You think you know the Internet pretty well, right? You go online every day, maybe watch some videos on your phone, upload some pictures to Instagram, and message your friends and family.
That's a good start, but it's a just a fraction of the Internet's influence over your life.
Over the next few years, and even now, the Internet is connecting parts of our lives in ways we never could have imagined just a few years ago. It's called the Internet of Things (weird name, I know), and it's going to transform the next 10 years of our technological lives.
How, you might ask?
Let's start with a few really important topics: your food, your transportation, and your health.
Yes, the Internet can help food production
A company called TempuTech is using Internet of Things (IoT) software created by General Electric (GE 0.31%) and pairing it with sensors to monitor grain processing in silos. Farmers get real-time notifications of potential issues -- like overheating -- on conveyor belts and grain elevators before they become major problems.
When it comes to pest control, some orchards are turning to Internet-connected tree sensors and cameras to remotely release insect pheromones when growers notice insect populations getting too big. Others are using similar sensors to tell them when the trees have reached maximum yield.
And agriculture behemoth Monsanto (MON) uses IoT technology to predict yield estimates and farmer planting plans based on soil, climate, and weather data. Farmers can then use an iPad app that gives them real-time maps of where and what to plant based on the analysis.
All of this adds up to some serious savings and increased crop yields. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, "Agricultural technologies could increase global crop yields as much as 67% and cut food prices nearly in half by 2050." And part of those technologies comes from IoT agricultural systems.
You'll never drive the same again
OK, maybe you're not to keen on the Internet influencing how your food is grown. But do you hate your morning commute?
Because Internet-connected cars can solve that.
Autonomous cars already exist, and they're getting very smart, very quickly. Case in point is Audi's (AUDVF) "piloted driving" system. You know, the one that allowed an A7 to drive nearly 550 miles from San Francisco to Las Vegas earlier this month almost entirely on its own. It's the same one that powered a 560-horsepower RS7 research car to screech around a racetrack all by itself.
Audi's system is powered in part by NVIDIA's (NVDA -1.51%) processors, and the chipmaker is diving into autonomous vehicles even further. It's new DrivePX system uses cameras, sensors, and deep learning processing to assess its surroundings and decipher differences between a delivery truck and an ambulance.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working on rules for Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communication -- two technologies that will reduce accidents, save lives, and propel autonomous driving even further. While many tech companies talk about Internet-connected cars and their Wi-Fi capabilities, the bigger picture is about allowing cars to communicate with each other and process more driving information.
Gartner's vice president and distinguished analyst, Thilo Koslowski, says, "The evolution of the self-driving vehicle from automated to autonomous vehicles is already under way." And this is just the beginning, folks.
You may owe your health to connected things one day
Beyond your food and transportation options, IoT software boasts amazing potential to impact health care, too.
Google (GOOG -1.24%) (GOOGL -1.02%) is working on nanoparticles that can travel in your bloodstream and find cancer (paywall) and other diseases earlier than ever before. After they find what they're looking for, the particles are then magnetically attracted to a wrist-worn device to display their findings. While Google's technology is at least five years away, others are already making similar strides.
Proteus Digital Health has an ingestible sensor powered by fluids in the stomach and transmits data to a small wearable patch worn on a user's torso. The sensor is about the size of a grain of sand and tracks exactly when medicine was taken while the patch records heart rate and activity, as well as resting patterns, and then sends the information to smartphone app or sends notifications to family members.
Looking beyond the novelty
Of course, it's easy to be skeptical about future technologies, and there are plenty of bear cases for the Internet of Things. But all of these technologies are already well under way.
Paul Saffo, managing director of Discern Analytics, said in a Pew Research study that by 2025, "Most of our devices will be communicating on our behalf -- they will be interacting with the physical and virtual worlds more than interacting with us." The lesson here is that even if the Internet of Things is only changing things in small ways right now, its major effects on our lives will come sooner than you think.