The ever-growing machine-to-machine (M2M) network of connected devices known as the Internet of Things (IoT) has been lauded for years as a revolutionary technological advance that will dramatically change how people, businesses and entire nations live. After years of speculation, the IoT is finally making its way into the mainstream. Gartner reports that 2016 will see 6.4 billion connected devices in use, a 30 percent increase over the previous year. But by 2020, that number is estimated to reach 20.8 billion.
One contributing factor relating to the meteoric rise of the IoT has been the ability of connected technology to transform the ways we consume energy. Despite the fact that IoT-enabled devices have their own energy output, smart household appliances may cut energy usage by 10 percent for the average homeowner. Those savings can be achieved by businesses that adopt smart office technology, as well as city planners who overhaul infrastructure to incorporate M2M devices.
But beyond the scope of energy-efficiency, researchers are now in the process of finding ways to actually generate energy through the Internet of Things. Here are several examples that demonstrate the types of revolutionary energy-based technology that the IoT may bring to market in the coming years.
Powering wearables with kinetic energy: A lab at MIT recently produced a device the size of a stamp that can harvest enough energy from walking, bending or other motions to power wearable devices. As wearables themselves become more commonplace, the technology coming out of MIT will help millions of consumers cut the cord from traditional charging methods. But this is only one example—any object in motion embedded with a connected device has the potential to harvest energy.
Augment M2M communications with ambient radio frequencies: Devices can now utilize existing TV and cellular transmissions instead of having to generate their own radio waves, thanks to ambient backscatter communications. This technology means devices can be manufactured without their own power source, relinquishing the need for batteries or recharging equipment.
This is a significant step forward for the IoT because every connected device until this point has required its own port, battery and energy source. But the logistics of being able to plug in all the connected devices of the IoT will only become more challenging if such technologies are not embraced.
Harnessing wind and solar energy with textiles: Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have successfully created a textile with particle-sized fibers woven into the material that can capture solar and wind energy. The scientists were able to generate a significant amount of energy simply by letting a tissue-sized piece of the fabric hang out the window of a moving car for a day, letting the textile capture wind and sun rays. This technology could prove fruitful for electric vehicles, boats and other forms of transportation.
One of the biggest challenges of IoT implementation is the sheer number of devices that must be powered up in order to function. But considering the efficiency initiatives made possible with connected devices, as well as new methods of energy harvesting being developed, it may not be long before the IoT becomes a net-positive for energy usage.