IoT, what are we talking about?

The Internet of Things refers to every single device that is connected to the internet at this moment. Nowadays almost everything is part of the IoT, from a light bulb to a building, merging the digital and physical universes.

Pretty much everything can be transformed into an IoT today, for example, light bulbs, now we can switch them, change their colour, programming when they must turn on, only by using our phone only by using the Internet. Also if we have bigger objects such as a car, buildings, or even cities, can be filled with many smaller IoT components.

But what is considered as IoT, every object that usually is not supposed to be connected to the internet is part IoT, that's why a computer is not part of the IoT.

When did it start?

The term Internet of Things is 16 years old. But the actual idea of connected devices had been around longer, at least since the 70s. The actual term “Internet of Things” was coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 during his work at Procter&Gamble. Ashton who was working in supply chain optimization wanted to attract senior management’s attention to a new exciting technology called RFID. Because the internet was the hottest new trend in 1999 and because it somehow made sense, he called his presentation “Internet of Things”.

The concept of IoT started to gain some popularity in the summer of 2010. Information leaked that Google’s StreetView service had not only made 360-degree pictures but had also stored tons of data of people’s Wifi networks. People were debating whether this was the start of a new Google strategy to not only index the internet but also index the physical world.

The term Internet of Things reached mass-market awareness when in January 2014 Google announced to buy Nest for $3.2bn. At the same time, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was held under the theme of IoT.

Let's talk a little bit about how IoT works.

It consists of web-enabled devices that use embedded systems, such as processors, sensors, and communication hardware to collect, send and act on data they acquire from their environments. They send the data by connecting to an IoT gateway and then it gets analyzed. Sometimes some devices can communicate with others to synchronize information.

IoT can also make use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in order to collect data.

IoT platforms

The cloud giants are trying to sell more than just a place to stash the data your sensors have collected. They’re offering full IoT platforms, which bundle together much of the functionality to coordinate the elements that makeup IoT systems. In essence, an IoT platform serves as middleware that connects the IoT devices and edge gateways with the applications you use to deal with the IoT data. That said, every platform vendor seems to have a slightly different definition of what an IoT platform is, the better to distance themselves from the competition.

What Industries Can Benefit from IoT?

Let's talk about some industries that benefit from using sensor devices.

Manufacturing

Manufacturers can gain a competitive advantage by using production-line monitoring to enable proactive maintenance on equipment when sensors detect an impending failure. Sensors can actually measure when production output is compromised

Automotive

The automotive industry stands to realize significant advantages from the use of IoT applications. In addition to the benefits of applying IoT to production lines, sensors can detect impending equipment failure in vehicles already on the road and can alert the driver with details and recommendations.

Healthcare

IoT asset monitoring provides multiple benefits to the healthcare industry. Doctors, nurses, and orderlies often need to know the exact location of patient-assistance assets such as wheelchairs. When a hospital’s wheelchairs are equipped with IoT sensors, they can be tracked from the IoT asset-monitoring application so that anyone looking for one can quickly find the nearest available wheelchair. Many hospital assets can be tracked this way to ensure proper usage as well as financial accounting for the physical assets in each department.

Logistics

Transportation and logistical systems benefit from a variety of IoT applications. Fleets of cars, trucks, ships, and trains that carry inventory can be rerouted based on weather conditions, vehicle availability, or driver availability, thanks to IoT sensor data. The inventory itself could also be equipped with sensors for track-and-trace and temperature-control monitoring.

AI

The volume of data IoT devices can gather is far larger than any human can deal with in a useful way, and certainly not in real-time. Many IoT providers are offering machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities to make sense of the collected data.

“The IoT is removing mundane repetitive tasks or creating things that just weren’t possible before, enabling more people to do more rewarding tasks and leaving the machines to do the repetitive jobs.” — Grant Notman, Head of Sales and Marketing, Wood & Douglas

Let´s look at some examples to see what this look like in real life:

Imagine you wake up at 7 am every day to go to work. Your alarm clock does the job of waking you just fine. That is until something goes wrong. Your train’s cancelled and you have to drive to work instead. The only problem is that it takes longer to drive, and you would have needed to get up at 6.45 am to avoid being late. Oh, and it’s pouring with rain, so you’ll need to drive slower than usual. A connected or IoT-enabled alarm clock would reset itself based on all these factors, to ensure you got to work on time. It could recognize that your usual train is cancelled, calculate the driving distance and travel time for your alternative route to work, check the weather and factor in slower travelling speed because of heavy rain, and calculate when it needs to wake you up so you’re not late. If it’s super-smart it might even sync with your IoT-enabled coffee maker, to ensure your morning caffeine’s ready to go when you get up.

Having been woken by your smart alarm, you’re now driving to work. On comes the engine light. You’d rather not head straight to the garage, but what if it’s something urgent? In a connected car, the sensor that triggered the check engine light would communicate with others in the car. A component called the diagnostic bus collects data from these sensors and passes it to a gateway in the car, which sends the most relevant information to the manufacturer’s platform. The manufacturer can use data from the car to offer you an appointment to get the part fixed, send you directions to the nearest dealer, and make sure the correct replacement part is ordered so it’s ready for you when you show up.

“The truth is, homes change over time — and technology has to adapt, not try to do everything at once.” — Tony Fadell, Founder & CEO, Nest Labs

What about security and privacy?

Security is one of the biggest issues with the IoT, every object is collecting different data, in some cases very sensitive like what do you say, that’s why it should be safer. Many devices have a poor thought about basic security.

Many devices lack the capability to have their software patched, that’s why hackers are now targeting IoT devices, like webcams. Have you ever thought about why a lot of people cover their webcams, or why certain computers come with a camera blocker? that’s why more than 100,000 webcams can be hacked with ease.

So, do manufacturers have to think a little bit more about security? Yes they do, it may be more expensive, but they are going to be able to make trustable devices.

In privacy matters, we have the same or even the worst problem, due to all the data that security leaks. For example, a smart home can tell you when you wake up, and what radio do you listen to, who visits and passes your house, when you leave your house. So imagine what could happen if all that data gets sold…

But what’s the good side of IoT? It helps people live and work smarter, providing businesses with a real-time look into how their systems really work, delivering insights into everything from the performance of machines to supply chain and logistics operations. IoT enables companies to automate processes and reduce labour costs. It also cuts down on waste and improves service delivery, making it less expensive to manufacture and deliver goods, as well as offering transparency into customer transactions.

Summarizing pros and cons:

Pros:

  • ability to access information from anywhere at any time on any device;
  • improved communication between connected electronic devices;
  • transferring data packets over a connected network saving time and money; and
  • automating tasks helping to improve the quality of a business’s services and reducing the need for human intervention.

Cons:

  • As the number of connected devices increases and more information is shared between devices, the potential that a hacker could steal confidential information also increases.
  • Enterprises may eventually have to deal with massive numbers — maybe even millions — of IoT devices, and collecting and managing the data from all those devices will be challenging.
  • If there’s a bug in the system, it’s likely that every connected device will become corrupted.
  • Since there’s no international standard of compatibility for IoT, it’s difficult for devices from different manufacturers to communicate with each other.

What do you think now? We have to be careful with devices and leaks but also the industry is trying to solve these issues so it’s in our hands the decision if we use them or not.

“If you think that the internet has changed your life, think again. The IoT is about to change it all over again! “— Brendan O’Brien, Chief Architect & Co-Founder, Aria Systems