The Internet of Things: How organisations are using it for good
Hello, and welcome to another instalment of the The Digital Dunk.
I’m Declan, Digital Content Officer, discussing how the Internet of Things and how it be used as a force for good.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things, sometimes called the IoT, refers to everyday objects that connect to the Internet. Think smart home devices, like Amazon Echo or Google Home, and wearables, such as FitBit or Google Glass (which still exists, by the way).
But IoT devices go way beyond your Apple Watch. You can now control access to your door via an app on your phone. Doctors can install wireless devices in their patients’ homes to monitor chronic diseases. And you can even get smart doorbells, which allow you to answer your door, even if you’re not at home.
More niche products include the GeniCan, which uses scanning tech and voice recording to monitor what you throw away and automatically add items to your shopping list, and the Hapifork, which helps you monitor and track your eating habits by vibrating when it senses you’re eating too fast.
Even entire cities are embracing the Internet of Things. Las Vegas is deploying sensors at junctions in combination with machine learning to optimise traffic flow. India has been monitoring pollution levels in the Ganges River using sensors, the Cloud and big data to improve water quality. While the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has aspirations for the capital to be the world’s leading smart city by using data to improve transport and healthcare.
A growing market
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2017 there were around 8.4 billion internet-connected devices in use and the market was worth $170.57B. And it’s only getting bigger. Much bigger. It’s forecast that by 2030 the number of connected devices will reach 125 billion and that by 2022 the market will be worth $561.04B.
How the IoT benefits charities
Much of the IoT market is being driven by big corporations, but many nonprofit organisations and charities are already using the Internet of Things for good. And when you really think about it, it’s hard to envisage an area where IoT devices couldn’t be used to benefit people, animals and the environment in positive ways.
Here’s a run down of the top 5 ways the IoT is being used for good.
1. Saving lives
One of the big areas of investment for the IoT is its use in the medical and healthcare world, also known as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). In the same way that Fitbit or Garmin track our steps and sleep pattern, medical professionals can use these monitors to track their patients’ health outside the hospital. IoT devices can also be used by emergency services. In 2017, for example, Vodafone joined forces with Emergency One — the UK’s leading manufacturer of fire vehicles — to equip new models with the latest IoT technologies.
Spotlight: Ruppiner Kliniken ❤
Ruppiner Kliniken is a leading hospital in Germany, which has partnered with Microsoft to help people with heart problems live longer. Cardiologists need patient data, such as ECG readings and blood pressure measurements, over long periods of time to give people the best care. 37 organisations got together to build an IoT device which uses a fitness band and tiny sensors to capture this data. This work could not only save lives, but also lower healthcare costs and provide medical care in remote and underdeveloped places.
2. Increasing funds
Across the UK you might have seen contactless payments points popping up in charity shop windows. This was pioneered by Cancer Research UK, but has been adopted by many other organisations. It means that passers-by can simply whip out their card, phone or smartwatch and donate to the charity without even going inside.
Spotlight: Ty Hafan 💰
I’ve put the spotlight on Ty Hafan, which runs south Wales’ only children’s hospice, rather than CRUK, to highlight that even smaller organisations can adopt the practices created by larger ones. The charity launched their contactless payment point in their Cardiff charity shop. Rhodri Harris, digital development manager at Ty Hafan, commented: “We recognise the importance of digital innovation to the charity sector and we are striving to push Ty Hafan to the forefront of digital giving in Wales. We hope that introducing contactless technology is only the beginning of our developments in digital fundraising.”
3. Influencing behaviour
IoT devices can also help to change people’s behaviour for the better. Whether it’s your smart watch prompting you to get up and walk a little further or an internet-connected toy that can help a child develop literacy and numeracy skills. (Though it’s important to remember that there are risks associated with internet-connected toys.)
Spotlight: Cancer Research UK 🍸
In 2017, CRUK created an Amazon Alexa Skill which allows users to track their alcohol consumption while raising awareness of the link between cancer and alcohol. The feature, called My Alcohol Tracker Skill, also provides tips on how to cut down on your drinking and prompts users to set goals that don’t exceed the recommended weekly alcohol limits.
4. Accessing hard to reach places
Many organisations work in hard to reach places, whether that’s a patient’s home, the middle of the Amazon rainforest or the bottom of the ocean. Internet-connected devices, such as cameras, sensors and monitors, can create a digital networks which act as constant data collectors. This means that humans don’t have to be everywhere at the same time and can offload some of their work to machines.
Spotlight: Rainforest Connection 🐘 🌱
The folks over at Rainforest Connection are trying to tackle illegal animal poaching and deforestation by employing conservation technologies. They employ a monitoring system within certain areas, allowing users to respond to real-time alerts, while at the same utilising large quantities of ecosystem data. Basically, this help increase protection, because users can be notified when poachers or loggers enter a protected area and they can head directly there to tackle the problem.
5. Engaging supporters
Internet of Things devices can be used to engage supporters who want to help but maybe don’t have the means to donate or can’t volunteer in person. And because the devices are connected to the web, people could help from anywhere in the world, anytime of day.
Spotlight: The Plastic Tide 🐟
The Plastic Tide has a clear mission, ‘to harness cutting edge drone and algorithm technology to create an open source map of the plastic pollution problem’. They recently launched their Marine Litter DRONET, which uses drone-mounted cameras to take thousands of aerial photos that are fed back to an AI which can recognise plastic rubbish. The public can then go to the website to help tag images of plastic, which helps the AI differentiate became marine litter and marine life. Anyone can access the data to figure out which areas are worst-impacted.
It’s clear that there are many ways the Internet of Things can be used to benefit the work of nonprofits and charities. Sometimes it’s simple, easy actions, like a contactless payment point, or perhaps it takes a little more creative thinking and investment, like a marine drone.
And while it’s important not to jump on the IoT bandwagon just because everyone else is doing something, it’s also important to be aware that the whole world is increasingly connected by a multitude of devices that are constantly recording, collecting, and communicating with one another. Remember the risks, but also consider the possibilities.
What are your experiences with IoT devices? Has your organisation already used them? Let me know in the comments.
- How the internet of things can improve customer experience — Nikki Gilliland, Econsultancy
- Technology, toys and the internet, NSPCC
- The Internet of Things: Sizing up the opportunity, Harald Bauer, Mark Patel and Jan Veira, McKinsey
- The Internet of Things Connectivity Binge: What Are the Implications?, Lee Rainie and Janna Anderson, Pew Research Center
About The Author
Declan is Digital Content Officer, working across NSPCC and Childline to deliver informative and engaging content. In his spare time he writes about food history.