The "Internet of Things" (IoT) is a future in which everyday objects such as phones, cars, household appliances, clothes and even food are wirelessly connected to the Internet through smart chips, and can collect and share data. The European Commission wants to know what framework is needed to unleash the potential economic benefits of the IoT?
The European Commission wants to know what framework is needed to unleash the potential economic and societal benefits of the IoT, whilst ensuring an adequate level of control of the devices gathering, processing and storing information. The information concerned includes users' behavioural patterns, location and preferences.
Today, an average person has at least 2 objects connected to the Internet and this is expected to grow to 7 by 2015 with 25 billion wirelessly connected devices globally. By 2020 that number could double to 50 billion. This means a possible future in which many everyday things are linked. For example, if a university teacher cancels a morning lecture because they are sick, students' alarm clocks and coffee machines could automatically be reset, giving them an extra hour in bed. If an elderly person forgets to take an essential pill, a warning text message could be sent to a close family member, or even to a local emergency centre, so that somebody could call round to check that everything was ok.
Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, said: "An Internet of Things with intelligence embedded into everyday objects is the next big thing. I want to promote an Internet of Things that serves our economic and societal goals, whilst preserving security, privacy and the respect of ethical values."
Realising the enormous economic and societal potential of the IoT requires a level playing field where all players can compete on an equal footing, without gate keepers and locked-in users. Its societal acceptance requires the definition of an ethical and legal framework, supported by technology and providing people with control and security. Through the consultation, the Commission is seeking views on privacy, safety and security, security of critical IoT supported infrastructure, ethics, interoperability, governance and standards. The results of the consultation will feed into the Commission's Recommendation on the IoT, which will be presented by summer 2013. Boosting the IoT is a priority for the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200).
The Internet of today offers access to content and information through connection to web pages from multiple terminals like PCs, smart phones or TVs. The next evolution will make it possible to access information related to the physical environment through connected objects capable of sensing the environment and communicating through smart chips using Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) with or without human intervention.
There are endless examples of this evolution of networked devices: a car may be able to report the status of its various subsystems for remote diagnosis and maintenance using communicating embedded sensors; people on the move may receive information on their smartphone about the status of their home's doors, shutters or even the contents of the fridge, transmitted by sensors in their home; a car may route you around a potential traffic jam; personal devices may convey the latest status of healthcare information of remotely cared patients to a central location.
This public consultation will feed into a new Recommendation on the IoT. This Recommendation will be the follow-up to the Commission's Communication on IoT published in 2009 (see IP/09/952), which identified 14 lines of action for enabling Europe to design IoT technologies and systems compatible with its core values, such as the protection of privacy and personal data.