The Internet of Things (IoT) has gained considerable attention over the past few years, especially in the industrial and academic fields. The only reason behind this fame is the potential capabilities that IoT offers to its users. On a personal level, it draws a picture of a future world where all objects are connected through the internet to communicate with each other and perform actions intelligently.
The main objective behind IoT is to make the everyday objects in our life sense the environment effectively and communicate efficiently to create an environment where all the objects act based on what we need and like. Moreover, these objects should achieve this without receiving any particular instructions.
Kevin Ashton, the co-founder of the Auto-ID Center at MIT, first used the term “Internet of Things” in 1999 in a presentation at Procter & Gamble’s supply chain, although the idea of connected devices has been there since the 1970s. He opined that IoT has the potential to change the world, perhaps even more than the internet.
The increase in IoT adaptation – mainly in the wireless telecommunications industry – is all around us in the form of smart devices like smartphones, smart watches, etc. These devices are capable of communicating with other systems to perform specific tasks. Various industries employ IoT to monitor their operational technologies (OT), something that IT professionals cannot afford to implement.
What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
Before we give a textbook definition of the Internet of Things (IoT), let’s try explaining it in layman’s terms. Think of IoT as a network of things with clear element identification, software-embedded intelligence, sensors, and connectivity to the internet.
IoT enables objects to share data with their manufacturers, operators, and collaborating devices through telecommunication. It allows physical objects to be controlled remotely by sensing specific information, thus creating the opportunity to integrate physical world objects with computer-based systems.
According to Gartner, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.”
It is clear from the definition that IoT is a technology that involves small physical devices like sensors collecting vast amounts of data from the environment. Applications make decisions based on this collected data and provide the intended services without human interaction. Thus, IoT entails collecting actionable data by small, physical devices.
But here’s what’s interesting about the IoT. The services it offers are way more valuable than the IoT devices themselves. The primary goal of IoT is to monitor anything from anywhere. Ordinary people can enrich their lives by using IoT to connect home appliances like the TV or the air conditioner with the internet and manage them through their smartphones.
Let’s explore IoT’s components.
As explained earlier, the IoT is a network of interrelated objects that sense the surrounding environment and communicate with other entities to transfer the observed data. It then takes actions depending on the observed data without human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
The IoT technology consists of three significant components essential to its proper functioning. These components are sensors/devices, internet connectivity, and data processing. Let’s explain each of these components in turn.
Sensors are small physical devices located at different places in the field to collect information from the environment. A temperature-reading sensor is a typical example. Sensors are connected together or made part of a device that does more than just sensing, like smartphones. Smartphones have many sensors (like GPS, accelerometer, etc.), but they are more than just sensors. They perform many other vital functions.
The next task is to transfer the information collected by the sensors to the cloud or a local server near the devices for processing. Sensors or devices can connect to the cloud through different means (Bluetooth, cellular network, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, etc.). Each medium has its own trade-offs, like range, bandwidth, and power utilization.
3. Data Processing
Once the data is received, it is processed by the local servers or the cloud. Processing could be as simple as checking whether the temperature is within the normal/acceptable range or not. Or, it could be as complex as using computer vision to identify objects. A user would need to intervene when the temperature is not within the acceptable range, or there’s an intruder in the house.
IoT Protocol Stack
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has developed different protocols for wireless communication between IoT devices using IP (Internet Protocols). The main reason for using IP is its flexibility and extended range of communication. The IoT Protocol Stack comprises the following layers describing wireless communication effectively
1. Application Layer of IoT
The application layer is responsible for exchanging messages between applications and IoT devices over the internet to provide services. This layer uses different protocols for communication, like Constrained Application Layer Protocol (CoAP), Message Queue Telemetry Protocol (MQTT), Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), and Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP).
CoAP is lightweight and is used for constrained resources such as devices with low power and less RAM capacity for efficient packet delivery. MQTT is used for constrained communication between low-battery power devices and limited CPU usage.
XMPP can be used in heterogeneous applications but has weaknesses like high CPU usage and bandwidth consumption. AMQP is best for industrial environments but does not support resource-constrained environments.
2. Transport Layer
This layer transfers packets over the network and commonly uses TCP and UDP protocols. TCP (Transmission Communication Protocol) is a connection-oriented protocol that operates in three steps: connection establishment, data transfer, and connection close. Transmission is guaranteed because acknowledgment is received on sending data.
This is not suitable for low-power devices due to large overheads. Therefore, UDP (User Datagram Protocol) is preferred over this TCP. UDP is a connectionless protocol having low overheads, but transmission is not guaranteed. It is best for wireless communication and situations where data loss is bearable.
3. Network Layer
This layer routes packets in the network from source to destination received from the transport layer. RPL, 6LoWPAN, and IPV6 are the routing protocols used in this layer. IETF has developed RPL for low-power and lossy networks based on distance vectors. When nodes exchange distance vectors, it produces a Destination Oriented Directed Acyclic Graph (DODAG). Moreover, it is an open routing protocol that is less scalable than 6LoWPAN and IPV6.
6LoWPAN is suitable for small, low-power devices with limited processing capabilities. It is commonly used for secure wireless communication between small devices.
IPV6 is considered best for communication in an IoT environment due to its stability and ample addressing space. 6LoWPAN devices can communicate with all IP-based devices and connect to the internet via Wi-Fi or ethernet, which has protocol support for IPV6 to IPV4 conversion over which most of the internet is operating these days.
The data-link layer handles data transfer across physical links of a network. It is responsible for converting data streams into signals bit by bit and passing them to the hardware. On the receiving end, the data-link layer receives these electronic signals from the hardware and handles them to the upper layer after arranging them in a recognizable frame format.
The communication protocols used by this layer are ZigBee, Bluetooth, Z-wave, Dash7, etc. Bluetooth and Z-Wave serve the purpose of short-range communication. Bluetooth is designed for power-efficient communication. ZigBee and Dash7 serve the purpose of long-range communication and are suitable for IoT applications like home automation, health monitoring, etc.
5. Physical Layer
This is the layer where the data is actually transmitted over the network. The upper layers perform essential functions. They make the transferrable over the network and pass this data down the protocol stack to the physical layer, where it is actually transferred over a network.
Details of cables, wireless radio transceivers, and other hardware operations are a function of the physical layer. It handles tasks that encode data into signals, and transfer, and receive them over the network.
It actually works with ones and zeroes that are sent over the network. IEEE802.15.4 is a technical standard for low-rate wireless personal area networks. IEEE802.15.4e is a working group that defines a MAC amendment to IEEE802.15.4 to cope with industrial markets using the critical element of channel hopping.
IoT Use Cases
The number of IoT devices having heterogeneous architecture is said to have crossed the 50 billion mark in 2020. IoT devices have different application domains like consumers (i.e., smart-watches and other wearables), industrial (i.e., manufacturing), commercial (i.e., retail, logistics), and public sector (i.e., safe city project, healthcare, etc.).
The reason behind the increase in the number of IoT devices is the ability to control them remotely to monitor by experts. Another reason for their popularity is that you can search for things that search engines do not provide (e.g., finding your keys) by pointing smartphones to the item of interest. Lastly, IoT devices enable authorities to manage things in public interest systems. These examples create tremendous service-oriented business opportunities to boost the economic impact of consumers and the government.
1. Self-Driving Cars
Self-driving cars are divided into two main categories “semiautonomous” and “autonomous.” Semiautonomous cars perform some tasks automatically, for instance, applying a complete brake when too close to an object or driving on freeways. On the other hand, an autonomous car drives itself from origin to destination without any instructions from the driver.
A computer-controlled car is one where the driver is not required for input; it is known as an “autonomous” or a “driverless car.” These are the cars of our future, which won’t require a driver for safe driving. They come with various sensors for sensing their environments and software for controlling, navigating, and self-driving.
Google, Tesla, Nissan, and Uber have developed self-driving technologies. They have varying design details. Most of them use and maintain an internal map of their surroundings, based on sensors like radars, LIDAR to measure the distance from the destination, and GPS to navigate. Uber’s self-driving prototype uses sixty-four laser beams along with other sensors to construct its internal map.
2. Smart Metering
According to Silicon labs, a smart meter is an internet-capable device that measures the electricity, water, and gas consumption of a building. A smart meter measures energy and sends a report to the supplier daily by enabling two-way communication between the meter and the supplier. Unlike an ordinary meter that only measures total consumption, a smart meter also records when and how much energy is consumed. Thus, it enables companies to charge different prices according to the time of day and season.
According to academic research, using a smart meter decreases household energy consumption by 3-5%. Networks between the meter devices and business systems collect and distribute information among suppliers, consumers, and companies. The Meter display shows information like energy consumption with time along with the price that the customer will be charged for energy consumption at any given time.
This feature allows users to take advantage of lower pricing by changing user behavior. Pricing can also result in lowering peak demand consumption. The ability to control and take meter readings remotely saves companies’ resources in the form of meter readers, etc. These features also help companies improve their services, reduce energy theft, and adjust prices according to utility.
3. Smart Shopping
The potential benefit of RFID (radio frequency identification) technology can be harnessed by its use in supermarkets. The advantages of RFID in supermarkets are real-time inventory and stock management, and cash queues. On the contrary, an ordinary barcode system requires employees to scan the item with a barcode reader to update the database. It also updates the record and generates a bill of items the customer wishes to purchase.
RFID tags are attached to all the items to create a smart shopping system. When a customer puts items in a shopping cart, the RFID reader attached to the cart reads the item’s tag and adds its price to the bill. This way, it automatically generates the bill of items placed in the shopping cart.
This eliminates the need for customers to wait in long queues to pay for products they buy. The bill generated by the cart is collected at the billing counter within seconds. Moreover, store inventory management is made much easier and more efficient by adding a smart shelving system that records items on shelves and updates the central server without manual labor.
4. Health-Monitoring System Using IoT
Health monitoring is perhaps the most important among the various services IoT has provided to the world. It is the best tool for remotely monitoring a patient’s health via the internet. Patients above the age of 60 need continuous health monitoring, and their population is increasing, particularly in developing countries.
Sensors used in health-monitoring systems are usually in the form of wearables or embedded in the patient’s body. Sensors monitor patients continuously to collect information that is stored, processed, and analyzed. This information helps physicians with prognosis and suggests early treatment options to patients.
An IoT-based health-monitoring system uses temperature and heartbeat tracking to monitor a patient’s health. It also uses Arduino with microcontrollers and an LCD to display the temperature and heartbeat track of the patient along with the time stamps.
In case of any severe conditions, the system sends an alert using IoT with information, including temperature and heartbeat tracks, to the physician so that the latter can prescribe some medicine.
The Future of IoT
Experts believe that the number of connected devices around 2009-10 was more than the human population. This increase in the number of connected devices is according to Moore’s law, which states that the number of transistors in integrated circuits will double every 18 months.
IoT technology is being adopted at a rate five times faster than the adoption rate of electricity and telephone. According to past indices, technology grows proportionally to population growth, but IoT is expected to grow exponentially in the next several years than ioS apps.
According to Cisco Visual Networking Forecast 2016, the global IP traffic in 2015 was 72.5 exabytes per month, and it was expected to triple in 2020. This IP traffic index includes consumer and industrial traffic.
Summing it up
People are increasingly buying and deploying smart devices in their homes. These devices notify users on their smartphones when suspicious activity is detected. With the increased adoption of IoT commercially and industrially, personal and business data security challenges have also emerged. Researchers have shown various ways of exploiting these networks by attackers and opened different topics for research to address these threats.
But worry not. As threats increase, so do the security measures and mechanisms. Rest assured, IoT is here to make everyone’s life easier, more convenient, and tech-enabled. Are you ready to reap its benefits?
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