Understanding Internet of Things
Despite a lot of hype and marketing buzz about Internet of Things, it is not an entirely new concept. The term IoT goes as back as in the early 2000’s when Kevin Ashton was laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the Internet of Things (IoT) at MIT’s AutoID Lab. Kevin Ashton is widely regarded as the father of IoT and is one of the pioneers who conceived this notion. You could follow him on twitter here. At that time he was searching for the ways that Proctor & Gamble could improve its business by linking RFID information to the Internet. The concept was simple but very powerful. He thought that if all objects in daily life were equipped with identifiers and wireless connectivity, they could communicate with each other and eventually be managed by computers. In a 1999 article for the RFID Journal Ashton wrote:
If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us — we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. 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.
Originally published at RFID Journal “That ‘Internet of Things’ Thing.”
What is different about IoT?
From the pre-historic time, man has been curious about communicating messages over the long distance. There have been lots of attempts from smokes to pigeons to telephones to the internet. However, until the advent of Internet of Things, the connectivity was primarily limited from Humans to Humans. With the concept of IoT, machines started not only talking but understanding each other, resulting in a massive amount of data and intelligence being gathered for analysis. That is why it is often also called Machine to Machine or M2M.
The era of IoT will enable Machines to talk to each other in the language they understand the best, and allow them to make intelligent autonomous decisions without any human intervention.
Sounds scary like beginning of Machine’s era of human domination? Well, it is still quite far away when machines become so much intelligent that they could take over the human race.
How do we define IoT?
Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the ever-growing network of physical objects that feature an IP address for internet connectivity,
moreover, the communication that occurs between these objects and other Internet-enabled devices and systems.
Today we have many other devices apart from smartphones and computers which have the capability to connect and communicate through the internet like garage door opener, internet connected sprinklers, water quality sensors, ATMs, Electricity and utility meters, cars and other vehicles, Medical and Health monitoring device and much more. All the interconnection of these uniquely identifiable computing devices within the existing Internet infrastructure can be termed as Internet of Things or in short IoT.
Characteristics of an IoT System
What are the unique characteristics of an IoT system which differentiates them from a non-IoT system? The primary characteristics of IoT are –
The things should have a unique identification in so that each of them can be distinguished from various objects in the network.
Things should be able to detect the presence of other objects, following a rule of autonomy. If they can do so, then they can further
interact with each other and interoperate accordingly.
The things should be able to perform some independent actions such as data logging, analyzing. If a thing requires always a human
to operate, it is more of a machine rather than intelligent IoT device
As there are various communication protocol and technologies that IoT devices will work with hence things should be interoperable between
different communication technologies.
IoT devices must be able to cooperate with any other compatible device found in the vicinity so that total value generated by cooperating
devices must be more than the sum of their individual value.
Though not essential, IoT devices are powered by battery as they are deployed in remote locations or do not have continuous access to power sources. They must be able to enter into a low power operation mode and should try to conserve power as much as possible.
Devices must be able to get configuration from local or remote sources and should be able to provide a customize user experience.
Last but not least, devices must be able to provide a security layer to prevent them from unauthorized access. The communication between
devices and servers/peers must also be secured through the cryptographic procedure.
IoT system function
A system comprises of multiple subsystems which function collaboratively to achieve an end goal. IoT systems could be partitions from multiple approaches, such as technology stack, business verticals, etc. However, there are functional requirements which every IoT system must fulfill. These fundamental requirements could be classified as follows.
The very first function of every IoT system is to measure an interesting data. The data could be measured through either physical environment using sensors or could be read through an electronic system such as transaction amount of an ATM. Identifying what exactly to measure is the first step of building an IoT system.
The measured value needs to be collected, filtered and correlated with other measurements to find meaning. For example, a smart trashcan
could measure the fill level through an ultrasonic sensor but also need to corroborate the fill level with the pressure sensor at the bottom of the can.
Once the value is filtered, it is sent for analysis to either a remote or local system for further intelligence gathering.
The data measured by multiple sensors needs to be aggregated in a time series manner to perform an analysis. The real insights from data could be either temporal in nature (i.e. loses value over time) or historical (i.e. Overall trends since last months). The extraction of insights from data thus generates intelligence which could then be acted upon.
The final phase of the IoT project is Monetization, i.e. ability for the entire process to generate measurable revenues either in direct monitory benefits or subsidiary services. This is where total value produced by an IoT system should exceed the sum of the individual components.
Unlike any other system, IoT systems have several unique characteristics which make them special. One of the important differentiation is the absence of Human interaction in the decision-making process for optimization. Unless the system could achieve a near autonomous functioning optimizing the process outcome, the true value of IoT system will not be achieved.