We have been hearing a lot of buzz about IoT and how it will impact not just all major industries but also our homes.
So, what IS IoT?
In very simple terms, Internet of Things connects devices or “Things” to the internet and other devices. This makes IoT a very giant network of people and things that share data with each other. The “thing” here can be a heart monitor implant, your autonomous vehicle or your smart bulb, or any object that can be assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address.
How does it work?
At its core, IoT devices are internet-connected devices that each have an IP address and the basic element is to gather data. The IoT devices use processors, sensors, and communication systems to collect data and send them for analyzing. Before sending the data is sometimes analyzed to produce useful information. For example in a factory producing goods, the data about the quantity of goods produced each day, types of goods produced, and faulty goods discarded can be collected and converted into stats.
The collection of the data is done by transmitting it from the devices to a gathering point. This transmission is typically done wirelessly using a range of technologies.
Sometimes the devices communicate with other connected devices based on the information they receive. For example, an app on your phone can turn your living room’s lights on or off based on your command. But apart from setting up the devices and giving instructions, for the most part, the devices do the job without human interaction.
Basically, anything that is altered to gather information about the physical world can be a part of the IoT ecosystem. This includes all smart home appliances such as lighting fixtures, thermostats, home security systems, and cameras that turn on and off on command or industrial sensors that are part of machinery and report back the status of critical parts in said machinery. The examples can also include fitness bands that calculate and report the number of steps taken, heartbeat, etc., or autonomous vehicles which report the car’s vitals and whether or not it needs servicing.
Why is IoT Important?
IoT will be an integral part of both homes and businesses. It will help people live and work smarter as well as provide businesses with a real-time look into how their systems really work, delivering insights into everything from the operations of machines to supply chain and logistics operations.
Since devices in an IoT ecosystem communicate among themselves and function with little to no human help, it will allow companies to automate processes and reduce labor costs. It will also make it less expensive to manufacture and deliver goods, as well as offer transparency into customer transactions.
IoT will be one of the most important technologies and will continue to pick up steam as more businesses realize the importance of having connected devices which in turn would give them a competitive edge.
Apart from production units, IoT has uses within almost every field such as agriculture, infrastructure, and home automation. For instance, IoT can benefit farmers in agriculture with the help of sensors that could collect data on rainfall, humidity, temperature, and soil content, as well as other factors, that would help automate farming techniques, making their job easier.
Even in infrastructure, IoT can help with monitoring operations surrounding such as changes within structural buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure. This would prove to be cost-saving, time-saving, and improve quality-of-life workflow. IoT has application areas in different industries such as healthcare, finance, retail, and manufacturing.
Difference between IoT and Machine to Machine “M2M”
The terms IoT and M2M are often used interchangeably. Yes, they both connect devices but they are different. M2M was the initial technology from which IoT was developed.
M2M’s roots go back to the 1960s when US telcos developed Caller ID and established wired connections between different devices. M2M enabled device’s data can only be accessed by people within its network. But with IoT the story is different. IoT devices connect to a larger network. With larger network connections, the devices become more efficient and powerful.
The biggest difference between M2M and IoT is that an M2M system uses point-to-point communication but an IoT system typically has its devices within a global cloud network that allows large-scale integration.
Also, IoT is designed to be highly scalable so that devices can be added to a network and integrated into existing systems with minimal hassle. M2M networks on the other hand are more labor-intensive to set-up and maintain as new point-to-point connections must be created for each device.
So suffice to say that M2M technology cannot be used to build a smart city. IoT on the other hand is an ideal technology. But is it really safe for a full-fledged smart city?
What are the security flaws with IoT?
There are various security concerns that surround IoT especially in the areas of privacy and security. And this is more concerning since most of the focus during the development of technology goes into getting better products into the market and not enough into security.
If this technology isn’t securely developed, company data can be stolen and devices around the house can be manipulated or the house itself can be broken into.
But the good news is that with consumer awareness towards data protection and device security and investments towards improving security, a lot of the consequences can be mitigated.
With many IoT companies working hard at bringing this technology into our life it’s easy to imagine a smart home where all devices communicate with each other to make our lives easier. And while this technology can bring more transparency into government and broadening information access, there are very real privacy threats and potential for social control and political manipulation. Hopefully, in time we’ll see this technology developed and implemented in a safe manner which makes life easier without security threats.