In a nutshell!
Lately, much discussion and hype is taking place all over the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and entrepreneurial world about the, so called, Internet of Things! Still, apart from technical or ICT-educated business people, it appears that not many people understand the IoT and its innovation potential. We aspire that our series of short posts will accomplish exactly this, in simple words, avoiding technical jargon and using concrete ideas!
This post’s goal!
In this introductory post of a series of posts that will follow, we discuss how the technological advancements transformed the Internet into the IoT by enabling any imaginable “thing” to become equipped with computational and communications capabilities and become part of the Internet. The “things” in the IoT range from the tiny sensor node embedded in a shoe that measures vital parameters of an athlete’s performance to the most powerful parallel computer that “crunches” terabytes of environmental data and produces weather forecasts. The post mentions how this new machine ecosystem paves the way to create unprecedented value for humans and businesses.
The basics! Let’s define the IoT!
Well, basics first! What is the IoT? The IoT can be considered as the currently ongoing evolution of the Internet. The “good old” Internet is traditionally viewed as the collection of machines and devices, which are familiar to most of us from our everyday hands-on digital experiences: companies’ servers offering eCommerce services, our desktops and laptops, and our mobile phones/smart watches and tablets. The Internet’s evolution to the IoT was largely due to the technological advancements of the last 10-15 years, which we are going to, briefly, examine below.
As chip manufacturing technology and microelectronics progressed mainly due to better integrated circuit design and manufacturing technologies, it was made possible to build miniaturized processing devices that extent the capabilities of the traditional Central Processing Units found in classical Internet entities reducing, at the same size, their size and power consumption requirements. We now have for instance, smart phones based on multicore (four or even eight cores) processors with memory capacities close to desktop computers, powerful sensor capabilities and a multitude of wireless communications protocols if it has GPS transceivers as well as a variety of communications capabilities. Such capabilities rely on technologies such as Bluetooth, wireless communications protocols such as IEEE’s 802.11 series, ZigBee and other short-range lightweight protocols, RFID and NFC, Ethernet etc.).
Generally, an IoT device is any type of device that has processing, sensing, and communication capabilities. The keywords in the IoT are Sensing, Computing, and Communication. As simple as that! In turn, the IoT, itself, is comprised by billions of such devices connected to the Internet and forming dynamically changing ad-hoc connections among them in any conceivable communication pattern. The range includes devices of any imaginable size, functionality and applicability as soon as the follow the generic structure show above.
How IoT devices look like?
Thus, IoT devices range from the pacemaker in a patient with cardiac problems that sends out, continuously, vital signals related to the heat, the tiny device embedded in an athletic shoe sole that sends out athlete’s performance related measurements to the high-flying UAV (e.g. drones) and weather forecast multicomputers and the satellites orbiting the earth and the autonomous little robot sending us pictures from Mars! Everything that resembles the generic IoT device model shown above is a “thing” in the IoT ecosystem. Then the IoT is a huge ad-hoc network of, still largely unexplored, power and application range of such devices! Actually, the IoT is the largest and perhaps most complex, in many ways, human-made construction that, also, transcends our earth! Of course, the IoT is also comprised of us, humans, and the human (complemented, also, by Artificial) Intelligence which, of course, plays an important role in mobilising the IoT and harnessing its amazing potential. The IoT is not a machines’ world (at least for the time being …)!
Furthermore, microchip developments have made possible the design and construction of open IoT applications development embedded systems such as the Arduino and Raspberry Pi 3 as well as IBM’s Watson IoT platform for building applications based on IoT devices (more on these IoT application vehicles and their application development potential at our next posts!).
Understanding the environment!
With respect to sensing capabilities, today it is possible to construct a great variety of accurate, small-sized, mechanical/electronic sensors, some types of which appear below (their names explain their functionality and hint at potential application sectors):
- Radiation sensors
- Gas (especially carbon dioxide) sensors
- Temperature sensors
- Mechanical strain/force sensors
- Location (GPS coordinates) sensors and compasses
- Proximity sensors (e.g. RFID and NFC protocols)
- Microphone and camera
- Magnetic field sensors
- Humidity and Barometric Pressure sensors
- pH sensors for the analysis of chemical elements
- Gyroscope and Acceleration sensors
And much more!
Today we are close to sensing scents with some revolutionary types of sensors! The smart mobile devices familiar to us (e.g. smartphones or tablets) are usually equipped with a small subset of the sensors mentioned above. However, all of these sensors can be found in some IoT devices (e.g. embedded systems), not necessarily the mobile devices normally carried by everyday users. Devices can now sense and understand what is going on around them and “act” accordingly!
Nice concepts! But what about applications?
Beyond the amazing technology, the IoT presents an opportunity for innovative applications since it actually lets people’s mobile devices and IoT devices, in general, form, distributed, self-organizing, ad-hoc (that is, unstructured) transaction and interaction networks. These networks possess unlimited sensor, computational, and data communication capabilities much like a massively parallel, distributed computer, “diffused” over the Internet, throughout the world. This virtual parallel computer (essentially the IoT itself), is capable of collecting and, at the same time, processing fast large amounts of data inferring, in real time, useful information based on unsupervised as well as man-held devices. This IoT-based application model (called “crowd-sensing” or “collective intelligence” model) creates numerous opportunities for building new, distributed, computationally demanding services, based on the joint power of numerous portable but powerful devices. And this is where marketing and eBusiness come in!
However, as all man’s inventions, the IoT has its not-so-good aspects and these come by the names of privacy breach, personal data leakage and exploitation, the Dark Web (yes, it also embraces the IoT as the IoT includes the traditional Internet), hardness of establishing trust and more which are yet to be explored. These issues will also be examined as points of special care when we will try to unfold the IoT’s application potential in our next posts.
Well, that’s all for now! We hope that we managed to convey to you the unimaginable size, unprecedented potential, beauty (why not?) as well as hint at the dark side of the IoT. In our next posts we will dig deeper into these issues and invite you to also participate by sharing with me your views and opinions!