When people talk about low latency and the Internet of Things (IoT), they’re referring to responsiveness. A low-latency IoT device has a short time frame between when a request is sent and the response occurs.
Researchers are continually interested in shortening the response time, believing that succeeding in that aim is vital for unlocking the IoT’s potential. Here’s a closer look at how low-latency IoT could be essential for society now and in the future.
A growing number of parties use IoT data for real-time decision-making. If the latency is too high, the information might be so outdated that it’s useless. In one example, officials in Las Vegas captured data from millions of connected vehicles to learn about traffic patterns. The results gave people valuable insights about light cycles, intersection queues per time of day, and more.
However, it’s easy to envision the consequences of even a seemingly minor latency issue with something that changes as constantly as traffic data. In such cases, people will feel less sure that they can depend on the conclusions. However, any low-latency IoT project is more likely to give the most current data, empowering people to make more accurate decisions.
As the IoT became more accessible, people began exploring new ways to use it. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the IoT became a central part of caring for patients with the virus. Thanks to remote monitoring in Australia, only 51 of 475 patients required hospitalization when their conditions worsened. The rest received virtual care at home, including video consultations and smart sensors that measured vital signs.
One recent study shows 7.4 million connected medical devices will be deployed globally by 2026, amounting to more than 3,850 per smart hospital. Those facilities handle genuine life-or-death situations, so low latency is essential. Hospitals have used monitoring devices for decades, but the circumstances that allow people to be monitored at home instead of receiving hospital care are relatively new.
In another example of a new IoT use case, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is testing autonomous vehicles that bring luggage from the terminal to the aircraft. That airport already had IoT sensors that measure the flow of people and baggage in its facilities. Bringing self-driving cars into the picture could further improve efficiency.
However, low-latency IoT is critical for any application featuring autonomous movement. The airport’s self-driving vehicles operate on the tarmac, so there’s no risk of them endangering airport customers. However, if one of the luggage carriers fails to perform due to a latency issue, it could run into an airplane.
The IoT opens many compelling opportunities to grow and improve a business. A factory manager could connect all the machines primarily used in a facility, then get useful data to plan workflows. Some IoT sensors warn when essential equipment shows unusual characteristics or stations on assembly lines are running low on supplies. Low-latency performance in such cases ensures business leaders can access the most relevant data.
A 2020 study showed that low latency was a priority for some businesspeople polled. About 18.6% of respondents said they were adopting edge computing to cope with distance-related limitations and the need for low latency.
The research also revealed that three-quarters of people polled expected latency of fewer than five milliseconds, while 14.8% expected the delay to be below 10 milliseconds. These results show that latency factors into business leaders’ decisions when deploying technology.
Low-latency IoT will also become a defining factor in the growing push for hyper-automation. It involves using various technologies to automate processes throughout an organization. Rather than trying to automate just one or a few, people capitalize on numerous advanced technologies for better efficiency, quality control, and other aims.
People familiar with the early interest in hyper-automation say that people should pursue data-driven automation that gives them more flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. 5G networks have the low latency needed to process data quickly enough so that people can act on it in near-real-time.
The IoT is only one aspect of potential hyper-automation technologies. Other components include artificial intelligence and robotic process automation. However, without low-latency IoT, hyper-automation efforts could quickly break down.
In some sports, milliseconds make the difference between winning a medal and falling just short of that achievement. Low-latency IoT should bring new possibilities to the competitive sports sector, which is already using connected technologies in fascinating ways.
When a 2021 survey investigated how people watch sports, 74% of millennials said they consume the content through online streams. The segment of Gen Z audiences doing so was also high, at 71%. Although the percentage of baby boomers doing so was substantially lower at 46%, it’s still a high enough rate to warrant further investment into sports-streaming platforms.
Many athletes now wear connected cameras that give stream viewers new perspectives. NASCAR has a streaming platform that lets people see multiple in-car views at once, while some football players create camera feeds that show viewers what people on the field see behind their helmets. Low-latency IoT heightens the fan experience by letting them experience things that broadcast television never could.
It goes beyond people who stream events from their homes, too. A connected stadium could offer a smartphone app that shows live footage from the field at all times. Then, if someone needs to use the restroom or visit the concession stand, they can still stay tuned to the action. Smart sensors could even offer recommendations to help people avoid crowds so the time away from their stadium seats is as brief as possible.
The IoT also plays an important role at elite events such as the Olympic Games. Smart sensors appear everywhere from the swimming pool to the gymnastics arena, assisting with scoring and time-tracking. The more data athletes and their coaches have, the better their chances are for making performance tweaks before medal events.
There are even smart clothes equipped with sensors that monitor athletes’ form and give them audio feedback to correct it. Low-latency IoT allows such technologies to show the required responsiveness to make them genuinely beneficial.
Skiers competing on the international scene also rely on responsive sensor data to keep them safe. One product on the market recognizes changes in a wearer’s body that occur before a fall. It inflates an air bag inside a vest one-tenth of a second before the impact happens. Low-latency IoT enables such a proactive response. Coaches and skiers could also later use data collected through other means to determine what aspects led to a fall, empowering them to prevent future incidents.
There are also plenty of practical use cases for low-latency IoT and urgent situations. Any delays could negatively impact outcomes for everyone involved.
One recent case involved embedding IoT sensors inside life jackets. Before the availability of such technologies, rescuers only had signals from lifeboats or affected vessels, not the individual passengers. However, these sensors transmit continuous signals from the wearers. That feature also means rescuers could save more time by going directly to the people in distress rather than searching larger areas to find survivors.
Data indicates that improved accuracy in locating people during emergencies could save 10,000 more lives annually. That makes sense since many individuals needing urgent help may be unresponsive or otherwise unaware when rescuers are nearby.
Research is ongoing in this area. However, the hope is that people could be better prepared to respond to future disasters by equipping smart cities with low-latency IoT. The affected locations could enjoy improved resource usage if that ideal comes to pass. That benefit could save more people and reduce the strain on first responders.
Most people can probably recall at least a few recent and frustrating times where they tried to use technology and noticed the response time was too long for their liking. Luckily, most IoT devices on the market react within milliseconds.
However, in cases like the ones explored here, low-latency IoT opens even more options for people who need responses in near-real-time. As research continues in this area and manufacturers figure out practical ways to meet this need, people should see even more industries and brands discovering the benefits of the IoT and investigating how to apply it in use cases requiring low-latency performance.