What is the Internet of Things?
It’s a foregone conclusion that anyone in the modern world has heard of the Internet, and they probably use it day-in, day-out.
As popular as the Internet is, most people don’t know what led to its success. From the ARPANET to NSFNET, one of the major historical reasons these older networks developed into the modern Internet is that the packets of data (email, documents, video, etc.) can travel from its source to the destination through multiple paths. Older networks were prone to single-point failures. If a single connection failed, the network was unusable; data could not make its intended journey.
What the ARPANET, NSFNET, and then the Internet have going for them, is that a packet of data can take any available path to get from the source to the destination. This feature, along with lots of protocol standards, insures that data will travel from its source to its destination. Even if several points of failure occur along the way, the data will make its intended journey with certainty.
Knowing your data will complete its journey is one of the paramount reasons the Internet is successful today. It is this virtual guarantee that data will complete its intended journey error-free that is leading to the Internet of Things.
One thing Internet users have in common is that they are people.
Sure, they use a computer, or a cell phone, or some other such device; but it is a person that performs the task. A person sent an email, or a person watched a video; a person performed the action.
The Internet of Things allows things to use the Internet to send or receive data. A thing can monitor temperatures and update a database over the Internet with no human interaction. A thing can count cars on a road, send that data over the Internet to a traffic control center, and modify traffic signals based on traffic patterns without human interaction. A thing can monitor explosive gasses in a factory, send that data over the Internet to a factory automation center, and sound an alarm or activate a ventilation system.
It is this ability for things to automatically collect data and perform tasks over the Internet that is the Internet of Things.
The applications are broad and numerous. Here’s a brief list of some of the applications:
- Golf courses could selectively water only dry areas, saving water while promoting healthier grass.
- Smart parking could notify drivers where available parking was in a city.
- Water quality sensors can insure drinking water is safe to drink.
- Waste management sensors can sense if containers are full, or can be skipped, saving fuel.
- Shipping containers can monitor temperature, excess movement, tampering, or opening.
- Air pollution sensors can automatically tailor factory operations if air quality drops.
- Forrest fires can be automatically detected.
- Soil condition monitoring can automatically optimize crop growth and taste.
- Farm animals can be monitored, including water, food, and health.
- Sports monitoring for participants and the fields they play on.
- Water or fluid leaks can be detected, and valves closed to prevent loss or spills.
- Vehicle smart services can alert on pending failures, prevent collisions, and guide drivers around delays.
- Item location sensors can guide people to items in large warehouses or harbors.
- Structure health sensors can warn of building failures, bridge failures, or equipment breakage.
- Traffic congestion sensors can monitor and alter vehicle and pedestrian routes.
- Smartphone detectors can detect and stream content to smartphone users as they enter areas.
- Radiation sensors can alter reactor settings or warn of leaks.
- Access controls can automatically grant or deny access to protected areas.
- A coffee maker can pour you a cup not at a certain time, but when you actually get out of bed.
These and many, many more applications have led to predictions of 26 to 50 Billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices by 2020. Which of these areas will happen first? As with many things, just follow the money…
Industrial applications are a key area. Proper applications of IoT technologies can have a significant effect on the cost of goods sold for many industries. Factory automations beyond what is available today can lower consumer prices and enable new industries. Oil & Gas is of particular interest, where the market is $4.75 Billion per day. Downtime and theft prevention using IoT can dramatically affect the world economy.
While Oil & Gas devices deal with how the energy is produced, energy management deals with how energy is used. IoT devices that conserve energy can save individuals, factories, and cities significant amounts of money, and help the environment.
Tied to energy management for individuals, connected and smart home IoT technology plays a vital part. Thermostats, smart light bulbs, intelligent appliances, security, and air quality all play a part. Existing homes may be slower to adopt, but new construction should incorporate these technologies soon.
Wearables are a consumer area that has shown much promise. Smart watches, exercise sensors, smart glasses, virtual reality goggles and access controls are potentially huge markets and have the potential to change how we live our lives.
A wearable application that deserves its own category is healthcare. Wearable or implantable sensors can monitor aspects of our bodies and communicate those results to treatment devices or to doctors. Another healthcare application is portable medical equipment that can report its results to a cell phone. Especially in remote areas where access to medical care is difficult, these portable devices can mean the difference between life and death. It is these devices that were one of the key “needed” technologies presented at the National Academy of Engineering Conference in 2013.
Retail is another big area with big money involved. Loss prevention is an obvious application. Taking applications a step further, imagine a smart location sensor that could guide you to everything on your shopping list, or guide you to a product in your search history and to similar products with higher ratings.
Agriculture IoT technology is important to optimize food production and prevent contamination. Optimal watering, insuring the purity of that water, optimal fertilization, optimal sunlight, and pest prevention are all key factors.
Automotive IoT applications are numerous, and can save fuel and save lives. Optimal operation, failure prevention, smart routing, accident prevention, auto-drive, routing music searched for previously, and several other applications. Anything that reduces time spent in traffic should be popular!
In any of these IoT applications, security plays an important part. No one wants their toaster to be the security breach that led to their credit card data being stolen, or their car to be taken over and caused to crash. Handling the enormous amount of data generated is another issue with IoT implementations. However, knowing about these vulnerabilities is the key to solving them, and many companies have done just that.
The Internet of Things market is ready to explode, and will change our lives for the better, much as the Internet has.
“Each day is a journey of adventure, as we endeavor to understand the problem and whom we are fighting for.” –Krishan Meetoo
By John Cannizzo, PhD
Paul Ebeling, Editor