In December of last year, IEEE placed the web-of-things (WoT) as second in its top 10 tech trends for 2014. As the world reaches for greater connectivity, the Internet of Things (IoT) has become a vital instrument to interconnect devices. No doubt, the IoT will prove to be a disruptive technology.

When Bosch decided to create the IoT company, Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions, it served as a reminder of how this seemingly new concept has quickly become mainstream.  However, despite countless media mentions on IoT, understanding remains limited with many of us never experiencing it firsthand.

 

What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of things is often known as Machine to Machine, Man to Machine, or Machine to Mobile. Smartphones are an important connecting tool acting as a vital instrument in making this new technology a convention. These wireless devices are equipped with all the necessary sensors and network technologies to stay connected with your things. With the IoT, watches, car keys, and even buildings use embedded chips and sensors to form a ubiquitous network.

Companies like Samsung and GE are manufacturing products like smart thermostats, lighting systems and other appliances that communicate using the IoT. However, until now this smart connectivity was expensive and difficult to produce. It is only in the last year or so that companies like Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Intel have come up with economic and efficient chips that can connect to the web.

A wide adoption of the Internet of Things model will result in the generation of a large amount of data requiring storage, processing and retrieval. This challenge requires the scale of cloud computing.  

 

Elements of IoT
The technical component of the IoT is its hardware elements like sensors, actuators, and embeddable chips.  Wireless sensors and other types of wireless network nodes will account for 60 percent of the total Internet of Things devices by 2020.

The most important role will be played by autonomous wireless sensors that can execute their intended function autonomously when deployed in a suitable environment. The current lot of sensors employ low-power consumption wireless protocols such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Zigbee or Radio-frequency identification (RFID).


RFID Sensors are being implanted in humans as well
Research is underway to improve the power supply of RFID devices. The more power efficient a sensor is, the more messages it can send or receive. Manufacturers are developing many autonomous sensors with natural power sources that would allow these devices to operate indefinitely. Examples of natural power sources include photovoltaic energy, thermal energy and radio frequency energy. However, using natural power can be riddled with complexities that can lead researchers to find more reliable solutions.

Wireless battery-free sensors based on RFID are being developed. They can be deployed in any environment from piping systems, concrete, walls and pillars to other enclosures. The only limitation is that they require an RFID reader in close vicinity to RF power.

Wireless sensing networks (WSN) has been used in environmental and industrial monitoring. Their usage is moving from proprietary standards to adopt IP-based sensor networks using the 6LoWPAN/IPv6 standard. This will allow native connectivity between WSN and the Internet, enabling participation of smart objects in the Internet of Things.           

 

Large Application Scope
The IoT has a wide application range depending on the network type, scale, coverage, and user involvement. In fact, many companies have their own vision about the future of the IoT.

Cisco has been calling it the Internet of Everything, while GE CEO Jeff Immelt said that a global network connecting people, data and machines called the Industrial Internet had the potential to add $10 to $15 trillion to global GDP in the next 20 years. GE plans to invest $1 billion in the "development of industrial internet technology and applications to make customers more productive."

To ensure familiarity rather than foisting IoT on consumers, companies are considering smartening their existing appliances with cheap wireless chips and sensors. For instance, the concept of smart homes where you can control the electronic systems of your house through your smartphone is a good way of making customers familiar with the IoT without overwhelming them with connected sensors and other gadgets. Once the customers becomes a regular user of smart objects, they can come back again for other smart gear.

For example, the AllSeen Alliance, supported by Linux Foundation and a host of other manufacturers like Cisco, Qualcomm, Haier, LG Electronics, D-Link and Sharp is an open source framework that enables connection of home appliances, cars and computers. Originally developed by Qualcomm under the codename AllJoyn, this software framework would allow all kinds of systems to interact with each other regardless of their operating systems and manufacturer.

 

Personal and home usage
Human implanted RFID sensors can gather data about the human body and use the IoT to upload the data to servers that can be accessed by physicians or by individuals. This would serve elderly patients who can be monitored in their homes thereby reducing hospitalizations.

The control of home equipment such as air conditioners, and washing machines is already possible. However constant monitoring, can improve the way electricity is consumed, improving efficiency.

 

Will the IoT create jobs?
Technology advances are mostly seen as a step back for workers. However, according to the GE report, Industrial Internet will supposedly create new job opportunities. With IoT being a product of Information and Communication Technology, there will be demand for professionals with IT skills such as data scientists, user interface experts and digital-mechanical engineers.

According to the report, there will also be a marked increment in the technology awareness of workers. Thus, instead of being afraid of the IoT, future workers should prepare themselves to work alongside it.

 

About the author:
Saurabh Tyagi is an electronics and communication engineer with interests in emerging technologies. He is currently pursuing a career in digital media.

 

Images courtesy of Wikipedia1, Wikipedia2

 

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