What Is IoT And The Era of Interconnectedness?
Updated · Jun 29, 2022
IoT has become yet another buzzword in tech circles. Yet another catchphrase that excites tech geeks and has them shiver with anticipation.
As with anything new, and especially tech-related, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. So let’s stop for a second and appreciate what IoT actually is.
IoT or the internet of things defines a system of devices connected together and able to talk to each other. It encompasses everything - from simple sensors to wearables, to environmental monitoring systems.
The significance of the internet of things is proven by the numbers below.
Amazing IoT Statistics in 2021 (Editor’s choice)
- 127 new devices get connected to the internet every second.
- In 2020, we had 30 billion connected devices.
- By 2025, the internet-connected devices will be 75 billion.
- Internet of things is expected to generate 800 zettabytes of data.
- Over 14 million homes in the US use IoT devices and products.
- In 2020, industrial sensors and connected machines amounted to 5.4 billion.
- By 2030, industrial IoT devices will add $14 trillion to the global economy.
- IoT leads to a 15 % productivity increase in delivery and supply chain performance.
So, how did the internet of things came to be?
Brief History of IoT
IoT is about to change our lives the way the telegraph and morse code did before.
Back in 1844 the American inventor Samuel Morse successfully dispatched a telegraph message from Washington D.C. to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore, Maryland.
The message - “What Hath God Wrought?” - was telegraphed back in Morse a moment later by Vail.
This was a significant moment in history that helped push the development of a telegraphic network of 20,000 miles across the country. Before that, the fastest way to deliver a message reliably was on horseback.
That’s right - not too fast at all.
The telegraph connected people like never before.
Fast-forward and today, many technological breakthroughs later, our lives are about to change, again. And again, by making communication easier and more accessible than ever.
This time, thanks to the internet of things and the unprecedented interconnectivity of countless devices.
The term was first coined by Kevin Ashton (Co-founder of Auto-ID Center at MIT) at a presentation he made for Procter & Gamble in 1999.
Yet, the definition of the internet of things - a system of smart devices, became popular in 1982. It was then that a modified Coke vending machine was installed at Carnegie Mellon University. It was the first connected to the internet device. The machine was able to report on its inventory and if the loaded drinks were cold or not.
However, today we look at another “smart thing” as the first IoT device. At the October '89 INTEROP conference, John Romkey presented a toaster that could be turned on and off over the internet.
But let’s leave that for now and dive deeper into the definition of the internet of things and how important the technology is.
What Is the Internet of Things?
Imagine you wake up in the morning, cheerfully greeted by your alarm clock. You get up from your bed and go to the kitchen to find your coffee machine already preparing a fresh cup of coffee.
While you are enjoying your coffee, Alexa reads the newspaper headlines or lists your to-do's from your task manager. All that while, also, adjusting the room temperature just as you like it.
You finish your coffee and breakfast and head to the office in your self-driving car, without a worry that your house was left unlocked. Your smart appliances have taken care of that.
IoT is the network of all things connected that can eventually make this experience a reality.
An IoT device is usually a gadget that has a physical sensor, actuator (mover), and microprocessor that helps it capture and act on information from the environment. By definition, to call things connected they need to communicate with each other. The term for that is Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication.
M2M is the technology that allows communication between devices through wired and wireless systems. Those wireless or wired technologies for IoT communications can be short-range and long-range.
The short-range wireless ones use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ZigBee (low-power, low data rate, and close proximity decentralized type of wireless network). The long-range wireless ones count on mobile networks such as GPRS, LTE (long-term evolution wireless broadband communication), 4G, 5G, and others.
The wired communication systems use Ethernet cable to connect to the network. Wired connection is a mature technology that is easy to get plugged to. Still, it’s not too practical, which thoroughly limits the possible applications.
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are two other technologies that play an important role in the development of the internet of things.
The Smarts of IoT
IoT devices are those equipped to read, share and act on information coming from their surroundings. But in order to really count on autonomous IoT coffee machines to brew us coffee, we need to teach our devices to think.
I know, I know - a machine that thinks sounds kind of daunting. Nevertheless, we’re already embracing IoT technology and it is so far only benefitting us.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) is how we make our devices smart.
AI allows machines to mimic human behavior. It enables them to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs and perform complex, nuanced tasks with human-like efficiency (or greater). Its influences stretches across every aspect of our lives. We can only expect AI to become even more impactful in the future.
Machine learning, on the other hand, shows the machine how to learn. It’s the method devices use to gain knowledge from data.
Machine learning is an example-based system. Devices using ML count on a variety of examples (big amounts of data) to classify, cluster information, make predictions, and recognize patterns. Once the ML algorithm is trained to draw the right conclusions it applies the knowledge to new sets of data.
AI and Machine Learning need large volumes of granular (detailed) and diverse data to be able to find the pattern and learn. And it happens that IoT devices generate a vast amount of data that can be used. That data can build ML models that help IoT devices improve their performance.
Ok, but how exactly does IoT works? How do we make our devices smart?
First, we need to clarify that for our IoT devices to function as a network, they need to be organized in a system. That IoT system can’t go without a few important things: hardware, connectivity (wired or wireless), software, and a user interface.
Here enters the IoT platform and it glues everything together. The IoT platforms help build IoT systems. They provide built-in tools and capabilities that facilitate the communication, data flow, device management, and the functionality of applications.
How Does IoT Impact Us?
There are no limitations as to what can be connected to the internet of things, so that opens the door to all kinds of ideas.
Anything that can be connected to the internet will be connected to the internet. And connecting things to the network will result in “things” communicating and navigating processes without the need for people.
What does that mean for us?
For starters, mornings, in which our smart home ushers us from bed to work, will become part of the ordinary.
Machines in our offices will know when they’re running out of supplies and take it upon themselves to re-order what’s needed.
Wearable devices such as smartwatches will monitor not only health but also productivity.
Temperature control devices will not only monitor for the comfort of our homes but will help organizations cut costs by controlling the environment in offices as well.
IoT applications, really, are countless.
Why Is IoT Important?
Connecting things to the internet yields many benefits.
Not only it makes our lives easier by bringing automation to our homes - but it also provides essential feedback for businesses.
The internet of things can give insight into how effective companies’ systems are. It can be used to evaluate the performance of machines, supply chains, and logistics operations.
That, in turn, can be used to choose which processes can be automated and thus cut labor costs. Further, prices of goods and services can be reduced by using IoT devices that monitor production waste and improve service delivery.
IoT can be applied in every industry - healthcare, manufacturing, even retail, and finance. Connected sensors aid in farming as well, where they’re used to monitor crops and cattle and predict growth patterns. IoT can be part of your strategy for most, if not all purposes.
Transformative IoT Projects
Here are some examples, where our personal and business lives can change with the introduction of the internet of things.
Technology is already transforming our homes. Amazon has sold over 100 million Alexa-enabled devices. And the home assistant has been integrated into over 150 hardware devices.
But what more is there to the smart home of the future?
A smart home involves the control and automation of embedded technology. It describes a place of living where all our appliances talk to each other. Lighting, heating, air conditioning, TVs, computers, entertainment systems, laundry machines, security, and camera systems - all examples of IoT devices that communicate with each other and can be controlled remotely.
There’s no denying that IoT home applications are convenient. But there’s more to that - smart homes are energy-efficient, with low operating costs, and able to adapt to meet the changing needs.
We can expect similar benefits if IoT is applied in building automation in offices and other business infrastructure.
Energy efficiency will inevitably require an electrical network that can handle the power consumption of IoT devices. And here is where the smart grid comes into play.
The Smart Grid application is the utility side of IoT. It’s a new and shiny version of our electricity delivery system that allows for two-way communication. The connected grid collects real-time data for the electrical supply. The information is then used to improve efficiency in monitoring, generation, consumption, and maintenance.
The concept of a smart car has long been in our minds and the industry attracts significant investments. More and more people want to see autonomous driving vehicles become part of daily life.
Reports predict that connected cars will generate $24 trillion in global revenue by 2025. In order to see connected cars on the road, however, the industry will have to pass rigorous trials to guarantee cars are safe to use.
So what is being done to make our cars part of IoT?
Engineers are working on technologies that will ensure smart cars are able to communicate and safely navigate through traffic.
VC Systems and V2X
Vehicular communication systems (VC systems) are computer networks, in which cars and roadside units can communicate traffic information and safety warnings.
Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) is a type of VC system that passes that information between vehicles and devices that may affect it. V2X incorporates more specific ways of communication such as vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), vehicle-to-network (V2N), vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P), vehicle-to-device (V2D) and vehicle-to-grid (V2G).
VC systems aim to guide the car’s movement, effectively avoiding accidents and traffic jams. And we can expect that they’ll play an important role in the transition from partly automated to fully automated cars.
Further IoT Integration
We’ll see further integration with IoT. Cars will be equipped with sensors that recognize and communicate with upgraded road signals through a network of cameras.
Automobiles will perform tasks previously done by drivers. Payments on the road such as tolls and fuel will also be automated. Researches go so far as to say that cars will be able to pay their own insurance.
IoT will be used to improve road safety. Accidents will be detected earlier and alerts will be sent to drivers. IoT devices will even be able to notify you of bad drivers on the road.
There will be even gadgets that automatically detect collisions and contact emergency services. And the same technology can be used as a reporting system to manufacturers, who can then implement improvements.
Most of the accidents on the road are due to human error, and these can also be reduced through IoT technology. Cars will be able to monitor driving habits and make recommendations to the drivers.
Fleet companies in the UK are already applying technology to improve their drivers’ performance. GPS trackers can show braking, idling and speeding habits. If a driver repetitively displays bad habits, they’ll be sent an alert.
The more of our cars become autonomous - the more data we’ll have to improve the driving habits of those on the road. And that, in turn, will reduce accidents.
Traffic Jams in Cities
The internet of things will have an impact on traffic in our cities as well. Connected devices will be able to spot areas with bigger congestion and which time of day roads are busiest. This information will help engineers and road experts build smart traffic control systems.
Reduced Energy Consumption and Pollution
A great example of how to deal with such important issues is the city of Singapore.
The city has traffic jam charges and is continuously investing in IoT road sensors, phased traffic lights and smart parking. These measures helped them not only organize their transportation better, but also cut the city’s toxic gas emissions.
Talking about smart parking let’s look at how IoT can be implemented to help us manage with that.
In a nutshell, smart parking is a parking solution that can include in-ground parking or counting sensors, and cameras. The devices can be embedded into parking spots or positioned next to them to detect whether parking spots are free or not. To top this off, the technology operates in real-time.
The data those sensors will gather will be transmitted to mobile applications and websites. Those, in turn, will let drivers know how many available parking spaces there are.
The Industrial Internet of Things
IoT has a considerable impact on our industries as well. In fact, IoT application in industries is so big, that it now has subsections. One of those is specifically geared toward the industrial settings - the Industrial internet of things or IIoT.
Industrial IoT doesn’t differ significantly from the general IoT as it incorporates similar applications. Manufacturing and energy management industries also benefit from interconnected sensors, devices, and instruments.
The primary benefit connectivity in the industrial IoT provides is data collection. Collecting data allows analysis that can lead to improvements in productivity and efficiency.
The industrial big data hold such potential that experts claim the internet of things is causing a new industrial revolution, a rise of Industry 4.0.
Companies are furnishing their factories with IoT sensors and actuators. These connect their machines to the internet and manage machine communication, in many cases, better than humans. The results show a boost in productivity, efficiency, and most importantly safety.
The market is changing and predictions say the IoT will grow from $68.8 billion in 2019 to $98.2 billion by 2024
Industrial IoT can benefit manufacturing and industrial processes in many ways.
Connecting machines, tools, and sensors will give engineers and managers a much-needed perspective of the production process. And it will allow employees to automatically track parts as they move through assemblies.
This detailed type of visibility will help identify obstacles that cause manufacturing issues. The gathered data will allow processes to be improved at a faster rate.
Higher Workforce Productivity
IoT-enabled tools will allow operators to go through workflows faster, without compromising quality. IoT light kits, for instance, can help operators find the piece they need quicker and reduce their cycle time.
Likewise, using IoT-enabled tools such as torque drivers can increase productivity. It does so by automatically adjusting the tool’s settings according to the performed operation.
All kinds of tools operators use can be connected and thus provide real-time insight into their productivity.
Enhanced Production Cycles
Engineers and management teams will greatly benefit from the industrial application of IoT. Data collection, previously subject to manual labor such as collecting, aggregating, and analyzing data will all be automated. In time, this will aid to improve production processes.
Reduced Costs and Improved Quality
Quality control is crucial, yet quality management systems (QMS) are hard to implement. Industrial IoT, however, can ease the process and even reduce the associated costs.
IoT sensors can replace manual inspections with automatic checks of variables that are critical to the quality. That will cut the time and resources dedicated to QMS.
In addition, environmental sensors can continuously monitor conditions critical to quality and alert prior to any obstacles.
Industrial IoT enables manufacturers to correctly measure the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and overall process effectiveness (OPE) in real-time.
These metrics help identify and fix the causes of unplanned downtime. Most importantly, it will allow the maintenance of machines even before something goes wrong.
McKinsey reported that sensor data that predict equipment failure can reduce maintenance costs by as much as 40% and cut unplanned downtime twice.
Management Cost Cuts
IoT sensors can be leveraged to cut costs in manufacturing and storage facilities. For instance, smart tracking systems that use barcodes can help manufacturers monitor and optimize the usage of space.
IoT gadgets can also help companies better manage their facilities. The feedback is used to ensure that temperature, humidity, and any other environmental conditions stay within the required range.
Manufacturers can conserve energy, reduce costs, and increase operational efficiency - all by using sensors to monitor machinery.
Optimizing Supply Chain
Industries can take advantage of connected sensors that monitor the supply chain and provide real-time information. Those sensors can track inputs, equipment, and products.
RFID tags can be used to track inventory as it moves around the supply chain. The data that is gathered will allow manufacturers to identify interdependencies, material flow, and track manufacturing cycle times.
IoT Applications in Farming
At the end of 2018, the connected agriculture market stood at $1.8 billion globally. By 2023, it’s expected it will grow to $4.3 billion.
Agricultural IoT applications can help farmers monitor water tank levels in real-time. That, in turn, will make the irrigation process more efficient.
IoT advancements can also help farmers know how much time and resources a seed takes to fully grow into a vegetable.
Connected devices in the sector can measure data accurately and thus farmers will be able to decrease costs and increase yields.
Internet of Military Things
The internet of Military (IoMT) things also known as the internet of Battlefield things (IoBT) is a network of sensors, wearables, and IoT devices that use cloud and edge computing to create a united fighting force.
IoMT can connect ships, planes, tanks, drones, soldiers, and operating bases in one network. The results mean improved situational awareness, risk assessment, and response time.
IoBT can be used in soldiers’ equipment - suits, helmets, and weapons. The embedded sensors will be able to provide dynamic biometrics such as the face, fingerprints, heart rate, gestures, and facial expressions.
Those devices will be capable of collecting operational context data. That way, analysts can interpret situational context in the field. One very important aspect of data collection here will be the continuous monitoring of soldiers’ psychophysical condition.
So far we’ve seen how IoT can penetrate all areas of our lives. It’s natural, then, that smart applications can be developed to protect and conserve our environment.
Environmental Monitoring Applications
Environmental monitoring describes the processes of inspecting and controlling the quality of the environment. These processes are essential because they signal if our environment is improving, worsening or staying the same. The data produced by the monitoring enable governments and businesses to take the necessary actions to improve our well-being.
IoT devices can very successfully monitor water levels, air pollutant concentrations both indoors and outdoors, precipitations, and any other environmental parameter affecting people’s safety.
What’s more, these devices can measure environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and noise levels. These can affect people’s safety, especially when it comes to working environments.
IoT can be implemented in the waste management of our cities to focus on improving the total efficiency of waste collection and recycling. IoT use cases like route optimization can help reduce fuel consumption while emptying the dumpsters throughout the city.
Dangers of IoT Adaptation
Everything connected to the internet can be hacked. This phrase is often used by security experts to express the concern we should all have for our privacy.
The advancement of IoT technologies poses a question: Is our information safe?
It seems, that in our pursuit of interconnectedness, the security of the IoT devices was left behind.
Smart homes are convenient but pose a potential threat because they collect information about users. And the more interconnected the entire system gets, the more trouble a single weak link can cause.
For instance, smart door locks sometimes use facial recognition algorithms. That in itself is a big privacy red flag. Facial recognition can be used with an alarming accuracy to identify and track individuals.
Within a smart home system, a smart lock is part of a network of connected devices. So, when your coffee machine has weak security protection by default, your entire smart network is compromised.
A study by Symantec found that the most likely reason for an organization to experience a targeted attack was intelligence gathering - in 96% of the cases.
About 7.7 million IoT devices are connected to the internet every day. Many of those have significant security issues or even no security at all.
What’s even worse is that malware has become more sophisticated than ever and it’s targeting an untold number of vulnerable devices.
Government Regulation of IoT- Criticism, Problems, and Controversies
Cybersecurity is a subject legislators have started to pay more attention to in recent years.
The US government has tried to tackle the issue with legislative acts such as the IoT Consumer TIPS Act of 2017. The bill aims to educate consumers in cybersecurity and how they should protect themselves when using devices part of the internet of things network.
Another legislative effort is the SMART IoT Act. It’s a bill that requires the Department of Commerce to study the state of the internet-connected devices industry to better understand their interaction with the relevant federal agencies.
As of 1st of January 2020, manufacturers are required to provide reasonable security features to all their connected (indirectly or directly) devices. The security features need to be able to prevent unauthorized access, modification or information disclosure.
The main goal of the bill is to protect consumers, but it can later be adapted and applied at a larger scale in enterprises.
These are good first steps in understanding and regulating an IoT-driven society. But there’s much more to be done to ensure IoT privacy breaches are not an issue. The California IoT bill doesn’t come without its critics. Cybersecurity experts argue that the act is too vague and allows manufacturers to leave security holes.
An IoT privacy study, done in collaboration between Northeastern University and Imperial College London, found that many of our IoT devices lack the necessary security. And that might present IoT adoption barriers.
Of the 81 IoT devices studied - 72 shared data with third parties, completely unrelated to the original manufacturer.
The shared data was shocking. It included IP addresses, specifications and configurations, usage habits, and even location.
Some of these third parties were the ones providing the internet networking or cloud storage. So Google, Amazon, and Akamai got a glimpse of the gathered data, but there were plenty of other devices providing information to companies all over the globe.
No one buys a smart TV expecting to be spied on. Users are not given an option when it comes to sharing their data and this is quite concerning.
The conclusion is that we have a lot of work, yet, to ensure IoT is adapted in a way that respects our right to privacy.
As Mark Weiser (scientist and CTO at Xerox PARC) once stated, the most profound technologies are invisible to most people. They become an inextricable part of our daily lives.
And that is what IoT is aiming to do - blend in our lives. There will be bumps on the road, but we can’t deny the internet of things is here to stay. We only need to make sure the comfort we enjoy is amplified with proper measures that protect our personal data.
I'm a work in progress. An amateur thinker, fascinated by the human mind. Avid hammocks supporter. Hammocks for every home! One curious creature on a crusade against the comfort zone. Currently exploring the ever-changing virtual world. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is 42.
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