IoT and touchscreens


You've probably heard of the IoT, or Internet of things. In short, it is a network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings, and other objects into which electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity have been embedded so that these objects can collect and share data.

The term was coined by Kevin Ashton, a British entrepreneur working with a network of objects connected by radio frequency identification. The idea was that if all objects were tagged and identified by computers, they could be managed and tracked. Tagging could be done through NFC (near-field communication), barcodes and QR codes.

The IoT as we know it goes beyond this initial idea to include device-to-device communication as well as the interaction of embedded devices (including smart objects). IoT is expected to rapidly accelerate integration and automation in almost every aspect of our daily lives.


Why is it useful?

As with any new technology, its success will depend on whether it does something better (faster, cheaper, more efficient, easier, etc.) and improves on something we already have.

The IoT should enable people to better connect themselves, the technology they use at home, with which they work and play, and the organizations and structures they rely on.

The IoT is expected to be an exceptionally powerful collector of contextual (i.e., real-time) data, and make it available for rapid processing and use. As a result, companies and organizations will be able to tailor their services and products to individuals or groups like never before.


Why is it useful?

As with any new technology, its success will depend on whether it makes something better (faster, cheaper, more efficient, easier, etc.) and improves on something that is already there.

The IoT should enable people to better connect themselves, the technology they use at home, with which they work and play, and the organizations and structures they rely on.

The IoT is expected to be an exceptionally powerful collector of contextual (i.e., real-time) data, and make it available for rapid processing and use. As a result, companies and organizations will be able to tailor their services and products to individuals or groups like never before.


So, how do we utilize it already?

Smart Homes.


Connecting your kitchen and home appliances to the IoT would allow you to plan activities throughout the day more efficiently. For instance, connecting your central heating system, lights, refrigerator and stove could allow you to keep track of when your food runs out (and order more), reduce your gas and electric bills (by using utilities only when they are needed), and have dinner waiting for you anytime you get home from work.

Some things have already been accomplished in home security by tying cameras and sensors around the house to connected devices; so we now have the ability to monitor all activities remotely, to be notified of changes immediately through smartphone apps, and, if it turns out to be needed, to call the right services.


Wearables


Over the past couple of years, handheld technology has become firmly embedded in our lives: who doesn't have a fitness monitor or a smart watch? More and more people are entrusting their health care to technology, tying their devices to apps that monitor their heart rate, steps taken, calories burned, etc. Recently, one man's handheld device was celebrated as a miracle worker after doctors were able to diagnose a serious illness based on the data collected by the device.


Smart Cities


The IoT can offer residents of a modern city a wide range of solutions to many frequent problems and frustrations. From improved traffic management to efficient water distribution, and from better trash resolution to environmental monitoring, clearing traffic congestion leads to less air pollution (and better air quality) and overall cleaner and safer city living.


Connected cars.


All of us have ever dreamed of a stress-free commute: our car navigates its way between other cars on the road, finds its own way home and parks itself without assistance, while we sit back relaxed, knowing that everything has been taken care of for you.


With IoT technology, that dream of a self-driving car could come true sooner than we thought. The concept of the connected car is becoming more and more of a reality every day, with big corporations like Google, Tesla, Uber, Microsoft, and Apple investing massive amounts of money in its development.

However, we wouldn't advise you to get rid of your driver's license just yet: the government, while trying to keep up with rapidly developing technology, is still trying to determine how pedestrians, self-driving cars and regular vehicles can coexist on the roads safely, and then pass laws accordingly.


Smart Retail.


Retailers and B2C (business to consumer) companies tend to use IoT in new targeted advertising based on proximity: Companies can monitor purchases and identify users' habits to show relevant ads based on that behavior. For example, you use your smartphone to look at a certain product on a website, but decide not to buy it. By using connected devices and tracking technology, the next time you stop by a retailer, you may automatically receive an e-mail or SMS and a discount coupon enticing you to make a purchase.


Shopping centers, too, can take advantage of online data and improve the quality of time shoppers will spend shopping.

Using sensors and sophisticated cameras to follow shoppers' steps and even track the direction of their eyes, retailers can optimize and tailor advertising to each individual shopper in real time, ensure effective product placement and even adjust store layouts to maximize the benefits.


Time will tell whether consumers will appreciate this approach, or find it creepy.


So what does all this have to do with touch screens?

Human interaction will always be a significant element of IoT success, and we expect to see more advanced and intuitive interfaces on both personal and commercial devices in the future.


Touch screen technology has become the leading method of interaction with technology, and projective capacitive sensors have become the most widely used touch technology.


Feedback


One of the major drawbacks of touch screens (compared to mechanical buttons and switches) is the lack of haptic feedback. However, the latest generation of systems and devices increasingly provide some level of touch input confirmation either through a slight vibration or touch on the screen (from piezo-electric actuators under or around the screen), or in the case of tougher touch screens used in commercial devices like kiosks, from "force" or using pressure sensors. These screens respond differently depending on the level of pressure the user applies to the screen, and with an intelligent user interface, in much the same way as with a touch keyboard, you can get almost as many "responses" as you would from a mechanical keyboard, often with some form of audible response.


Sensors


Multi-touch devices also allow software and system developers to create more attractive and intuitive user interfaces, which is particularly useful when receiving data from multiple users in public places and social environments.

The large format of touchscreens and tables used in retail, entertainment, business, and educational environments promotes a collaborative experience.


Low Computing Costs


The increasing interest in relatively inexpensive and powerful single-processor computers like the Raspberry Pi and Beagle Boards, indicates a shift away from the traditional PC to smaller, cheaper computing hardware for high-volume, application-specific, commercial applications, making them ideal for connected devices and IoT projects. These devices are based on operating systems such as Android and Linux. Therefore, it is important that any touchscreen interface for these simplified computers can support such software.




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