LAWRENCE — Modern tech terms like “data mining,” “cryptocurrency” and “influencer” have gone from obscurity to ubiquity in a matter of months. It’s time to add the Internet of Things (IoT) to that list.
The term describes physical objects that connect and exchange data with other devices/systems through communication networks.
“The Internet of Things is everywhere,” said Anurag Garg, an assistant professor of analytics at the University of Kansas.
“Even before the term came out, a lot of things were connecting to the Internet, and the idea behind IoT was to connect dumb things that shouldn’t be connected to the Internet, like a coffee maker. It can be turned on so you can set the timer, make coffee while you sleep, and wake up to the smell. So the basic idea behind IoT is to provide more services to consumers.”
But his “Financial Sustainability of IoT Platforms. the role of quality and safety’, finds that despite the proliferation of platforms like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, customers do not perceive them as valuable unless they experience adequate levels of quality and safety. This research examines the financial viability of the platform provider (like Amazon’s Alexa) and the app developers, finding that cooperation between these two parties plays an important role in the profitability of all parties. It appears in the Journal of Production and Operations Management.
Garg, who co-authored the paper with the University of Florida’s Emre Demirezen, Kutsal Dogan and Hsing Kenneth Cheng, notes that by 2023, IoT spending is expected to reach $1.1 trillion worldwide. There are currently more than 10 billion connected IoT devices in use worldwide. by 2030 this number will exceed 25 billion.
However, quality and safety continue to be key drivers of customer adoption.
“Quality is a consumer-facing aspect,” he said. “Does coffee make coffee at the right time? Does it make good tasting coffee?’
While quality is considered important, security is another essential aspect of the consumer experience when using these IoT devices.
He said. “If you look at the iPhone security standards, they are well defined. you can’t break them easily. But all these IoT devices are routinely hacked using different methods. Recently, researchers have found a way to hack Alexa or other digital home assistant devices by pointing a laser light at the device. The microphones in these devices respond to light and produce electrical signals as if they had received real voice commands.”
Garg notes that the largest DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack in US history occurred in 2016, when a large portion of the Internet went down on the East Coast. This happened due to a security vulnerability in IoT devices.
“It was being shared through internet-connected cameras, but the password and username (of the Domain Name System provider) were never changed,” he said. “Malware spread through these IoT devices, opening the door to a DDoS attack.”
In November, it was announced that Amazon was losing $10 billion a year on Alexa. The root cause was reported to be a trust issue with the AI software. People may rely on the device to listen to the local weather forecast or to sort out movie trivia, but they don’t use it to shop.
Probably a smart move. Garg argues that consumers don’t really trust the Alexa platform (or AI in general) to order products on their behalf, so the monetization of Alexa hasn’t happened the way Amazon planned.
Garg, who joined KU this fall, first became interested in IoT research when he took a course on it in 2014 while pursuing a master’s degree in computer engineering at North Carolina State.
“I still remember in my statement of purpose when I was applying for a PhD (University of Florida) that I wanted to do research on the Internet of Things and its impact on society,” he recalled.
His academic experience also includes the impact of digitization of information and products due to information technologies such as online media platforms, financial technology (FinTech) and educational technology (EdTech).
In twenty years, how pervasive will IoT platforms be in our daily lives?
“Instead of 20 years in the future, I can say that almost everyone now has some kind of smart speaker or smart digital home assistant like Alexa, Siri or Google,” Garg said. “So the IoT is already incredibly pervasive.”
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