There are currently over 29 billion connected devices worldwide – and 18 billion of them are part of the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

From satellites orbiting the Earth to handheld devices in your living room, IoT is changing the way businesses gather data — and increasing the expectations consumers have of devices and services.

New IoT applications are developed each year, and act as differentiators for businesses prepared to deploy them. Here are four recent applications of the IoT that you may have missed — and that could transform your business, too.

1. The future of driving, fueled by IoT

Who’s leading the industry?

Since 2003, Tesla has been at the forefront of connecting vehicles to the Internet of Things.

As early as 2014, Wired Magazine recognized their exciting use of IoT to solve a common automotive challenge: vehicle recalls. When a charger plug presented a fire risk, Tesla owners didn’t have to go through the usual hassle of returning their cars to the dealership. A full recall was avoided with a software update delivered through the Tesla network.

Wired called it “the best example yet” of IoT in action, and it’s easy to see why. Remote maintenance improves customer experience by speeding up issue resolution and keeping devices up to date. With over two-thirds of consumers saying they’d switch brands for better customer experience, seamless support and service is a valuable differentiator.

What’s the future of IoT for vehicles?

Aside from remote updates, Tesla also uses IoT technology to power its self-driving “Autopilot” feature. CEO Elon Musk notes that “the whole Tesla fleet operates as a network. When one car learns something, they all learn it.”

It’s one example that shows how connected devices can share the machine learning load and improve exponentially as a group. IoT applications like these are already getting us from A to B more safely.

2. A “proactive home”, courtesy of Google’s IoT applications

Who’s leading the industry?

From smart doorbells to thermostats, speakers, cameras, entertainment systems and more, Google’s Nest products show off the benefits of connected consumer devices. In their own words, they want to “build your helpful home”. Specialized products work together to create an experience that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

The key to this approach is reliable connectivity. In December 2019, Google announced the arrival of Matter – a set of standards that aims to connect IoT devices using reliable mesh networks. That’s the technical idea, but what does it mean for consumers?

What’s the future of IoT for smart homes?

Mesh networks allow products to “communicate” with each other more dependably. Specialized devices perform their function and share results or insight with another device. That second product can then adjust its behaviour accordingly, without human input. IoT collaboration increases the value of individual devices as a result.

Michele Turner, the Director of Google’s Smart Home Ecosystem, offers an example of what mesh network communication might look like in a “proactive home”:

“It’s being able to predict that I’m going upstairs, it’s 10 at night, and I always go into my bedroom at that time, so turn on the lights”

With the help of devices that work in tandem, it’s possible to create entire data-driven experiences. In this example, that’s a home that doesn’t just respond to your needs – it anticipates them.

3. Making the metaverse possible

Who’s leading the industry?

With the sale of 8.7 million units in 2021, Facebook’s Quest 2 catapulted VR and “the metaverse” into the mainstream.

Headsets completely transform the internet experience by immersing users in life-like virtual reality. Connecting VR with real-world data, though, is where leaders see the space evolving. From virtual meeting rooms to live entertainment experiences, some of the most exciting applications of VR and AR rely on the promise of real-time data visualization.

What’s the future of IoT for VR?

Jonathan Priestley, the Head of Portfolio Modernisation at a major software group, has this to say about the future of VR and IoT:

“IoT will enable us to overcome one of the greatest challenges we face in the metaverse — how to map data from real life, in real-time, into a digital reality. IoT’s main role will be to bring the outside world into the digital realm.”

As much as 84 percent of tech business leaders are exploring ways to connect “data intelligence solutions” with virtual environments. IoT represents the bridge between the universe and the metaverse — there’s value to be found both in mapping data, and in finding ways to present it.

4. Lowering the impact of natural disasters

Who’s leading the industry?

Governments and NGOs are looking to the Internet of Things to help meet the challenges presented by natural disasters. Between significant loss of life and billions of dollars of damage each year, disaster mitigation is one of the most urgent areas of IoT development.

There’s no individual industry leader in this space. In many cases, connected sensors use historical and real-time data to measure things like CO2 concentration, seismic movement, water levels and more to predict the likelihood of danger.

IoT encourages a more proactive approach. Devices can trigger evacuation warnings, push them to connected devices, and save lives. It’s an example that businesses in manufacturing, cybersecurity and more can learn from: real-time sensor data is used to recognize patterns and prevent disaster, instead of reacting after it’s already begun.

What’s the future of IoT for disaster mitigation?

90 percent of the deaths associated with natural disasters are in low-income countries. Disaster mitigation is as much about creative, low-resource solutions as it is about developing new technology.

The same mesh network strategy Google uses is saving lives in El Salvador. Tech experts Reacción use connected devices as mesh “nodes” in villages vulnerable to flooding. Each village is provided with a battery-powered device that allows them to communicate the severity of the weather. This is combined with weather data gathered by IoT sensors connected to the same network.

It’s more reliable (and cheaper) than a fully-fledged network and allows residents to communicate early warnings affordably. The combination of expert human input and real-time sensor data results in more accurate, relevant action.

IoT applications: Where humans and data meet

We’ve barely scratched the surface of IoT’s potential. With the global IoT market predicted to grow to $1.6 trillion by 2025, there are uses that developers haven’t even considered yet.

There’s a core relationship behind the potential of IoT applications: connected devices address and eliminate data-related problems, so people can act. The current state of the Internet of Things reflects our real-world priorities and knowledge. The more challenges we identify, the more applications for IoT technology will surface.