The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been thrown around by tech people for a while, talked by many, understood by few,

What is IoT?

IoT is a term that is coined to describe a concept, not an actual technology mind you. It’s a the ability to let different “Things” talk to each other and exchange information using the “Internet” and make automated actions and decisions based on the information they exchange. The information is gathered by using different kind of sensors and gadgets. The “things” in here can be… well, anything, really.

The internet of Things IoT

Imagine a world where your car, home, washing machine, office, fridge, chairs, coffee maker, keys and everything in your life is connected somehow to the internet. All these things have built-in sensors that monitors different kind of things, such as location, temperature, time, humidity, noise, capacity and many other things. All of them are working all the time to collect and exchange information using the Internet.

The value that comes from this is for example, when you wake up, the coffee maker knows that, and it automatically turns itself on. At the same time, your computer wakes up and starts downloading emails from the internet, it notices that you have an appointment somewhere and it checks if your car is in a good condition to go to that appointment. Your car knows that your appointment is at a distance X away and it calculates if the gas is enough to make the trip. However, it knows that it might not make it using what it has and it tells your mobile to pull up a list of nearby gas stations along with the appointment notification that you received on your computer. Now you get dressed and you’re ready to go out, but you can’t find your keys, so you pull up your Smartphone and ask it to locate the keys using GPS. At the same time, the fridge senses that your milk has gone sour and it displays a message on the fridge door that you shouldn’t drink the milk. Also, the fridge automatically notifies your favorite shopping location to send fresh milk along with a list of things you need for your cooking party tonight.

Everything is connected, everything is talking to each other, the possibilities are endless.

How does it work?

Black magic? Nope, it’s all made of current technology, someone just figured out how to connect the dots together and viola, the IoT is reality. What made this all possible is actually a combination of current technologies that has been around for a while.

IoT Layers

  1. Data Collection (Sensors): it all starts with collecting data, sensors of all kinds and sizes are actively working around the clock to sense and measure things that we want to monitor and keep track of. The sensors are monitoring changes around us and are sending these changes to a central location (usually a data center in the cloud) for further processing.
  2. Data Filtering and Authorization (Gateways): if the working sensors are generating a large amount of data that is hard to send to the cloud all at once, then a “Gateway” (which can be called a small processing computer) can be installed to act as a bridge between the sensors and the data center. There are many uses for the gateways, to name a few:
    • Filtering all the generated data from the sensors and only sending what is important to the data center.
    • Translating the data generated by the sensors to machine language that computers can understand and work with.
    • Securing the data before sending it to the data center and insure that there is no unauthorized access to the sensors.
    • Taking actions on specific generated data, or control the functionality of the sensors by giving them specific commands.
  3. Data Presentation (Application): this is where end users get to look at the full picture of the IoT. The application ties all the layers together by providing the interface that helps us look at and understand the data collected by the sensors, and see what kind of actions were performed after the collection and analysis has been completed. The application allows us to interact with the things that we’re monitoring remotely as well.
  4. Data Processing and Analyzing (Cloud): the centerpiece of the IoT is the cloud, where all the data that is generated by the sensors and filtered by the gateway are sent to their final destination to a data center in the cloud. The data center saves the data and sorts and compiles it into human readable format. The data center also acts as a central control unit for all the gateways and sensors, it monitors their status, updates their software and reports any problems to end users.

Why haven’t you heard about it before?

Because it’s fairly new, although the technology of sensors have been invented and used for many years, it wasn’t like what we have today. There are some factors that helped shape the future of IoT into what we have now, some of these factors are:

  • Smaller, powerful, and affordable hardware: all those sensors and gateways used to cost a lot back in the day, but not anymore. The advancement of science allowed us to create sensors and computers that are very small in size which can fit into spaces and locations that were inaccessible to us before. The manufacturing costs of those devices has been dramatically reduced over the years.
  • Global & cheap mobility: there are many communication technologies available for the IoT devices. GPS, GPRS, 3G. 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC or simply the Internet. All of these are different examples for communication methods that can be used to allow the IoT world to talk, but the real force here is the rapid cost reduction to be connected online. What used to cost hundreds or thousands before can be simply bought for the price of nearly free. This allowed the IoT devices to be always available, always connected.
  • Availability of supporting tools: manufacturers are having a furious race among themselves to excel in what they provide to the market, and in order for them to provide a unique experience to customers, they’re now producing a massive amount of information and support to the products they sell (insert name of different types of sensors, gateways or communication devices here). Gone are the days when you get a device that you need to work with, but only to be hit with the reality of not knowing how to even start it.
  • The cloud force: there is no better place to handle the amount of information that is generated by the IoT devices than the cloud. Perhaps this is a good time for you to take a look at my previous post where I explain the benefits of the cloud in detail.
  • Mass market awareness: the good thing about IoT is that we don’t have to wait to start getting the benefits of implementing it. What we always thought to be impossible to accomplish before is now limited by our imagination. We’re seeing what it can do, and we are demanding for even more. Who knows? Perhaps those episodes of Star Trek are not to far to be real.