What exactly is IoT, and what does it mean to us? How will it impact our lives?
The Internet of Things (IoT) has quickly become a buzz amongst the technology giants and the business communities worldwide. It is an emerging technology that has technical, social, and economic significance. Most importantly, it is set to be the biggest thing to happen to technology since the .com boom.
But is IoT a fantasy or a reality? Will IoT be successful in the years to come, or is it just hype? Relax! Your questions will be answered as you read through this article. I’ll present an overview of IoT and discuss how and why it is all set to impact our lives.
How Does It Matter to You?
Have you ever considered how IoT is going to change your world? Imagine this: Suppose you’re running late to work. You’re on the way to the office, and your car accesses your schedule and guides you through the fastest route available so that you don't have to miss your meeting.
Another example of a common IoT device is one that you can use to track your pet dog. Trust me, I'm not kidding. A monitoring device that you can put on your dog's neck provides you data related to your dog's location, health, and even behavioral changes.
You can have a connected car, a connected home, and so many other things! Wow! That's amazing, isn't it? Yes, that's exactly what we’re heading toward. IoT is a reality!
The IoT is real, it’s all set to have a profound impact on the future, and it has been scaling exponentially. It’s a growing technology that promises to impact the way we live and work. Let’s take a quick look at some statistics. Gartner (one of the world's leading information technology research and advisory companies) published a report predicting that there would be more than 6 billion connected devices in use this year (2016). This is an increase of 30 percent over the number of connected devices in use last year.
As interesting as that may sound, another Gartner report predicts that by 2020 as many as 26 billion units will be connected.
What Is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
First off, let’s not be daunted by the terminology; it’s as simple as its literal meaning. The Internet of Things consists of a collection of interrelated computing, mechanical, and digital devices and objects as well as the network connectivity that enables such devices to stay connected and exchange data between themselves (sans the need for human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction).
“Things” refers to Internet-enabled devices or objects that can be connected using sensors. In essence, IoT is a network of Internet-enabled devices and a collection of services that can communicate with such objects. These connected, Internet-enabled devices and objects work autonomously (meaning without human intervention) and have the ability to relay information back to each other or to cloud-based applications.
This means your car, home, and whatnot can all be connected! The advent of IoT allows very efficient automation and monitoring of home electronics, industry, traffic control, public safety, healthcare, environmental applications, and such.
The key elements of IoT include sensing, communication, data capture, data consolidation, and delivery of information. "Sensing" refers to the ability to gather data and information right at the point of activity. These sensors facilitate interconnection between the physical and digital worlds hence enabling real-time data to be collected and processed seamlessly. The captured data is stored in the cloud for consolidation and processing. Information that has been consolidated and processed is also provided to the consumer in a meaningful form when needed.
Looking Back in Time
Although IoT has become a buzzword around technical communities worldwide, the concept isn’t really new. In 1999, Kevin Ashton laid the foundation for what we see as IoT today at MIT's AutoID lab. He felt that if the objects that we see and use in our daily life could be provided with wireless connectivity, such objects could communicate with and be managed and controlled by computers. Ashton said: "We need to empower computers with their own means of gathering information, so they can see, hear and smell the world for themselves, in all its random glory. RFID and sensor technology enable computers to observe, identify and understand the world—without the limitations of human-entered data."
Fundamental Components of IoT
Let’s look at the building blocks in a typical IoT setup. The fundamental components that make up an IoT unit consist of the following:
- Hardware—Certain hardware devices are necessary to enable the "things" to retrieve data and be responsive.
- Software—This is used to facilitate data collection, storage, and processing.
- Communication Infrastructure—The most important component is to provide an infrastructure that consists of the protocols and technologies to facilitate communication between objects for the purpose of exchange of data and information.
Communication Models in IoT
The following four communication models demonstrate the underlying design strategies that are adopted to enable the IoT devices to connect and communicate:
- Backend data sharing
In the device-to-device communication model, two or more devices communicate directly with each other. The devices can communicate through many different networks, but the most commonly used protocols are Bluetooth, Z-Wave, and ZigBee.
The device-to-device communication model enables devices that abide by a particular communication protocol to connect and communicate amongst themselves for the purpose of sharing data and information. It should be noted that such a communication model is typically used in and well-suited for home automation systems where the volume of data transfer is minimal, i.e., transferring small data packets at a low data rate.
In this communication model, an IoT device connects directly to a cloud service over the Internet to exchange data and manage and control message traffic. This communication model can work on wired Ethernet connections or Wi-Fi connections. It can even be used on mobile technologies. Cloud connectivity helps to obtain remote access to the device and also push software updates to the device when need be.
The device-to-gateway communication model is also known as the device-to-application-layer-gateway model. In this model, an IoT device connects to an intermediary device to access a service residing in the cloud. In such a communication model, the gateway can help provide the needed security and data or protocol translation. Typically, this local gateway device is a smartphone that pairs with an IoT device and then relays the data back to the service residing in the cloud.
Backend Data Sharing
IoT devices use the backend data sharing communication model to export and analyze the sensor data and also to enable such data to be accessed by authorized third parties.
How Will IoT Impact Your Business?
IoT technology enables network connectivity and computing capability to be extended to objects, sensors, and everyday items, hence enabling devices to exchange and consume data with minimal human intervention. But how does IoT matter to your business?
IoT is all about connecting devices and acquiring data to create more transparency and visibility. IoT will help businesses around the globe improve operations and customer satisfaction by providing the ability to analyze data captured via a wide range of devices. IoT will change the way businesses work. It will have a great impact on communication, monitoring, control, and cost reduction.
The Challenges Ahead
Let us now understand the issues and challenges of a more connected world. Similar to the rise of any other technology that we have seen over the past few decades, the challenges that IoT is facing during its journey aren’t anything new.
Security is one of the most important concerns. With literally millions (trillions?) of devices that would eventually be connected for exchange of data and information, the biggest threat that IoT is being challenged with is how to secure data from potential hackers to ensure that privacy is not compromised.
Since IoT applications deal with huge amounts of data, to design and develop an IoT application, security is of utmost importance. The data must be protected with necessary encryption techniques. Furthermore, there are chances that an IoT device itself is hacked. It’s imperative to ensure that the data being retrieved from and sent to any IoT device is authenticated. An IoT application developer should always be ready for threats. Businesses must be prepared for the possibility of security breaches so that they can recover the maximum amount of data in case of an attack. Businesses should also have a well-defined exit plan in place should such an attack occur. The best approach is to prepare a security checklist and abide by it.
Another point to be aware of when working with IoT applications is testing to ensure that the IoT application works the way it is intended to. A stringent testing framework must be in place to test the components thoroughly. Data should be tested intensively to see how the devices perform.
Despite the hurdles in its path, IoT is well poised to emerge as the technology of choice in the years to come.
The Future of IoT
So what has changed from the time IoT was first thought to be a reality at the end of the last decade? What does the future have in store for IoT? Simply put, it’s becoming ubiquitous. The demand for the ability of IoT to aggregate and analyze disparate data is never ending. And the ability of IoT technology to use data captured from devices to make intelligent, informed decisions will make it increasingly popular over time.
Over the years, telecommunication has become much more efficient. We now have high-speed broadband Internet at much cheaper rates. And with sensors getting cheaper too, IoT is quickly becoming a reality. These technological advances pave the way for the continuity of the IoT boom in the years to come.
IoT is revolutionizing how we communicate and work and transform our lives. The advent of IoT has ushered in the next wave of intelligent, connected devices. This wave will transform the world more profoundly than we could ever imagine!
The world will continue to see the evolution of many more personal devices, and you will have the IoT to connect everything together. IoT will build a connected, intelligent world around you. Amazing, isn’t it? We are now seeing just the tip of the iceberg; the real future of IoT is yet to come.