Introduction to the Internet of Things (IoT)

Internet of Things

IoT is the fastest emerging field in today’s scenario! Everyone seems to be talking about this term IoT and almost everyone claims to have a solution ready for deployment. Most of the people think turning on/off the bulb with the smartphone app is IoT. Yes…it is but it is the most basic use case that today a fresh electronics engineering graduate can do it.

It is capable of doing something which is beyond imagination! You may choose to read further or quit depending on your knowledge of IoT. This article is focused on giving a high-level overview.

What is the Internet of things?

As Wikipedia says

The  Internet of things  (IoT ) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded  with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and  connectivity  which enables these objects to connect and exchange data.

Let me make it simple for you,

 “Internet of things is simply, connection of ANYTHING (that is capable of connecting to internet) to ANYTHING”

It can further be classified into

  • Consumer IoT – smart Home, wearables etc
  • Enterprise/Industrial IoT – smart cities, smart logistics, healthcare, energy etc
Why there is a need for IoT?

This may also answer the question – “Why people are talking about it?” There are numerous reasons that one can throw in regarding its need. I will try to list down a few for you

  1. Savings – One penny saved is one penny earned! This rule works any type of organisation but saving should not be at the cost of quality. Internet of things is a great step in this direction. It helps in streamlining business processes thereby reducing costs and may also help in more revenue generation. Many companies around the world have already benefited with this and saved millions of dollar.  Tesla IoT Case study – Click the link to read it
  2. Convenience – IoT makes life easy and convenient. You don’t need to worry about remembering and managing things around you. The classic example…You can lose your keys now! Unlock your home with your phone, light and AC turns on automatically when you enter. You can take care of your family without being physically present. Companies like Sensara have developed some superb solutions. Have a look! It’s amazing!! Your refrigerator can give notification about the need of grocery that is going to finish and it may end up ordering them online also without human intervention!
  3. Security – All right! We are not discussing IoT security issues. This is about how it helps in safety and security. Imagine, you are driving a car and your engine is getting heated up abnormally or fuel is leaking. Your car may notify the nearest service centre to help and advise you to park your car in a safer place
  4. Automation – Automation is needed to avoid doing repetitive tasks. It also helps in productivity and improved quality. IoT has been a gamechanger in this field. It has brought revolution in the Industry that what we call IIOT! (Industrial IoT). This has led to increased Uptime and also helps to get insights into product usage.

 

What makes an Internet-of-Things system?

IoT System 

There are four parts/layers in any IoT system

  1. Things (Sensor Layer)
  2. Connectivity (GW Layer)
  3. IoT Platform (Mgmt Layer)
  4. Application Layer

Let me explain these parts by giving a real-world example which is an extension of turning on/off bulb 🙂

Ram lives with his old mother in a smart home where he has sensors on his door, gas, ac, light, geyser and wearables. The sensors are connected to a Gateway device which is lying in the living room. Sensors and Gateway wirelessly communicate with each other using the Zigbee protocol. The Gateway is also connected to the IoT platform through Wi-Fi. It can communicate with user applications (smartphone/ web app etc) using Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity.

There can be multiple scenarios but for an explanation, we will consider only two. Rest, I will leave to your imagination!

Few Use cases

Scenario 1 – Ram gets up from the bed in the winter morning. The light turns on automatically. Bathroom Geyser is also turned on.

(wearable device and temp sensor detect motion along with temperature and send a message to Gateway which in turn sends a message to IoT Platform which instructs the application to send the command to turn on the lights and geyser)

Scenario 2 – Ram is out of the country for some work and his mother is alone at home. She is not well. Ram gets an alarm notification. He calls his mother. Meanwhile, the doctor also gets an alarm notification about her health condition and is on the way to Ram’s home)

(wearable device sensor detects delayed motion or no motion from the mother. It sends the message to Gateway which in turn sends the message to IoT Platform. IoT platform detects the change in user data which is different from the routine activity cycle. It then instructs the application to send the alarms to Ram and the doctor with alarm acknowledgement receipt in the user application )

IoT Platform – Now…What is this?

There is nothing to panic about this Jazzy term. It is simply a powerful system layer between your IoT hardware (sensors, actuators, Gateway etc) and IoT Application(Analytics Dashboard etc) using different communication protocols. Some people call it IoT Middleware!

For a layman, It is more like a language translator to facilitate communication between hardware and application. This platform allows seamless integration which helps it to be agnostic to underlying Hardware!

There is a big criteria list for selection of an IoT platform such as device management, scalability, supported comm protocols, data analytics, security etc . ( This is out of the scope of this article)

Though every other day, someone comes up with an IoT platform, Following are some of the companies who are quite serious about it and have developed IoT platforms to facilitate the companies interested in deploying solutions.

  1. AWS
  2. IBM Watson
  3. Microsoft Azure  Hub
  4. Google Cloud Platform
  5. Cisco  Platform etc

 

Is it Mature enough to be rolled out on the Mass scale?

The answer is both Yes and No. IoT has already entered our lives and we have started accepting it too. Surf the web and you see companies throwing reports on its advantage. The recent report I read was from Vodafone on IoT barometer. So it gives a sense that it is getting matured.

However, when I really look into deployments, I really worry on certain aspects like

  1. Interoperability – Currently, there are no standards for IoT. Organisations are coming up with new standards every day. Examples of IoT-relevant standards include the Linux-backed AllJoyn, Intel’s Open Interconnect Consortium, IEEE P2413, and the ITU-T SG20 standard for smart cities. This may lead to issues of making the Legacy systems to work with new IoT systems
  2. Security – IoT system is collecting a huge amount of data or Big Data which would also include personalised data for better consumer experience. This also gives a chance to hackers too. Hence both data and device security are major concerns

 

Snapshot of Segments and Trends

I hope this article will help you to understand IoT in a better way. IoT field is very vast and complex with new technologies making their way in human lives. So read more that’s what I am also doing!

In case, you are getting interested in IoT, do read about the deadly combination of AI and IoT!

Do, let me know in comments if you want me to write on any new topic. My old & new blogs are available here – My Little Blog!

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