The hottest thing in technology isn’t just for the digerati.

Think about your FitBit. It tracks your steps, sleep, workouts, nutrition, and weight goals — all displayed on an easy-to-use app. Your FitBit is configured with a multitude of sensors and ultimately connects to the Internet to keep track of all your data. Empowered as such, you can monitor your heartbeat, understand your dietary needs better, and meet your fitness goals. This knowledge creates habits of a healthy lifestyle.

This is the Internet of Things (AKA IoT).

IoT is the integration of physical objects with the Internet so that they can communicate with each other, the cloud, and the humans that paid for them. According to Forbes, there are currently 4.9 billion connected things, and that number grows every day. IoT is the next cool kid on the block in tech innovation, and those in this field are working to make everything “smarter.” Smart thermostats, for example, can cool a room when it senses your presence. Combining the richness of physical data with the Internet is powerful, enabling people to save money on their energy bills, reduce waste in the healthcare system, and help us more efficiently manage regional energy resources during peak usage in the summer.

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IoT spans many areas of our lives. Smart wearables support our health and wellness; smart cities use cellular technology to pick up trash more efficiently; smart homes use smart things that turn on and off depending on whether you’re home; and curbs intelligently monitor energy use and solar production. In every case, a device’s ability to connect to the Internet and communicate with other devices and you creates an opportunity for education, actuation, and other efficiencies.

Curbs are connected via power line to your home so you can see exactly what’s going on with your energy. In the peak of summer, especially in Texas, it’s helpful to know how much energy your HVAC system uses. With millions of air conditioned homes, these peaks affect the entire region, often causing whole power plants to come online to handle the load. Installing solar and being thoughtful with your heating and cooling habits can soften those peaks and preserve our collective natural resources.

Gathering data from your entire home gives you the knowledge you need to be in control of your energy use. Maybe an out-of-date appliance is an energy drain and it’s time for a more efficient model. Between 10-15% of CURB owners have had issues with their HVAC systems that were wasting money. Becoming attuned to your consumption patterns puts you in the driver’s seat to make informed choices.

In the realm of personal wellness, data collected from sensors on your body can send alerts to you and your hospital to prevent unwanted surprises. According to a recent TED Talk, an individual was alerted by his smart device that he was having a heart attack. His device summoned an ambulance, and he was rushed in for urgent care, which ultimately saved his life.

Eventually, IoT will be as commonplace as smartphones, social media, and online banking — all technologies that were criticized early on for privacy issues. IoT data is personal and it is important to protect from a security and privacy standpoint. With clear intentions and the right tools, we can solve myriad societal challenges. As with CURB and FitBit, knowledge is essential to intelligently implementing change.

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