The Internet of Things(IoT): What is it, and how does it work?
Cyberspace and physical reality. Machine and human. The lines that divide them are quickly blurring as data seeps from the digital space into the“real” world. Welcome to the Internet of Things(IoT). It may sound like something out of a dystopian sci-fi fantasy, where life is best described by the words of anthropologist Amber Case: “We’re all cyborgs now.”
But it’s not as far-off or futuristic as you might think. The IoT is here, and chances are – whether you realize it or not – you’re interacting with it right now, probably in more ways than one.Here we’ll delve into what the Internet of Things is, how the IoT works, and how it’s revolutionized the way in which humans interact with technology. We’ll also look at IoT standards and frameworks and IoT privacy concerns.
What does the Internet of Things(IoT) mean?
Let’s start with the definition of the Internet of Things. The concept draws on two major components: the internet and our things. In other words, the IoT stands for the collective network of connected devices (smartphones, smart fridges, smart TVs, etc.), users (people, but also pets and electronic sensors), and the technology that enables communications between these devices and the cloud as well as between the devices themselves.
IoT devices contain IoT sensors that“listen” for specific stimuli. These connected devices are connected to an IoT network or platform that collates the data from different devices and performs analytics to extract and share the most valuable information from the data collected. This information is used to detect patterns, make recommendations, and detect potential problems before they occur.
The IoT’s integration of people, processes, and technology through devices and sensors is possible because of technological advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning that make processing and learning from large amounts of data possible.
What are some Internet of Things examples?
The robots aren’t coming. Rather, thanks to the IoT, they're already here and part of everyday life. Here are some common examples of how it connects and powers smart devices in the modern-day day-to-day.
The IoT at home
Nothing compares to the feeling of being completely at ease at home, and the perfect temp plays a major part in making that happen. But how does it change based on whether you’re cooking dinner, watching TV, on the treadmill, or simply sleeping? IoT thermostats automate temperature regulation in smart homes by pairing with other devices like smartwatches or other wearables to monitor your activity and anticipate shifting temperature needs. Thanks to the IoT, a thermostat is just one small object that can regulate a smart home, but imagine how this could work at scale in a smart city.
The IoT in the automotive industry
The roads may have yet to see full-fledged self-driving autos, but there’s no denying cars have gotten pretty smart as of late. Some are equipped with a fleet of cameras and proximity sensors that detect when they’re too close to another object. Other smart cars take this a step further. Instead of just warning the driver, they interpret sensor data and automatically apply the brakes or adjust the steering without human intervention.
The IoT in healthcare
When it comes to human health, not only does the IoT offer convenience, but it’s also capable of saving lives. Take continuous glucose monitors, for example. Once embedded in a diabetic patient’s skin, they enable both the patient and their doctor to continuously monitor their blood sugar levels. These monitors allow medical providers to remotely adjust their patients’ dosages or alter medications as needed.
Why is the IoT important?
Whether you’re ready for the IoT to be part of your daily life or not, the thing is, it already is. Consumers, businesses, and industries aren’t just constantly interacting with the IoT. They rely upon it, and it will only continue to play a bigger role in the future. Just like the wheel revolutionized early civilization, the IoT is here to do the same, helping us to work smarter and more efficiently. It also allows us to combine different data streams, perform better analyses faster, and use this information to learn and iterate. Let’s dig into how the IoT has transformed the way in which consumers, businesses, and entire industries interact with each other.
How has the Internet of Things impacted businesses?
In short, a lot.
The IoT provides businesses with real-time insights into the health of their internal systems, the efficiency of their supply chain and logistics, and the performance of their machines and devices. This enables businesses to implement automations that standardize processes, decrease human error, and reduce labor costs. In other words, the IoT helps companies operate leaner and more efficiently. It also enables them to make informed decisions based on their performance and quickly pivot to cut their losses as needed.
How does the IoT benefit consumers?
If you have an Apple Watch or Alexa, you’re already benefiting from the IoT. Smart devices enable consumers to perform daily tasks from scheduling to ordering recurring grocery staples. These smart objects work together to free up your time and energy for other pursuits.
What industries can benefit from the IoT?
We’ve touched on this in passing, but industries also stand a lot to gain from the IoT. For instance, it helps automate and standardize processes, build in check-and-response mechanisms, and smooth out kinks in logistics and supply chains.Industries that would greatly benefit from the IoT include:
Transportation and logistics
Pros and cons of the IoT
The IoT helps people live and work smarter, and it’s already integrated into our lives in many positive ways. However, that doesn’t mean it’s without its downsides.Some advantages of the IoT are that it allows for:
Improved and immediate access to data from multiple devices.
Better communication between connected devices.
Saving time and money by sharing data over a connected network.
Automating tasks to meet business, consumer, and industry needs
The disadvantages of the IoT include:
Potential IoT security weaknesses. For instance, data-sharing between connected devices is a potential vulnerability that a hacker could exploit to steal confidential information.
A high volume of data. Too much data isn’t necessarily a good thing. On the contrary, it can be counterproductive if there’s no infrastructure in place to process and interpret all the data that IoT devices collect for businesses.
Lack of compatibility. It can be difficult for devices from different manufacturers to communicate with each other because there’s no single IoT compatibility standard (yet!).
Standards and frameworks for the IoT
In this section, we’ll go over some commonly used IoT standards and frameworks. IoT standards aren’t one-size-fits-all, and not every standard may be right for every use case or device.Some common IoT standards include:
IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) used over Low-Power Wireless Personal Area Networks(6LoWPAN) is an open standard. It’s defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force(IETF) and enables low-power radios to talk to the internet. For home use, this means Bluetooth Low Energy(BLE) and Z-wave.
ZigBee is mostly used in industrial settings because it’s a low-power, low-data wireless network. ZigBee’s Dotdot is a universal language that enables IoT objects to securely work on any network and to understand each other.
LiteOS is intended for wireless sensor networks and supports smartphones, wearables, smart homes, and smart vehicles. LiteOS is also a platform where you can develop for smart devices.
OneM2M is a machine-to-machine service layer created to develop standards so IoT applications could communicate across different networks. OneM2M can be embedded in software and hardware to connect devices.
Data Distribution Service (DDS)enables real-time, scalable machine-to-machine communication.
Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) supports huge networks, like smart cities.
Some common frameworks that the IoT is built on include:
Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT by Amazon is a cloud-computing platform that enables smart objects to interact with other connected devices and the AWS cloud.
Arm Mbed IoT enables users to develop apps for the IoT that use arm microcontrollers.
Microsoft's Azure IoT Suite allows users to interact with and receive data from different devices. It also performs multidimensional analysis, data transformation and aggregation, and data visualization.
Google's Brillo/Weave enables users to implement IoT applications. Brillo is an Android-based OS for developing embedded low-power devices. Weave is an IoT-oriented communication protocol that is the language linking a device to the cloud.
Calvin by Ericsson is an open-source IoT platform that allows users to build and manage applications that enable smart devices to communicate with each other.
Data may be the new gold, which means data security and privacy are all the more important. With the rise of the IoT, consumers and legislators have grown increasingly concerned about IoT security, safety, and privacy standards. In theory, everything on the internet can be hacked. The IoT exposes objects in your home environment, cities, and manufacturing plants to cybersecurity threats.
Beyond hacking, the IoT raises concerns about surveillance. Consider a wearable that constantly sends data back to a business. That business could then surveil both the consumer’s whereabouts and their habits. Conversely, a consumer can use a small Bluetooth tracking device to do the same to another person.
Thankfully, the onus is on IoT manufacturers to stay compliant with data privacy laws like the GDPR and to tighten security on their own devices and networks.
The future of the IoT
The Internet of Things is here to stay, and in the future, IoT trends indicate that smart objects will only become more commonplace in our homes and workplaces. As the cost of entry lowers, IoT devices and sensors will become more integrated into our daily habits. Smart cities are on the rise, and industries will shift to leverage the information and analytics from the IoT.
We may not be full cyborgs, but like it or not, thanks to the IoT, we’re more machine than we probably realize.