What is IoT (Internet of Things)
How does it work and what are the types?
In this article, I will briefly review what exactly the Internet of Things (IoT) is — an increasingly common and extensive concept in the IT world. I will also shed some light on the history of the concept, give examples of devices that fall under the definition of this term and try to simply explain how these devices work.
IoT — history and definition
In 1999, a British technology pioneer and co-founder of MIT Auto-ID Laboratory, Kevin Ashton, wanted to somehow describe a system that relies on connecting the Internet to the physical world through sensors (involving RFID — Radio-frequency identification*). That’s how the term Internet of Things was officially coined.
*Radio-frequency identification — a system consisting of a small radio transponder, a receiver, and a transmitter that uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags associated with an object.
While it is worth mentioning that this was not the first time in history that such a concept began to appear, as even in the 1980s the very concept of interconnected smart devices was a topic of discussion, but the idea did not begin to develop until a decade later.
However, the global expansion of the concept of IoT did not reach its peak until 2011, when Gartner added IoT to the list of new emerging technologies.
Simply stated, the Internet of Things is networked smart devices that collect, process and exchange data with other devices or systems through the power of the Internet, but…
it would also be good to mention that in some cases IoT device protocols provide information exchange between devices without Internet connections (however, a separate article should be dedicated to this topic, as it is already a more in-depth and more advanced issue). Let’s go back to basics and focus on operations processes.
How does the IoT work?
IoT devices can connect to the Internet and to each other in several different ways. The 4 most common ways are via Wi-Fi, Ethernet or Bluetooth, and technologies like Zigbee, but we can also mention connecting through: Cellular, LoRaWAN, Sigfox, MQTT (MQ Telemetry Transport), AMQP (Advanced Message Queuing Protocol), CoAP (Constrained Application Protocol) or HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) and a few others less common.
Wanting to describe the process itself in more detail, several stages of IoT operation can be singled out:
- data collection devices
These are an internet-connected devices (and therefore have their own IP addresses). Considering their complexity, we can distinguish a whole bunch of devices here — from mobile robots or forklifts that move around warehouses autonomously to sensors for temperature or humidity levels, as well as those that scan the environment to detect anomalies such as gas or chemical leaks and many more (but we will touch on that later).
- the data gathered through the sensors is then shared via the cloud and integrated with the software
In this step of the IoT process, the collected data is sent from the devices to a collection point. This point is a kind of gateway. The data can be transferred over the internet to a data center or the cloud. The transfer can also be done in stages, using intermediary devices that filter and format the data, rejecting irrelevant or replicating results and then sending the important ones for analysis.
- software analyzes and transmits data to users via an application or website
Data processing and analysis usually takes place in data centers or in the cloud, but there are times when this is not possible and it’s worth mentioning here. There are critical devices, such as shutoffs in industrial plants or devices used in places with very difficult network access (such as oil rigs or weather stations and others), where data transfer from the device to a remote data center can have a significant delay for processes. In such cases, the concept of edge computing comes into action— you can also check out my article on this subject here — Edge Computing vs Fog Computing.
Examples of IoT usage
Examples of such devices can be plentiful, but they can be categorized at the outset into the most important types (this is my subjective choice). We can mention, for example, such:
- commercial IoT
Related to the external environment, but associated with services — we can find them in places such as supermarkets, office buildings, hotels, healthcare facilities or recreation areas. Devices or applications that fit into this system are, for example, any sensors that monitor the environment, personal control programs, building access or lighting monitoring, and many others.
- consumer IoT
These are the closest to us in our daily lives. In this case, communication is short-range, as Iot consumer devices are deployed in spaces mainly in homes or offices. We can mention many examples, including: any voice assistants, smart lighting/lamps, refrigerators with automatic defrosting, personal monitoring devices, thermostats and a variety of wearables (including smartwatches).
- industrial IoT
This type of IoT is focused on existing industrial automated systems. The goal of IoT implementation in the industrial sector is to increase efficiency, productivity or alertness. The most popular places to use IoT devices in industry, are factories and large manufacturing plants, as well as the energy sector. Good examples of specific applications include: digital control systems, motion sensors, smart agriculture or industrial big data, as well as any sensors for pressure rise/drop, chemical leakage control, etc.
- infrastructure IoT
Here we are talking about sensors for the smart city’s infrastructures or communications management systems (smart parking, environmental monitoring, roads/traffic/transport, social & security).
- military IoT
The use of IoT devices in the military. Examples include surveillance robots, combat wearable biometrics that help identify the enemy, perform better in combat or gain faster access to specific equipment and weapons systems. The military IoT sector also includes devices and applications that provide connectivity between ships, aircraft, tanks, drones, soldiers and operational bases. such communications networks provide significant improvements in assessing operations, risks or improving response times.
- automotive IoT
In this case, the devices are complex, and actually compose the system thanks to sensors, cameras, trackers, etc., and provide real-time data via the cloud. Thanks to IoT solutions in transport, vehicles are becoming intelligent devices that can provide improvements such as driving assistance via Ai, predictive maintenance, as well as many other features to improve safety on the road. IoT is also being used to automate manufacturing processes to reduce the likelihood of errors in operations + improve quality control.
So… the development of IoT solutions is really prospective and taking off. The integration of Ai and IoT is already enabling creative thinking and innovative applications in many fields, but the biggest development is yet to come. You will see!
Words by Kinga Kuśnierz, Content Writer at Altimetrik Poland