Internet of ThingsThe “Internet of Things” (IoT) is the interconnection of ordinary objects and devices through computing devices embedded within them, and it has already transformed the way food, water, energy and aid are distributed in developing countries. Gartner, Inc. estimates that 8.4 billion connected “things” will be in use by the end of 2017, and that number will rise to 20.4 billion by 2020.

In developing countries, IoT technologies have brought increased efficiency and effectiveness to existing processes. For instance, farmers are using remote sensors to monitor moisture levels and soil conditions in the fields to avoid crop failure. Similar sensors are providing remote control of micro-irrigation pumps in India and water pumps in Rwanda, improving the functionality and reducing repair intervals. And in Haiti, healthcare professionals are using “smart” thermometers to better track vaccine delivery and storage.

According to the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, Nexleaf Analytics in Haiti has developed a way to monitor the “cold chain” delivery of vaccines by tracking refrigerator temperatures. Their ColdTrace system sends SMS alert messages when temperatures rise above or fall below the narrow ranger of ideal storage conditions. The developing world alone uses over 200,000 vaccine refrigerators, and these real-time updates ensure their effectiveness. Governments can use data from the system to divert vaccine deliveries from broken refrigerators and address power supply issues with greater speed.

With more devices going online as a result of the IoT, security and privacy are becoming concerns among businesses and consumers alike. Once a device becomes “smart,” it is vulnerable to cyber attacks from hackers across the globe. Smart thermometers, water pumps and utility and transportation grids can be hijacked and shut down by outside parties, effectively crippling vital processes that have come to rely on virtual infrastructure. Icon Labs has pointed out that the mass-produced nature of IoT computers and sensors makes them an easy target for hackers—if they can break into one, they can replicate that attack across a host of devices.

Meanwhile, the cost of IoT technology remains a barrier to its widespread use, especially in developing nations. Embedding computers into everyday devices is still a fairly new concept, and innovation has yet to bring down the design and manufacturing expenses. Perhaps because of this, Business Insider predicts businesses will be the top adopters of IoT, followed by governments, with consumers bringing up the rear. But the Internet of Things has already transformed vital services and infrastructures in developing nations, and many of its luxuries available in advanced economies may eventually trickle down as innovation reduces costs.

Chuck Hasenauer

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