If you’re well-versed in the tech world, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Internet of Things” (IoT). Because the concept is fairly new, people will define it differently. Is it a process, a device, or a perspective? The answer comes down to the use case.
At its core, IoT is a way of communicating between the physical and digital worlds. This article provides a comprehensive definition of IoT, a historical overview, a list of benefits, a description of the processes involved, and challenges related to the future of IoT.
Definition of Internet of Things (IoT)
Some conceptualize IoT as a network of physical objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity that are equipped to collect data, exchange information, and control each other. On the other hand, in business, IoT is more commonly thought of as a way to grow, analyze, and predict. Neither definition is wrong, though it can get confusing when trying to reconcile differences when discussing the topic.
Still, others assert that anything with an on/off switch and connected to the internet is part of IoT. That being said, there may be some controversy about what constitutes an IoT device. Again, we’ll try to reconcile conflicting views by offering multiple perspectives and how they fit together.
According to Insider Intelligence, any objects that collect and transfer data to one another in real-time are part of IoT. While some assume that an IoT device has to be something sophisticated like a smartwatch, smartphone, or connected car.
However, many ordinary devices that we use are becoming part of IoT. A few basic examples include thermostats, cars, lights, refrigerators, and watches. The key is that if the object can communicate with others in its network, it is part of IoT.
The History of the Internet of Things (IoT)
Sometimes it seems like IoT emerged out of nowhere, but in fact, there’s an extensive history dating back to the 1800s.
Early IoT History
Looking back to 1832, we see that Baron Shillings’ invention of the electromagnetic telegraph sparked the beginning of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. Skipping ahead a few years, we’ll find that Samuel Morse sent the first public telegraph message in 1844.
The next milestone in the history of IoT came in the 1980s when the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University enhanced the soda machine that consistently served warm beverages. As part of the project, they filled the coke machine with several microswitches and connected it to the Internet, resulting in what many consider the first true IoT device.
It’s clear that people like Shillings, Morse, and Carnegie Mellon were ahead of their time because the term Internet of Things wasn’t officially coined until Kevin Ashton, Co-Founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Auto-ID Center gave a presentation for Procter and Gamble in 1999 on radio-frequency identification (RFID).
The Benefits of IoT
Beyond serving cold beverages at a large university, IoT offers a host of benefits to technology, human resources, production, business operations, and more. A few major advantages of IoT include:
- Increased Productivity – Rather than relying on humans to do mundane, time-consuming tasks, IoT devices can automate these processes. This cuts down on the cost of labor and also gives people the opportunity to focus on more complex tasks. For example, in fleet management, IoT devices can take care of scheduling and routing optimization.
- Resource Optimization – From power management to water consumption, resources can be used more efficiently when IoT devices are involved. Data are collected from sensors and get sent to monitoring and scheduling programs, which optimize resource use. Ultimately, this cuts down on operation costs. In the industrial field, predictive analytics offer managers insight into when to replace different equipment and how to allocate assets for projects.
- Improved Safety – IoT devices in fleet management improve safety outcomes for drivers. For example, AI dash cameras capture real-time data related to how a driver accelerates, brakes, changes lanes, and more. All the data is then analyzed and artificial intelligence or machine learning programs provide personalized guidance to drivers.
- Better Data-Driven Decisions – Companies can gather enormous amounts of data from smart devices in the home. The findings are analyzed and applied to understand the consumer and incorporate more personalized marketing tactics. Likewise, in any industry it’s possible to sift through big data and use machine learning algorithms to detect the most important pieces.
IoT provides countless benefits because we’re only limited by our creativity related to applications and use cases.
How does an IoT Solution work?
It’s great that we can acknowledge all the advantages IoT has to offer, but it doesn’t mean anything without an understanding of how the solution works. Let’s dive into the layers of an IoT solution. We can think of an IoT solution as having either a three or five-layer architecture. The section below describes the three-layer architecture:
- Perception Layer/Sensing Layer: This is a physical layer. Sensors on this layer gather information about the environment. Examples include temperature, pressure, vibration and movement sensors, which allow fleet managers to better understand how vehicles are operating and how drivers are performing. In addition, this layer can sense certain features in the environment or identify other IoT devices.
- Network Layer/Connecting Layer: This allows devices to connect to others within the network. One way to think about this is a two-part system with routing and encapsulation layers. Within the layers, there are certain protocols. For example, RPL is a routing protocol and ICMP is a protocol that devices and hosts use to communicate error information or updates.
- Application Layer: This is where analytics, data management, and Edge IT comes into play. The application layer is ultimately responsible for delivering services to a user, typically based on HTTP. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are often used with the application layer. For instance, ML-based clustering algorithms and preprocessing feature selection help improve efficiency and accuracy.
As data flows freely through the three layers outlined, it becomes possible to power smart devices targeted at specific use cases.
Industry-Specific Application of IoT Solutions
Industry 4.0 (Industrial IoT):
Industrial companies use IoT solutions to digitize processes, transform business models, and improve reliability and efficiency. In addition, industrial IoT (IIoT) applications help companies decrease waste. Consider the following use cases:
- Predictive Quality Models – determine patterns, predict future outcomes and trends, and fix quality issues while decreasing time and effort.
- Asset Monitoring – When equipment isn’t in optimal condition, an industrial company can suffer. In a manufacturing plant, IoT solutions send health data to the cloud so staff knows the equipment status to ensure they run efficiently.
- Maintenance Analytics – Identify risks and prevent equipment breakdown. This improves uptime and keeps the equipment functioning at peak performance. By studying the data transmitted at regular intervals, maintenance models predict when someone needs to intervene to prevent a costly problem.
Transportation & Logistics:
Often referred to as telematics, IoT solutions in the transportation and logistics industry are critical for fleet tracking and management.
- Dash Cam – Fleet dash cameras are part of IoT solutions in the transportation industry. As a part of a holistic telematics system, dashcams convey information in real-time to improve operational accuracy and reliability. Additionally, at the end-point, data is processed with AI and ML to learn and evolve.
- Mobile Applications – Driver mobile applications ensure an effective workflow. Some examples of types of mobile applications include job management apps, digital checklists, and driver scorecards.
- Fleet Management Software – When data is collected from cameras, sensors, and mobile apps, the software on the back end needs to gather multiple sources of data, store it, process it, and present it for the end user.
Construction: Smart Connected Job Site
EquipmentShare’s T3 is a cloud-based operating system that combines construction workflows and data from disparate sources. This offers several key benefits in the construction industry.
- Enhance Visibility – Track assets, materials, and people and gain visibility over daily tasks that you might otherwise overlook.
- Control Costs – Cut out unnecessary costs, like rental spending, service events, downtime, and theft.
- Increase Productivity – IoT solutions in construction allow companies to streamline workflows. Doing so reduces bottlenecks and allows for more data-driven business decisions.
Within the government sector, IoT solutions support the development of smart nations as well as smart cities.
- City Planning – Smart cities utilize connected sensors, lights, and meters to gather and analyze data. The data is then applied to complex analyses that can improve infrastructure, public utilities, and services.
- Creating Jobs – IoT-enhanced economic analyses can look at a specific industry to determine growth opportunities and barriers
Challenges to Overcome
A major thing limiting the application of IoT solutions is the human mind. If we’re not continually developing new ideas for use cases and applications, IoT fails to grow. However, there are some other challenges IoT faces, which we’ll discuss below.
- Regulatory Issues: Because industries are still learning about IoT solutions, policies related to compliance are lacking. Companies are left to define their own compliance policies and they might not align with federal jurisdictions and therefore new technologies are unregulated. Without proper regulation, there are conflicting viewpoints about the ‘right way’ to employ IoT solutions.
- Digital Privacy Issues: Of course, when IoT solutions are seamlessly transferring information almost everywhere, people will be concerned about their privacy. For instance, a piece of collected information could be used to identify, locate, track, or monitor an individual without the person’s knowledge. Unfortunately, in some ways, the development of IoT solutions and the protection of digital privacy are conflicting goals.
- Data Security Issues: If a device doesn’t have enough computing power to ensure solid data security, large companies in the healthcare, financial, logistics, and retail industries risk security breaches. When security isn’t a top priority, systems risk exposure to malware, cyber-attacks, and data leaks.
Despite these challenges, there is much hope for the future of IoT solutions.
Trends and Future Directions
The future of IoT is promising to say the least. Below we’ll outline some of the current trends in IoT and where things are headed.
Rather than sending data back to a data center or to the cloud, Edge computing allows it to be processed at the edge, meaning it can be analyzed in real-time. There are already several Edge computing platforms available, including:
Additionally, Linux containers play a key role in IoT because they enable isolated application failures, efficient updates, and a flexible workflow for many industries. Linux containers offer virtualization solutions at the operating-system level.
Private 5G Networks
Compared to a public 5G network, a private one allows for quality-of-service-based priority access because it is managed by the organization’s site. Key features of private 5G networks that appeal to IoT are enhanced mobile broadband, Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), and massive Machine Type Communications.
How to Leverage IoT Solutions
Hopefully, by this point, you have a thorough understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT), including how it works, the history behind it, its benefits, challenges, and future directions. Now, the next step is to find an IoT partner.
Morey’s vision is to lead the creation of connected products with the ultimate goal of empowering our partners to meet their business needs through smart solutions. Contact us today to discover how partnering with Morey can benefit your company.