The Internet of Things may still be in its infancy, but it already heralds a bold new world of connected sensors and devices. Developers have nearly limitless potential to create new apps and experiences. Research firm VisionMobile forecasts the number of developers working on IoT software to increase from more than 5 million in early 2016 to close to 10 million by 2020.

Developers in IoT have a key opportunity to build analytics applications to gain valuable insights from data. Today this information comes from home appliances, industrial machinery, medical sensors, vehicles and smart shelves in a store. “Developers play a key role both in the handling and processing of data as well as in providing the software experiences,” said Stijn Schuermans, business analytics analyst for VisionMobile. “The value truly is in the data.”

Here are five ways that developers can play a crucial role in IoT:

1. Automating the smart home

The largest area of IoT growth is in the smart home. The opportunity for developers is to create the glue — the software — that connects appliances to a home network. Developers create applications that control lights, refrigerators, air conditioners and alarm systems. Mobile apps allow users to control the temperature in their home remotely — even the temperature of shower water — or to unlock their door.

Business Insider predicts the number of smart home devices will grow to 193 million by 2020.

Systems on a chip (SoC) built into smart home devices will allow for future connectivity by supporting multiple wireless protocols, including IEEE 802.1.5.4, ZigBee 3.0, Thread and Bluetooth Low Energy. Developers will continue to work on the software standards that can connect devices and sensors together.

Meanwhile, home security systems will get more sophisticated with the use of sensors that determine family patterns. Platforms such as Alarm.com incorporate these sensors along with machine-learning technology to track when people come and go and lock doors accordingly.

In the future, developers will build apps that connect home entertainment devices like TVs to medical sensors such as heart monitors. Your entertainment system could play relaxing music if your heart monitor says your heart is beating too fast.

2. Enabling predictive maintenance for industrial machines 

Developers can create applications that allow engineers to monitor machine performance in a factory. The machines incorporate sensors that feed data over the internet to predictive-maintenance software, enabling people to anticipate and prevent equipment failure. IoT apps also help users track the location of machines. By monitoring machinery with predictive maintenance applications, factory workers can increase product output and avoid employee injuries.

“What you’re trying to do is to detect and to predict when a particular machine or a particular component will fail so that you can maintain it before it’s actually necessary,” Schuermans said.

3. Writing wellness apps
The health care industry offers a significant opportunity for developers to create apps in IoT. Health care professionals adopt IoT 28 percent more than workers in any other field, according to a report by Spiceworks, an online community of IT professionals.

Developers write mobile apps that connect to Bluetooth medical equipment such as heart monitors and glucometers. Both doctors and patients use data from these apps to monitor chronic conditions like heart ailments and diabetes.

In addition, developers must write software that can process data from embedded medical sensors in clothing and jewelry. Wellness rings help people track how much they eat and sleep as well as collect physiological data like pulse and respiration rates. Smart clothing and jewelry connect to smartphones and the cloud to allow patients to track their data and share their progress with doctors. “With a wearable, you might detect health problems before they actually occur,” Schuermans said. Doctors can then diagnose the conditions faster than before.

4. Developing inventory, checkout apps for retail

Software developers design apps in retail that pull data from sensors on smart shelves to indicate when shoppers purchase various items and when stores run low on certain products. Sensors on smart shelves can also notify stores when perishables are about to expire. RFID technology connects with apps that allow workers to track the flow of goods in a store and make decisions on cost and inventory. Auburn University found that by using RFID tagging, retailers can increase the accuracy of inventory tracking.

Developers will also design software for an evolving area in retail called Programmatic Commerce, in which devices automatically purchase products based on a consumer’s preferences. A smart refrigerator could incorporate sensors to detect when it runs out of products like yogurt or eggs and then reorder them automatically for the consumer. Stores can also use this technology to reduce the amount of time shelves are empty and therefore improve the customer experience.

5. Building apps that collect data from transportation fleets 

In the transportation field, companies need developers that can write apps that monitor planes, trains and automobiles to keep them running smoothly. Telematics software pulls data from sensors in vehicles to help engineers track and improve the equipment’s performance.

As more transit systems add wireless service underground, the role of developers will be critical with their ability to write analytics software for subway IoT monitoring. Today sensors help engineers manage train traffic and monitor temperature, vibration and system alerts. Transit systems will need developers to build the next generation of applications to collect data from sensors in trains and robots in tunnels.

For the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, IoT data helps the agency detect traffic flow and congestion problems along bus and train routes and then institute improvements for these lines. By writing data analysis software, developers can help transit agencies boost the performance of their services and improve the experience of riders.

The road ahead

Software developers have every opportunity to recognize the broader IoT ecosystem and develop innovative strategies to leverage sensor data. “There’s a lot of value in gathering more data by connecting devices and by getting information on the world around us,” Schuermans said.

For software developers to succeed in IoT, they should advance beyond creating an app that controls a device and write software that applies historical data on user behavior. “These kind of developers will be high in demand,” Schuermans said.

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