What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects that are equipped with sensors, software and other technologies. Connected to the Internet, these “things” are able to exchange data in real time with other devices and systems connected through networks. These connected devices combine with automated systems to collect IoT data that can be analyzed to help with tasks or learn how to improve a process.
A growing number of objects are joining the Internet of Things to deliver information, improve the efficiency of industrial applications, save time and emissions, and improve the way services are delivered to the public. IoT technology can be found in a growing number of places, including industry, enabling the concept of a smart home to become a reality and even helping the infrastructure of an entire smart city.
Internet of Things (IoT) System
The “things” that make up the IoT can be anything from a wearable fitness trackers to an autonomous vehicle. No matter what function they serve for users, these devices must have the following components for them to properly operate as parts of their respective IoT systems.
Data is first collected from the environment for the IoT system to begin processing. It is collected by sensors in devices that can measure observable occurrences or changes in the environment. The kind of data being measured by the device depends on its function: It can be a person’s pulse in the case of a fitness tracker or the distance of the nearest object in that of an autonomous vehicle.
Connection and Identification
The data must be communicated from the device to the rest of the IoT system, be it to a computer or to another device. And for this communication to have any meaning, a device must have a unique identifiable presence on the internet, accomplished through its own IP address.
Most IoT devices are capable of doing their primary functions without physical interaction with their users. IoT devices should be able to take action based on data from their sensors and the subsequent feedback from the network. A smart lightbulb, for example, can turn on upon the command of its user, even when the user is miles away. In the same manner, a valve in a smart factory can automatically open or close according to data gathered by its sensors along the production line.
Even though the devices are usually built with automation in mind, other technologies must be in place for IoT systems to work. Completing the links of how IoT systems process data are the following components.
The IoT gateway acts as a bridge for the different devices’ data to reach the cloud. It also helps in translating the different protocols of the various IoT devices into just one standard protocol and in filtering out unnecessary data gathered by the devices.
The cloud is where all the data from the different devices is gathered and where software can reach this data for processing. Because most of data processing happens in the cloud, it lessens the burden on individual devices.
The user interface communicates to the users the data gathered by the devices and allows the users to make the necessary commands to be executed by the devices.
The Internet Architecture Board released a guiding document that outlines the four communication channels used by the IoT. The four models also demonstrate how the connectivity of IoT devices helps extend the value of each device and adds quality to the overall user experience:
This model represents how two or more devices connect and communicate directly with one another. Communication between devices is usually achieved through protocols such as Bluetooth. This model is often found in in wearables and in home automation devices, where small packets of data are communicated from one device to another, as with a door lock to a lightbulb.
Many IoT devices connect to the cloud, often with the use of wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Connecting to the cloud allows users and related applications to access the devices, making it possible to course through commands remotely as well as push necessary updates to the device software. Through this connection, the devices can also collect user data for the improvement of their service providers.
Before connecting to the cloud, IoT devices can communicate first with an intermediary gateway device. The gateway can translate protocols and add an additional layer of security for the entire IoT system. In the case of a smart home, for example, all smart devices can be connected to a hub (the gateway) that helps the different devices to work together despite having different connection protocols.
An extension of the device-to-cloud model, this model allows users to gain access to and analyze a collection of data from different smart devices. A company, for instance, can use this model to access information from all of the devices working inside the company building as organized together in the cloud. This model also helps lessen issues with data portability.
What is it used for?
IoT technology is used for a wide range of applications, from domestic uses such as home security, thermostats and lighting fixtures, to industrial uses for manufacture, defence applications, and more. These various applications can broadly be split into commercial, consumer, industrial and infrastructure uses.
Here are some common applications for IoT technology:
There is a wide range of consumer uses for IoT, including connected vehicles, connected health, home automation (such as lighting and speaker systems), wearable technologies, and appliances the include remote monitoring capabilities, such as remote video-enabled doorbells. Many of these are also part of the smart home.
Smart Home Applications
Lighting, heating and air conditioning as well as media and security systems are all part of an IoT-enabled home. These can provide energy savings by turning of devices that are not needed. Many smart homes are based around a central platform or hub that connects with smart devices and appliances. These are usually controlled from a smartphone, tablet or other device, sometimes without the need for a Wi-Fi bridge. These systems can be linked to standalone platforms such as Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod, or use an open source ecosystem like Home Assistant or OpenHAB.
Internet-enabled devices can also deliver invaluable assistance for the elderly or those with disabilities, providing a better quality of life. For example, voice controlled devices can assist users with sight or mobility limitations and alert systems can be connected directly to cochlear implants for hearing impaired users. Sensors can also monitor for medical emergencies such as falls.
Medical and Healthcare Applications
The IoT can be used for a number of different medical and healthcare purposes including data collection and analysis for research and patient monitoring. When used in such settings, the IoT is referred to as ‘The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).’
The IoMT, also known as ‘smart healthcare,’ connects resources and services to provide a digitised healthcare system able to monitor health and emergency notification systems including blood pressure and heart rate monitors, pacemakers, and advanced hearing aids. Taking this further, some hospitals have installed ‘smart beds’ that can detect if they are occupied and if a patient is trying to get up. These beds can also be adjusted to ensure the correct pressure and support is automatically provided to the patient.
On a smaller scale, advances in electronic fabrication means that low-cost, disposable and portable IoMT sensors can be placed on paper or fabric to provide point of care medical diagnostics.
IoMT can also be used to manage, control or prevent chronic diseases via remote monitoring. Using wireless solutions, this allows health practitioners to capture patient data and apply algorithms for health data analysis. Other healthcare applications include consumer devices designed to encourage a healthier lifestyle, such as connected scales or fitness monitors.
Outside of healthcare settings, IoMT is also now being used in the health insurance industry, including sensor-based solutions such as wearables, connected health devices, and mobile apps to track customer behaviour and provide more accurate underwriting and pricing models.
The Internet of Things has numerous applications for transport, for example with inter-vehicular and intra-vehicular communication, smart traffic control, smart parking, toll collection, logistics, fleet management, vehicle control, safety and road assistance. Bringing together vehicles with the transport infrastructure, IoT can also deliver vehicle-to-everything communication (V2X), vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure communication (V2I) and vehicle-to-pedestrian communication (V2P). These IoT communication systems are paving the way for autonomous driving and connected road infrastructures.
IoT devices can monitor and control aspects of various types of building, including mechanical, electrical and electronic systems. The integration of the Internet with buildings create smart buildings that can help reduce energy consumption and monitor occupant behaviour.
Industrial Iot (IIoT) devices allow for data from equipment, technologies and locations to be collected and analysed. The IIoT also allows for automated updates for assets to maintain efficiencies and prevent lost time and money for repairs and other situations.
The IoT can connect manufacturing devices to allow for network control and management to deliver smart manufacturing processes. These systems allow for the optimisation of products, processes and supply chains as well as responses to product demands. The IoT can help deliver enhanced safety and reliability via predictive maintenance, statistical evaluation, and measurements to maximise reliability.
Agricultural IoT applications include data collection for weather conditions, soil content or pest infestation. The data can help automate farming techniques, inform decisions, improve safety, reduce waste and increase efficiency. Using artificial intelligence and specific computer programmes can improve everything from soil maintenance to fish farming.
IoT can be used to monitor and control sustainable urban and rural infrastructure, including bridges, railway tracks or wind farms. Maintaining assets and minimizing risk, data collection can allow for structural conditions to be monitored to introduce safety and productivity improvements, cost savings, time reduction and more. Real-time analytics can help schedule repair and maintenance.
Entire cities can be managed with the help of the IoT, to create a smart city that offers a range of benefits for residents. These benefits include everything from parking space location, environmental monitoring, traffic management, reduced pollution, security systems, lighting, digital signage, pubic Wi-Fi, paperless ticketing, waterway management, smart bus stops, smart kiosks, and more.
Energy Management Applications
Internet connectivity can provide energy consumption management for lamps, household appliances, industrial assets and more. Energy consuming devices can be managed remotely to save energy when they are not required. As a side application, the smart grid can collect data on energy use to improve efficiencies and electricity distribution.
Environmental Monitoring Applications
Monitoring air or water quality is another way in which IoT-enabled sensors can change our world. The IoT allows for data to be collected on wildlife movements, soil condition and more. The IoT can also monitor for natural disasters like tsunamis or earthquakes, helping streamline emergency response and damage limitation. This also includes the ‘Ocean of Things’ project that collects, monitors and analyses environmental and vessel activity in the seas.
The application of IoT technologies for military purposes has created the Internet of Military Things (IoMT). Applications in this area include reconnaissance, surveillance, and more to deliver battlefield data. This can include the use of sensors, munitions, vehicles, robots and wearable technologies to create a joined-up and data efficient military.
How does Internet of Things (IoT) Work?
The Internet of Things has become possible due to the development and convergence of a variety of technologies, real-time analytics, sensors, embedded systems, wireless systems, automation, control systems and machine learning.
IoT works through devices and objects with embedded sensors that connect to the Internet and share data on a platform that applies analytics and shares information with applications designed to address specific needs.
IoT platforms are designed to determine which data is in use and which can be discarded to detect patterns, make recommendations and find problems, often before they happen. All this allows processes to become more efficient, as well as allowing certain tasks to be automated, especially those that are repetitive, time-consuming or risky.
For example: if you’re driving and see a check engine light come on, your connected car can check the sensor and communicate with others in the vehicle before sending data to the manufacturer. The manufacturer can then offer an appointment to fix the fault at your nearest dealer and ensure that the required replacement parts are in stock ready to arrive.
Why is it Important Internet of Things (IoT)?
The Internet of Things is already helping to automate and simplify many daily tasks for business, industry, and in the domestic arena. Lowering costs, increasing productivity and safety, enhancing customer experience, and generating new revenue streams, the IoT can help us make better decisions.
With regard to business, the IoT provide several important benefits including the ability to access and analyze data, removing the need to external data analysts or market researchers. The IoT is able to cope with big data analytics in real time, demonstrating how products and services are performing in the real world, and creating a situation where improvements can be made rapidly. This data also opens up a better understanding of customer behaviors so that businesses can meet their needs while also reducing operating costs by managing energy usage and resources. Finally, the Internet of Things can enable remote working by collating and sharing data with employees regardless of where they are based.
Who Owns the Data?
Data is central to the Internet of Things, but who owns the data? The answer is that nobody owns the data, although the actual collection of the data can be owned by an individual or company. Understanding who is able to exploit such data is important, although there may actually be several bodies involved in data collection, including app developers, database designers or hardware manufacturers.
Database rights determine who is able to use the data and manage the storage ad processing of data. Database rights depend on three criteria being met:
A database must be defined and collected in an organised manner to allow for retrieval. However, in the case of much of the real time data associated with IoT there is unlikely to be a collection of data on a database.
In order to claim database rights, there needs to be investment in the gathering, verification and presentation of the datasets. As connected devices pull together big data the collection and arranging of the data is an important part of determining rights.
Economic and Business Connections
In Europe, for example, database owners need to have an economic and business connection to an EEA state in order to gain the relevant database rights.
Should these criteria be met, the database owner is usually the one who takes the initiative and takes the associated risks to obtain, verify and present the data.
Exceptions to this would include where a subcontractor is used to collect data on behalf of another entity. Database rights can also be given in a contract, which can help prevent later disputes over ownership.
Internet of Things (IoT) Standards and Frameworks
There are several emerging IoT standards, including the following:
- IPv6 over Low-Power Wireless Personal Area Networks (6LoWPAN) is an open standard defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The 6LoWPAN standard enables any low-power radio to communicate to the internet, including 804.15.4, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Z-Wave (for home automation).
- ZigBee is a low-power, low-data rate wireless network used mainly in industrial settings. ZigBee is based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.15.4 standard. The ZigBee Alliance created Dotdot, the universal language for IoT that enables smart objects to work securely on any network and understand each other.
- LiteOS is a Unix-like operating system (OS) for wireless sensor networks. LiteOS supports smartphones, wearables, intelligent manufacturing applications, smart homes and the internet of vehicles (IoV). The OS also serves as a smart device development platform.
- OneM2M is a machine-to-machine service layer that can be embedded in software and hardware to connect devices. The global standardization body, OneM2M, was created to develop reusable standards to enable IoT applications across different verticals to communicate.
- Data Distribution Service (DDS) was developed by the Object Management Group (OMG) and is an IoT standard for real-time, scalable and high-performance M2M communication.
- Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) is an open source published standard for asynchronous messaging by wire. AMQP enables encrypted and interoperable messaging between organizations and applications. The protocol is used in client-server messaging and in IoT device management.
- Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP) is a protocol designed by the IETF that specifies how low-power, compute-constrained devices can operate in the internet of things.
- Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) is a protocol for WANs designed to support huge networks, such as smart cities, with millions of low-power devices.
Internet of Things (IoT) Security & Privacy
As devices become more connected thanks to IoT, security and privacy have become top concerns among consumers and businesses, but that’s not slowing IoT adoption.
However, as more connected devices appear around the globe, cyber attacks are also a growing threat. Hackers can break into connected cars, critical infrastructure and even people’s homes. As a result, some tech companies are focusing on cyber security to ensure the privacy and security of all this data.
What are the pros and cons of Internet of Things (IoT)?
Some of the advantages of IoT include the following:
- 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.
Some disadvantages of IoT include the following:
- 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.
Examples of Internet of Things (IoT) Devices
IoT devices come in a wide range of types for applications spanning domestic use, industrial processes, manufacturing and more. With billions of different devices connected to the Internet of Things around the world, there are too many to lit here. However, some common examples include:
- Autonomous farming equipment
- Connected appliances
- Cybersecurity scanners
- Health monitoring
- Home security systems
- Logistics tracking
- Smart factory equipment
- Ultra high speed wireless internet
- Wireless inventory tracking
The Internet of Things offers a wealth of benefits for applications ranging from day-to-day domestic uses to industrial monitoring, manufacturing and even those for entire smart cities. Improving safety, efficiency and time management are just some of these benefits, although there are still concerns around device security for the IoT. Despite this, the IoT looks set to become an increasing part of our everyday lives as connectivity grows.