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IoT Trends We Can Expect to See in 2021

Innovations surrounding the IoT are expected to make huge impacts on a huge number of industries, communities and stakeholders in our adaptation to the new normal, find out what is expected to be seen in the upcoming year

2020 was a life-changing year for many, the events and effects were unprecedented and have changed many industries, influencing shifts in the approaches of many companies that will have lasting impacts. COVID-19 had accelerated the digitisation of so many process across countless industries, these shifts will certainly shape the IoT trends of the upcoming year. One industry that has stood out in the name of change is retail, where omnichannel operations have been flipped upside-down, many stores have unfortunately closed, and with many consumers staying home, stores have chosen to take steps towards changing their overall strategy, focussing on online orders for example. Online, delivery and 'pick up in-store' shopping methods were already gaining popularity before the pandemic, which accelerated consumers' dependance on minimised contact retail.

Other industries like healthcare are also transforming and adapting to a digitised approach, with social distancing guidelines and new health requirements, digital health has surged. Many expect that the IoT innovations and trends seen popping up over the last year, and those to come will likely disrupt the nature of many workforces, with a greater dependance on human augmentation. Many companies were already making a digital shift prior to the pandemic, and it is clear that those with a forward-looking approach were in a much better position to navigate the 'new normal'.

It is likely consumers will begin to see a growth in IoT technologies this year, technologies like RAIN RFID (a solution that uses a reader to read and write a tagged item, manage the data and take action) promote safe and fast shopping as well as social distancing with touchless self-checkout options, and inventory visibility. Other companies, like Amazon are going further to make the shopping experience employee free altogether, with self managed, fully autonomous stores. See below some of the top IoT trends expected to appear and grow in 2021 and beyond;

Edge Computing

Remote work has become the normal for many working people due to the lockdown and social distancing guidelines set out in many parts of the world, this has meant that many companies saw the need for distributed compute resources that aren't to centralised locations like the cloud, the physical office or a data centre. Because of this need, these resources are becoming more available as employees continue to work from home, for example factories are becoming more dependant on remote monitoring and automation, while the digital health surge has meant patent records are being dealt with remotely. Its likely that new concepts will emerge among edge computing architecture, localised data analytics will boost, which will enable users to consume data with deeper integration among devices. Many more factors and areas of focus within this domain will become critical as more data is generated at 'the edge'.

Touchless Retail Experience

Many innovations are being made for the point of sale, although there has been a steady rise in consumers embracing digitally enabled shopping methods, and online shopping boomed, but consumers are still wanting in-store experiences, especially looking forward post lockdown. Some retailers have opted for the adoption of RAIN RFID for inventory management and are extending this technology further in order to create a touchless, experience that also allows for a faster checkout, shorter queues, and a safer shopping trip overall. The technology also allowed for multiple items to be counted simultaneously without line-of-sight, so shoppers won't need to search for barcodes when checking out their items.

Connectivity options - 5G

Fifth generation wireless technology (5G) promises to provide new experiences and services in connectivity and applications, and the exact specifications of 5G are now finalised. A number of factors are driving the adoption of 5G and IoT including increased demand from consumers and enterprises and the availability of more affordable devices as well as significant operator investment in 5G technology, spectrum and infrastructure, together with the implementation of global standards, are also helping to drive growth and increase market interest in the IoT. Users will be able to create individual networks when they lose connectivity; these networks will likely be more secure and better performing, which can be applicable many industries, and will bring more services to remote areas and improve logistics overall.

Smart Environments

Essentially smart environments link computers and other smart devices to everyday settings and tasks, just a few years ago smart building technology enlisted Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to build more energy-efficient, automated and secure environments. smart environments have huge potentials, from smart houses, which are becoming more accessible through commercialisation, but also for manufacturing and 'smart cities'. IoT sensors are used primarily for temperature control, automated lighting and building security capabilities, which means there are potential applications for the healthcare industry, and general health and safety precautions as a result of COVID-19. Sensors can be used for the sanitation and cleaning of rooms as well as screening and track-and-trace capabilities of those present, there are also potentials for this to be used to make recommendations for social distancing. There are concerns about this technology creating issues with privacy, where movements and behaviour is tracked more closely, especially within workplaces, more information and potential solutions are likely to come ahead with wider implementation.

Continued Investment into IoT and Automation

The pandemic created a need for many retailers, healthcare practitioners and other industry counterparts to shift strategy, for many this meant inventory and supply chain strategies, as a result of changing consumer needs because of COVID-19. For many industries, especially within retail, a fuller visibility of the supply chain is needed in order to better anticipate and react to demand. An increasing number of consumer interaction are popping up, Telehealth and online shopping have boomed, with many branches being added in order to better the experience and improve customer satisfaction. Increased investment into IoT and automation technologies will continue throughout the upcoming year and beyond, in order to drive improved visibility and operational transformation, as well as applications that support social distancing and other preventative measures.

Robotics and Automation

The Internet of Things and robotics communities are coming together to create what is known as 'The Internet of Robotic Things' (or IoRT). IoT devices are most often designed to handle specific tasks, while robots can be used in some cases to react to unexpected conditions, artificial intelligence and machine learning are able to help robots deal with unexpected conditions that may arise. Robotics systems are become more prevalent along with work processes becoming more remote, automated and distributed. In many industries social distancing measures, or budget constraints mean less employees will be able to be present in the workplace, for many industries, robotics can fill gaps that are left. In an interview wit IoT World Today, Bill Kleyman, vice president of Switch, said “Edge computing, distributed environments are going to require human augmentation,” “Robotics and automation are going to be playing a larger role in distributed environments". Many are growing concerned that robotics will play a role in automation and replace human roles, although this may be the case in some few instances, in most cases robotics will world alongside human employees, and may result in a change to the roles by humans, due to less tasks being required by them, an example of this is in Robotic Process Automation.

Much of the IoT Trends mentioned above and others not mention, will require adaption by many stakeholders; industries, employees, consumers and innovators, but the changes being seen in the past year, and those yet to be seen in the upcoming year, will undoubtable help these groups and many others adapt and adjust to the 'new normal'.

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