Freeing IoT from the lab FEATURE
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The Internet of Things is no longer a futuristic dream. It's happening now in a home or road near you, tackling everything from transport gridlock to the misery of household water leaks.

From managing traffic jams during huge sporting events to detecting water leaks in home, the Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the way people live all over the world. It's this kind of technology that's making everyday life easier that will be showcased during the upcoming IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona.

So how far has IoT come in changing the world as we know it?

Smart transportation

Dr. Ken Figueredo, a consultant at technology innovation firm InterDigital who will be speaking at the Barcelona event, is involved in an intelligent transport systems trial currently running in the UK.

See also: the futuristic city of Songdo, South Korea

The oneTRANSPORT initiative, which is funded by the UK Government, is designed to allow any local government to get help discovering new innovative transportation solutions, without having to start from scratch each time.

There are many different trials now in the works, including one that is using technology to reduce bottlenecks as race-day crowds flock to Silverstone, the famous British motor racing circuit. But the project has national, even global, ambitions.

InterDigital is part of a public-private consortium of 11 organizations – from Highways England and local county councils, to transportation and analytics experts .

See also: Europe's cities get smarter

It is this large-scale collaboration that makes the project so powerful. "In the early days of IoT, a lot of the work focused on individual applications," Dr. Figueredo explains. "But that led to a lot of duplication - for example between the various solutions for smart street lighting, car park management and so on." In the oneTRANSPORT model, knowledge and developments can be shared and re-used, making it easier to have a broad impact. Among the details being worked out now are how to make sure everyone benefits.  For example, local governments might be rewarded for sharing data from its roadside sensors. The aim is to harness that data to make sure travelers get the most accurate advice.

Plugging home leaks

British smart home technology developer HomeServe Labs believes IoT will soon play a key role in home maintenance and repairs. Its parent company, HomeServe, provides home plumbing and boiler services.

In June, it launched an IoT solution, targeting household water leaks - which aren't usually detected until a lot of costly damage has already been done. It is now partnering with insurance providers to get the devices – LeakBot - into people's homes on a large scale on the belief that insurers have as much to gain as home owners.

See also: Ambient intelligence: coming to a smart home near you

"In the UK alone, insurers pay out up to £700 million ($900 million) a year on household claims resulting from the damage caused by leaks," says managing director Craig Foster. "This pushes up the price of annual insurance premiums, and is hugely disruptive for customers. A small leak that may have been dripping behind a cupboard for 3-4 months could result in a claim of several thousand pounds for a new kitchen."

LeakBot is programmed to measure subtle temperature changes in a home's main water pipe, to detect the smallest leaks anywhere in a home - from a single sensor. The idea is if the water never completely stops, temperature levels won't stabilize.

If the device detects a leak, it alerts the customer via their smartphone. This is a win for everyone. The home owner avoids serious damage, disruption and stress, the insurer's risk is vastly reduced, and HomeServe still gets the business.

LeakBot has enormous potential to save insurance companies and homeowners money and the industry is taking notice. LeakBot won this year's ‘Breakthrough IoT' award at the Insurance Times Technology & Innovation Awards in September.

Of IoT's growing potential, Foster says, "The enabling technologies are maturing, the costs of chipsets and connectivity are falling, but as with any new innovation it's about creating real value and we're excited that we might have found a way to do that."

IoT leaders from all over the world will be at the IoT Solutions World Congress, which runs October 25th-27th.

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About Sue Tabbitt

Sue Tabbitt is a technology journalist who covers IT and telecommunications.