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Technology & Software August 14, 2019

Exploring the Internet of Things, Today and Tomorrow

6 min read

 

IoT, or the Internet of Things, has been a topic of interest as of late but is by no means a new concept in the world of tech. At its most basic, it is a concept of instrumented devices communicating data. There are also devices that can receive feedback and adjust their state accordingly. 

This idea has been around for years––remember PLCs and SCADA? The difference now is that these devices are now connected through the Internet and have further been enabled by inexpensive hardware and the expansion of IP addresses using the most recent version of the Internet, known as Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6). IPv6 enables more unique addresses for devices than there are grains of sand on the earth or stars in the observable universe. In other words, it’s going to be a while before we run out of IP addresses for devices.

 

Internet of toaster (a simple IoT example) 

To break it down a little bit further, let’s take an example of an ordinary toaster. Add a few switches and a Raspberry Pi motherboard, tie it together with duct tape and wire, write some basic programming instructions, and then connect it to a WiFi network and voilà! You have your very own homemade “Thing”. 

An example of simple IoT using a toaster.

 

In this simple example, a message is sent to a listener when toast has been made and a counter is incremented. This counter of toast is then made available to report on. While it’s obviously not a commercial or industrial IoT solution, it is certainly an “Intranet of One Simple Thing” and regardless of complexity, many of the basic architectural components of IoT are present in this example including the device or the “Thing” sending or receiving data.

 

Bringing it back to the real world

Now imagine that instead of one toaster there are hundreds of thousands, even hundreds of millions of devices which could be watches, pacemakers, security cameras, tractors, aircraft, pipe valves, phones, and more––all sending information. Information is transmitted across the Internet to Cloud-based IoT Gateways that have the capacity to securely receive all of these messages without losing any of them, composing the Internet part of the Internet of Things. All of this data is stored in massive databases where the data is processed and where insights and meaning are derived. These insights for decision making and response are then made available to consuming systems and people through integration technologies. In many cases, the data is integrated back into the enterprise through Enterprise Service Buses and API Gateways.   

There are five architectural components of IoT. They are the device, or “Thing”, the Internet, for the transmission of data, the “Gateway”, for receiving and storing the data, the “Processor”, for backend processing and finding insights, and “Integration”, for integrating the data back into the enterprise and feeding it back to the devices.

 

“When you think about how nearly everything is wrapped in Internet and Cloud infrastructure, almost any connected device can be considered IoT.”

 

When you think about how nearly everything is wrapped in Internet and Cloud infrastructure, any device that is instrumented and connected, sensing and reporting on the environment, and in some cases, receiving instructions to reset its state (from home security cameras, medical devices, vehicle instruments, and industrial infrastructure), nearly everything can be considered IoT. Even a person could be considered a device or a “Thing” in the Internet of Things.   

 

Some examples of IoT in the world today

Within IoT, there are specializations. For example, the Internet of Medical Things and the Internet of Industrial Things. A few current major areas of specialization are:

  • Home automation, which is an area focusing mainly on consumer home devices.
  • Industrial devices, or Internet of Industrial Things, which are a wide range of devices specifically used in industrial and manufacturing contexts. Devices here range from monitoring and controlling equipment to tracking employees for injury reduction and safety reasons, to robotics on production lines.
  • Healthcare and fitness have a significant number of devices which focus on personal health and fitness, as well as providing professional healthcare provider equipment. The devices include cardio monitoring, blood monitoring, implants, and wearables.

As a digital and technology company, we encounter all types of connected projects. In fact, it’s not uncommon for us to be asked for advice and architecture designs related to IoT solutions across all types of specialization, even those beyond the ones listed above. This, coupled with our digital product design and development experience, lends itself to highly functional and innovative HMI solutions from our team, which compared to previous generations of IoT, can be connected anywhere, to any device, to any computer, including mobile. The dramatic increase in data points, device types, breadth of monitoring, connectedness through the Internet, and open architectures today basically mean HMI anywhere.  

 

All things considered

While convenience is a key benefit of IoT, security, in all the layers, is an important consideration especially with the transportability of IoT. Security starts with securing the device itself––device security––both at the hardware and software levels. In some cases, the devices should be tamper-proof to ensure that the physical device itself, the software it is running, or the credentials within it have not been modified or compromised. In the case of medical devices that have been implanted to support life, there must be failsafe mechanisms to prevent unintended updates to the firmware and software.

Likewise, the communication channels over the Internet will need to be secured––connection security––which is similar in many ways to the techniques commonly used for Internet applications, with of course some differences. The typical enterprise-strength security architecture for data centers and cloud services will also need to be in place.  

Given the complexity of an interconnected Internet of Things, it is a good idea to model these interconnected complexities and behaviors using Digital Twins of physical devices and infrastructure. Simulation tools may be used to simulate interactions of Digital Twins and explain how they might behave in scaled, disconnected, or unstable environments. For example, if 20,000 devices suddenly came online or say a device went “missing”, a simulation tool would be able to tell what system behaviors would need to be handled. Simulations using Digital Twins are especially valuable in highly complex missions critical IoT environments and should definitely be considered. 

 

Technology tomorrow (and the future of IoT)

So, what does the future look like and where is all of this leading us to? I believe we’re headed towards a more connected and smarter world. Some might say not-so-smart, but everything and everyone will still be connected in a way which we’ve never experienced before. 

In a not-so-far-future, vehicles could be tracked and identified for illicit purposes with IoT ID codes. Cities will be able to automate information with IoT visitor kiosks. Even humans will become a “Thing” in the Internet of Things; not only will we be able to communicate as we are biologically programmed to, but our attached and implanted IoT machines will be able to communicate with each other as well. 

By 2025, it is estimated that there will be more than 21 billion IoT devices, so the possibilities of IoT future are astronomical. When you think about it, we’re already well on our way to this universally connected world. As a society, we’ve been able to successfully tie instrumented things and human things together with Artificial Intelligence. Already we see work on brain-machine interfaces happening, for example, Elon Musk’s Neuralink

The opportunities are endless for imaginative companies that are not afraid to connect, instrument, and control devices. New business opportunities arise from this connected world in ways that are not typically uncovered in traditional digital journeys. In the post-digital age, it is already becoming apparent that data will drive the digital journey and IoT telemetry data will be a significant enabler. If you are considering adaptive digital journeys that are machine intelligence-enabled and are connected in real-time across multiple business domains, then let’s have a conversation.

POSTED BY:
Bruce Hogg

Bruce is a senior information technology professional with over 30 years of experience in technology transformation and software development. He is passionate about data, artificial intelligence, and the Digital Twins, with a particular interest in the intersection of people and science.

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