By Shaina Grover
As technology becomes a more prominent part of our lives, more and more things are connected to the internet. You never know, someday your hairbrush could have a computer chip in it. The vast majority of these devices are connected by one thing: The Internet of Things, which is also referred to as the IoT. The IoT is a network of physical objects that are connected to each other by their sensors, software, and any other technology they are embedded with. Any device or object that is part of the IoT is connected and they are constantly sharing data with each other. This means that your electric toothbrush has a connection to the spacecraft being launched into space. Essentially, if something has an on/off switch that’s connected to the internet, it can technically be included in the Internet of Things. Examples of familiar technology that is part of the IoT include Amazon’s Alexa and Echo, Google Homes, various smart home security systems, and smart refrigerators.
The IoT is a fairly new concept. It wasn’t officially named until 1999, but the first example of technology sharing information and data was seen in a Coca Cola machine in 1980. Before making the trip to get a drink, the refrigerating appliance checked to see if the drink was available and if it was cold. At the time, the idea of devices sharing information with each other was unprecedented and new. Nowadays, this idea is the norm, and we often take it for granted. The reason for this difficulty was the size of the chips. Due to their large size, it was difficult to communicate with efficiency. However, the introduction of RFID tags and IPv6 made the IoT possible, and the number of devices connected through IoT is rapidly increasing. It is estimated that by 2025, 41.6 billion devices will be connected by the IoT.
All devices that are members of the IoT have sensors or some sort of technology that accepts inputs. Many devices have multiple sensors, and each one will have a different purpose. For example, in addition to your phone’s regular functions, it also has camera, audio, GPS, speed, and other sensors. Common objects with sensors that we see everyday are cars. There are sensors that check speed, remaining fuel, the presence of a nearby car, etc. With the IoT, we are moving towards fully automated cars.
Once the sensors take the data from their surroundings, they need to store the collected data somewhere. The majority of the time, this data is sent to the cloud; the cloud is a network of servers that gives individuals and businesses access to storage space and computing power. There are multiple ways the information can be sent to the cloud. Depending on the device, the data can be wirelessly transferred through cellular, satellites, WiFi, Bluetooth, or it can use ethernet to directly connect to the internet.
Next, the data is processed. The data is collected in one spot and analytics are performed on it. Based on the needs of the software, the necessary information is taken to complete the specific task. The software can either send users information, or it can run tasks without human interference. The IoT platforms can identify what information is useful, then identify patterns, make recommendations, send messages, and complete an action. The data can increase the efficiency of companies exponentially. With extra sensors and more communication with the device, companies can find out when their products are failing, which products are doing well in the market, and use the data to make sure their supply is able to meet the demand. The possibilities are endless. Having even the simplest household objects able to communicate creates opportunities for advancements in technology that could change the world.
Just like any technological advancement, there are risks involved. The sensors are collecting data on your every move, even what you do in the “privacy” of your own home. It doesn’t become an issue until the information is misused or stolen. Because data is being collected from so many different sources, once compiled, your personal information is at risk of being stolen or sold. People can access information on how well you brush your teeth to what time you leave your house every morning. Hackers can gain access to a simple household object that is a member of the IoT, and they now have a full pathway to getting hold of more sensitive information.
Although the IoT can be used for amazing things like smart cities, there are a plethora of security risks involved. When buying devices that are connected through the Internet of Things, make sure you know what information it is collecting.
Google Home mini image: https://unsplash.com/photos/anapPhJFRhM @benceboros
What Did You Learn?
1. What are RFID tags? How did they impact the IoT?
Radio Frequency Identification uses radio waves to communicate and transfer data between a tag and a system that reads this data. RFID tags made communication, a crucial part of IoT, between devices a lot easier. RFID tags can be used to identify locations, who/what made changes, and just more overall information. The tags can also report the status of certain devices to businesses by tracking and monitoring the objects. In IoT, they connect the devices and gather/send the data.
2. What are smart cities? How do they relate to IoT?
Smart cities are cities that use electronics and sensors to collect data to make life more efficient. All over the world, cities are implementing more devices that are connected with IoT. In order to decrease traffic, San Diego is using data from surveillance to make sure one route is not congested. Paris allows its residents to book parking in advance, and New York is testing gunshot detection. All of these require the use of sensors to collect data and then send information to specific parties. Eventually, cities will be more dependent on technology and almost every aspect will be automated and connected through IoT.