'Internet of Things' is the next big thing

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 27, 2013 

TINY computer chips and devices linked to the Internet will emerge next year to monitor everything from temperature changes in warehouses and a hospital patient's vital signs to when aircraft engines need servicing.

The Internet of Things (IoT), as it is called, is seen as the next big step in the online world's development.

Dr Tan Geok Leng, executive director of the Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R), told The Straits Times that IoT will have a big impact on industries from food security to transport and agriculture.

Dr Tan also cited the arrival of digital receptionists or avatars as another fast-emerging trend.

Smart machines can now understand not only conversation but also the contextual meaning thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and natural language processing.

Combining the two technologies will offload mundane tasks such as coordinating schedules, searching for restaurants and other service outlets and finding the best deals so that people in talent-scarce Singapore can focus on higher value-added activities, he said.

Natural language translation will also become more mainstream as digital receptionists understand spoken Thai, Tagalog, Chinese or other languages and translate them on the spot to English or other languages.

Artificial intelligence will be used in areas like autonomous vehicles or driverless cars, said Dr Tan.

There could be a pilot of driverless vehicles by I2R next year.

Dr Tan added that 3-D printing will become more mainstream next year as well.

Manufacturers will use 3-D printers to print spare parts on demand, which would improve productivity and make it more affordable for their customers.

Mr Leong Mun Yuen, chief technology officer of the Infocomm Development Authority, said organisations looking to roll out new technologies should pay attention to three areas - how to use technology as a service, analytics and data security.

"Companies must jump on to these, if they have not already, as they will be key areas in boosting productivity and giving them the edge they need to survive," Mr Leong said.

IT applications are now provided like utilities, which means you pay as you use. This makes it easier for companies to trial and deploy new applications and technologies faster and more affordably while lowering the barrier of entry to innovation, added Mr Leong.

But such services are provided over the cloud so security becomes an issue.

Mr Leong is encouraging companies to adopt more stringent standards when it comes to protecting their data.

The two prominent concepts this year - big data and analytics - will continue to be critical technologies as they give insights that lead to better decision-making.

Mobile technologies and applications are set to grab more tech headlines next year as well.

Mobile phone subscriptions are expected to cross the seven-billion mark next year, overtaking the global population.

IT firms and end-user organisations will rush to put more computing access and Internet facility in the hands of users.

Research analysts and industry observers agree that IoT and smart machines will be prominent next year. Networking giant Cisco said there will be 25 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2015. The IoT itself will be a US$14 trillion (S$18 trillion) industry in the next decade, it added.

The good news is that Singapore companies are starting early in these technologies in the hope of riding the wave.

Local logistics firm Ascent Solutions is researching a self-tuning, self-sensing RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip in collaboration with United States-based RFID sensor maker RF Micron.

The aim is to develop a chip that can sense properties like motion and temperature and deliver data to connected devices.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital is investigating the use of wearable sensors to measure vital signs of in-patients as well as elderly folk at home.

Chief information officer Alvin Ong said costs and data standards are key issues the hospital will have to consider.

More importantly, it will also have to consider investing in resources needed to act on the enormous amounts of data that will be generated by the sensors, he said.

"The solution is to enlist the patients and their families to participate actively in their own pre-illness and post-illness care."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 27, 2013To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to