
“The first is mobility which includes, asset management, telemetric solution, driver output for betterment and fleet monitoring,” he said. “The second domain is industrial domain in which the company provides better solution at an industry level.”
In addition, the firm offers services of generator monitoring to the industries to save fuel theft, he said.
The third area is supply chain. According to Habibullah, the firm offers Internet of Things services to food companies to enhance delivery experiences to consumers.
“We also offer cold chain for frozen foods, mobile vehicles and temperature monitoring,” he said.
Husain held firm view that Pakistan needed to strengthen itself in all bleeding edge tech verticals.
“This includes Internet of Things, machine learning, data science and artificial intelligence,” she said. “This is the way of the future and Pakistan has immense talent that needs to be cultivated and trained.”
Talking from her experience of hiring engineers for her company over the past decade, she said that Pakistan had talent but it lacked the training which could make turn its workforce into intelligent problem solvers.
The future is going to be all about the intersection of various disciplines and the country had to make sure that its universities and training institutes are ready with a stimulating curriculum, she said.
According to her, software services are a great way to boost export revenue.
“Because of Covid-19, many companies have become much more flexible about work from home policies,” she said. “This was the biggest hurdle in getting services work outsourced.”
However, residents of Pakistan have to enhance their skillsets in all the new and upcoming technologies in order to get this work done or build competitive products for the world stage, she said.
Husain said that the biggest challenge facing the Internet of Things right now is cyber-security.
“We hear of many data breaches happening all over the world and this is the biggest hurdle,” she said. “The concerns and ethical implications of having so many devices gathering all sorts of data is something we are all still figuring out.”
She pointed out that this does not just include data on mobiles rather it also incorporates banking data, social data, geographical location and even images from street cameras.
This is the kind of data that is being captured and stored, and many people are extremely hesitant about having so much information about them available to large corporations and governments, she said.
She emphasised that another challenge was the sheer amount of data being generated.
“It is very hard to draw meaningful insights from such large masses of structured and unstructured data,” she said. “Machine learning algorithms and data scientists are working everyday to improve the data exploration aspect and glean valuable insights from zettabytes of data.”
Echoing her views, Sakhi said that there were privacy concerns associated with Internet of Things since all data can be hacked and exploited in ways that normal people could not imagine.
He stressed that affordability and higher speed of internet are not available in most of the regions, which poses an additional challenge to Internet of Things ecosystem.
“Moreover, there is threat of unlawful surveillance and manipulation by companies or government having such data,” he said.
Talking about challenges faced by his company in Internet of Things ecosystem, Habibullah said that customers were far from being IoT literate hence they had difficulties in selecting the right product.
“Literacy level of small and medium enterprises is even lower and we have a hard time deciding what to give them,” he said. “Secondly, revenue of small firms level is also less hence they cannot afford high end Internet of Things solutions.”
However, big companies have lofty revenues and they can easily afford their preferred production so that is an opportunity in Internet of Things.
“Apart from this, very few firms are working in Core IoT field in Pakistan hence the opportunity for growth is low,” he said.