The Internet of Things: Coming to a Bathroom Near You!
At last year’s Plumbing Industry Leadership Coalition (PILC) meeting at National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), in Washington, D.C., guests were treated to a lecture by Dr. Sokwoo Rhee, Associate Director of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). His topic was the future of plumbing as it pertains to Internet of Things (IoT).
The term IoT refers to the use of intelligent devices that can collect and share data between humans and machines via the world wide web. This is the same concept that applies to such technology as robotics, sensors, actuators, unmanned automobiles, and smart grids.
Fun Plumbing “Things” in the Internet of Things
Brace yourself for your water heater to be able to send data directly to a contractor to alert him about a malfunction requiring service. The computerized message can also list all past services on the unit, which a plumber can access immediately through a smartphone. This information can even be sent to the unit’s manufacturer, for analytical and troubleshooting purposes.
After the water heater testing works out the kinks, brace yourself for automated communication technology to spread to your toilet, garbage disposal, dishwasher, refrigerator, washing machine, irrigation system and . . . you guessed it . . . everything.
There have already been some trial runs testing this Internet of Things concept in the plumbing realm. For example, AT&T, IBM and Mueller Water Products are currently working together to create a system for tracking water temperature, leaks, and water pressure in water supply pipes. These trials are being tested in Atlanta, and Los Angeles. In addition, CityZenith is experimenting with programs that can detect water- and energy-inefficient buildings in San Francisco.
Who Fears the Internet of Things and Why
With all of this new information at everyone’s fingertips, individual privacy would again be impacted. IoT detractors cite George Orwell’s concept of “Big Brother” watching all. With sensors and internet connections on everything from your HVAC unit to your toilet, every mundane aspect of your daily use of your products can be recorded.
It is somewhat similar to how Google reads our email and Facebook our posts now—all for advertising purposes.
Detractors fear this information that may be used against you, such as if you are contesting your dishwasher’s manufacturer’s warranty. The manufacturer could have every procedure you have ever done on the unit at its disposal, making it difficult for you to state your case.
Still, privacy advocates had serious concerns about Google and social media platforms, but the American public seems okay that these entities know everything about them. If the Internet of Things is convenient enough, citizens will shove their privacy concerns down the list of what’s most important to them.
Potential for a system breakdown
Industry experts also raise the specter of system breakdowns. With any new technology comes the increased risk of malfunctions. Hot showers suddenly turning cold and refrigerators turning off could create annoying and even expensive problems. There is so much piping data out there to be collected, but a glitch in this information collection system could result in wasted city and homeowner budget. Like any system, these glitches or “bugs” will have to be worked out. Wise consumers may want to wait for the early adopters to go through all the problems with manufacturers first.
Did you know that when North Korea hacked into Sony, they got in through the coffee maker? The device was enabled with internet connectivity so that executives could program it from home.
We all know there are skilled hackers out there, so who is to stop them from hacking into an IoT system? It is even conceivable that a hacker can then alter the recorded information, thus reducing water bills, maintenance records and more. Or worse, a hacker can alter your information, steal identity and wreak havoc.
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We at TEAM PERRY pride ourselves on keeping abreast of the latest developments in the plumbing industry. So contact Perry Plumbing Heating & Air today at 619-472-2112, or check out our website at www.perryplumbing.com. We have many helpful coupons and discounts. We honor our title as the Contractor of the Year by the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC) Association and San Diego Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Outstanding Marketplace Ethics.