The phrase “Internet of Things” or its acronym IoT are now common terms used by many, sometimes to explain how a device or a network works, or sometimes used for some speakers to cheat spectators to look scientific, but does really people understand its meaning or its implications?
At first, is good to know the beginning of the concept and how it was conceived to explain interactions between machines to improve products and to avoid the role of human beings in the process of generation and gathering of huge amounts of data.
It’s said that Kevin Ashton was the first person who used the term “Internet of Things” in a presentation to Procter & Gamble in 1999, trying to explain the technology of RFID to its clients and how things would start generating information to the business. Although, earlier in the 1980s, programmers at Carnegie Melon Unversity set a Coke machine connected to the web just to know if cans were cold enough to drink, facts that show us that the idea of things sending information is not new.
In the next image, it’s seen the evolution of this technology:
The internet of things is also an extension of SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition), an application that includes hardware and software components for process control. The hardware gathers and feeds data into a computer that has SCADA software installed, where it is then processed and presented it in a timely manner to control equipment and conditions.
What Is The Internet Of Things?
Internet of Things can be explained as a network of devices with built-in sensors and electronics, that emit and consume data over the internet so they can be controlled and monitored remotely to improve services and/or generate insights to business that allows them to develop new products.
The concept also includes people if we add to the network our wearables (smartphones, smartwatches, fitness trackers and bands) that generate information from our activity. The IoT is a giant network of connected things and people — all of which collect and share data about the way they are used and about the environment around them.
The analyst firm Gartner says that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices and some even estimate this number to be much higher, over 100 billion, creating relationships between people-people, people-things, and things-things.
These extraordinary number of objects, from smart microwaves, which automatically cook your food for the right length of time, to self-driving cars, whose complex sensors detect objects in their path, to wearable fitness devices that measure your heart rate or even connected footballs that can track how far and fast they are thrown and record those statistics via an app for future training purposes, are creating a new environment that increase opportunities to new business and a new lifestyle.
How the Internet of Things works
A complete IoT system integrates four distinct components: sensors/devices, connectivity, data processing, and a user interface, everything supported by software engineering:
First, sensors or devices collect data from their environment. This could be as simple as a temperature reading or as complex as a full video feed.
Multiple sensors can be bundled together or sensors can be part of a device that does more than just sense things. However, whether it’s a standalone sensor or a full device, in this first step data is being collected from the environment by something.
Next, that data is sent to the cloud through a variety of methods including cellular, satellite, WiFi, Bluetooth, low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN), or connecting directly to the internet via ethernet. IoT gateways or other edge devices where data is either sent to the cloud to be analyzed or analyzed locally. Sometimes, these gateways communicate with other related devices and act on the information they get from one another.
This could be very simple, such as checking that the temperature reading is within an acceptable range. Or it could also be very complex, such as using computer vision on the video to identify objects (such as intruders in your house). In the cloud, IoT platforms can pinpoint exactly what information is useful and what can safely be ignored. This information can be used to detect patterns, make recommendations, and detect possible problems before they occur.
The devices do most of the work without human intervention, although people can interact with the devices — for instance, to set them up, give them instructions or access the data.
The information is made useful to the end-user in some way. This could be via an alert to the user (email, text, notification, etc). Users might have an interface that allows them to proactively check in on the system.
However, it’s not always a one-way street. Depending on the IoT application, the user may also be able to perform an action and affect the system. And some actions are performed automatically because the system could do it automatically via predefined rules.
Most frequently used technologies for IoT can be divided into three categories based on the three main development branches in the IoT world.
Device programming: C and C++ languages are the main players in this area, especially when it comes to devices with low RAM and low CPU capabilities because with those languages is possible to write lightweight code with high performance.
Gateway development: gateway devices are devices that serve as a connection between the sensors of a microcontroller and a service in the cloud. These are minicomputers with relatively good computation power and storage. They have a Wi-Fi/cellular connection, they can have a database and many more utilities.
The most common technologies are Java because of its portability and rich ecosystem, Python because of its simplicity, easy maintenance, rich ecosystem, and C++ because of its performance.
Cloud services: A cloud is a remote machine that hosts a web service. On the cloud side, there can be a lot of things going on and depending on what needs to be done, appropriate technology is being chosen.
How could the Internet of things Impact You?
Smart, connected products reflect a whole new set of technological possibilities that have emerged because of the changing nature of the things, that have expanded their capabilities to change the environment.
If everything is connected, emerge new scenarios, for instance:
In a connected car, the sensor that triggered the check engine light would communicate with others in the car. A component collects data from sensors and passes it to a gateway in the car, which sends the information to the manufacturer’s platform. The manufacturer can use data to offer you an appointment to get the part fixed, send you directions to the nearest dealer, and make sure the correct replacement part is ordered so it’s ready for you when you show up.
Boilers at home often happen to have little to no hot water. Imagine you’re somewhere out and you want to shower when you return home. With the help of your mobile phone, you can check whether there is enough hot water or not and perform a remote action based on that. Some of the remote actions can be: turn the boiler on; turn the boiler off; schedule 1 hour of water boiling after 2 hours from now; etc.
Smart Door Locks
It’s very convenient to have your doors at home unlock automatically when they sense you’re around. This removes the need to search for keys which is very useful when you have a ton of groceries in both hands. The door can sense you by your phone through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or even NFC.
Elevators can be easily monitored and maintained with the help of IoT devices and AI. This solution consists of continuous elevator sensor data delivery to the cloud and data analysis there. It ensures excellent elevator health status and removes the need for regular maintenance which can cost money.
Using sensors that detect how many occupants are in a room. The temperature can adjust automatically — for example, turning the air conditioner on if sensors detect a conference room is full or turning the heat down if everyone in the office has gone home.
Free parking spaces in a building can be tracked and shown to visitors to save them time from roaming around searching for a free slot. This is a perfect scenario for a shopping mall.
Imagine a city in which the traffic lights can regulate themselves based on which roads are more congested. It would be wonderful if the traffic lights can sense which roads need to be on a red light and which don’t and regulate lights according to that. This can be accomplished with the help of cameras, computer vision and machine learning.
Benefits of IoT
The internet of things offers a number of benefits to organizations, enabling them to:
monitor their overall business processes;
improve the customer experience;
save time and money;
enhance employee productivity;
integrate and adapt business models;
make better business decisions; and
generate more revenue.
In the consumer segment, for example, smart homes that are equipped with smart thermostats, smart appliances, and connected heating, lighting and electronic devices can be controlled remotely via computers, smartphones or other mobile devices.
Wearable devices are also used for public safety — for example, improving first responders’ response times during emergencies by providing optimized routes to a location or by tracking construction workers’ or firefighters’ vital signs at life-threatening sites.
In healthcare, IoT offers many benefits, including the ability to monitor patients more closely to use the data that’s generated and analyze it. Hospitals often use IoT systems to complete tasks such as inventory management, for both pharmaceuticals and medical instruments.
IoT security and privacy issues
The internet of things connects billions of devices to the internet and involves the use of billions of data points, all of which need to be secured. Due to its expanded attack surface, IoT security and IoT privacy are cited as major concerns.
One of the most notorious recent IoT attacks was Mirai, one of the biggest distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks ever seen. Attackers gained access to the network by exploiting poorly secured IoT devices.
Because IoT devices are closely connected, all a hacker has to do is exploit one vulnerability to manipulate all the data, rendering it unusable. Additionally, connected devices often ask users to input their personal information, including names, ages, addresses, phone numbers, and even social media accounts — information that’s invaluable to hackers.
On the other hand, privacy is another major concern for IoT users. For instance, companies that make and distribute consumer IoT devices could use those devices to obtain and sell users’ personal data.
Many consumer IoT products come with a camera and vulnerabilities can leave that camera open to abuse, for example, researchers at PenTestPartners located a serious flaw in a Swann IoT video camera that allowed a hacker to view video footage from another user’s camera. The hack was really simple: by adding a serial number of the camera into an app, you could view live coverage of that camera.
Beyond leaking personal data, IoT poses a risk to critical infrastructure, including electricity, transportation, and financial services.
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