All about Internet of Things

The into the possibility of certain objects to collect information from their environment and to be able to interconnect with each other, sending data to each other through the internet. This implies, in simpler terms, that these objects have an “intelligent” behavior and can offer their user exactly what they need at the right time.
There are currently many examples of the application of this concept. For example, a locator for dogs, a button that makes instant purchases, smart shoes, etc. The details of the usefulness of some of these objects will be discussed later.

This technology has become relevant because it can provide its users with a better quality of life, facilitating some processes that would otherwise be done manually. For companies, it is useful because it allows them to improve their production, logistics and commercial models through the data obtained by monitoring each of these processes.

The IoT has been applied to multiple sectors with the aim of improving the quality of service, for example, to improve security or the use of water or energy in smart homes, or to make cars drive autonomously, or in agriculture through sensors that measure the temperature or humidity of the environment in order to improve crops later, or in the health sector allowing better monitoring of patients even remotely, or optimizing supply chains in industries, among many other applications.

The devices that make up an IoT system may contain very different components depending on the function they are trying to perform. However, in general, such devices share certain components in common, through which they will transmit or receive information. These components will be shown below:

An IoT device needs sensors to collect the data it needs from its environment to analyze. Depending on the complexity of the data to be analyzed, more than a single sensor may be needed to obtain all the necessary information.

In some cases, IoT devices need more than just information from their environment to get to execute an action. Therefore, it is important that they are able to connect to the Internet or other devices. This connection can be made through various networks, whether satellite, WiFi, Bluetooth, infrared, WAN, or even through Ethernet cables. Each has different levels of power consumption, bandwidth, speed or security of the connection and one of them will be chosen according to the needs of the device. You will also need to review the connection protocols to be used.

In order to be able to process, receive and send data, as well as perform an action that indicates a result to the user (on screen or with a physical action), the device needs a processor capable of computing all these actions. Usually, such actions do not need a large processing and storage capacity, so microcontrollers can be chosen to save energy and material costs. The use of these limited processors and the fact of using them for very specific purposes gives the name of embedded devices to the devices that use them. Some examples of microcontrollers are the Arduino or Raspberry Pi circuits.

The low power of microcontrollers forces IoT device developers to use low-level programming languages to be able to use them in the program that will run these devices. These languages can be easily compiled and understood by a machine and run much faster than high-level languages, so it is convenient to use them in this class of devices. The low-level languages most preferred by developers are Assembly and C.

Many IoT systems require not only a program for their devices, but another one hosted on a web server, which does have a large processing and storage capacity that will eventually provide each embedded device in the network with the data needed to perform its tasks. These servers are capable of supporting high-level programming languages, such as JavaScript or Python. These servers can store large volumes of data and perform complex operations with them through services, for example, such as Web Analytics. The process of directly sending data from embedded devices to a web server and vice versa is known as Cloud Computing.

Finally, our IoT device will need a way to communicate the result it was asked for. This can be done in several ways, such as manifesting itself by physical means (moving or performing some visible action on your site) or digital. For the latter, some sort of user interface needs to be installed within the entire network. This interface can be a small panel that tells us that an object is freezing in the refrigerator, or it can also be a complete, high-capacity system (and a display), as in the case of smart mirrors, or it can simply be an application for PCs or cell phones that also sends notifications about, for example, that food is ready or that there is a suspicious person at the door.

There is a problem with Cloud Computing, and it is that, if some IoT devices need to track a large amount of data to work properly in real time, and this data is sent to a central server far away from the position where our device is located, latency problems will arise and cause delays in the operation of that device. This can be a big problem, for example, for autonomous cars, which need to get a response as quickly as possible to avoid traffic accidents.

For this reason, ways to improve connectivity between the entire environment of an IoT network are being considered. Two techniques that are being used to increase the speed of data response will be described below:

Edge Computing is a data processing technique of not sending everything to a central server, but rather distributing resources and data handling across multiple devices throughout the entire IoT network. The information, then, could be distributed through nearby cell phones, computers, the smart devices themselves that are part of the IoT network, or even local servers or nearby LAN connections, as long as they contain an edge port through which to connect, and together they will process and provide a quick response to the requesting device. However, the use of multiple devices at the same time can present a security issue, which will be addressed later.

5G network technology will also bring a great improvement in connectivity between IoT devices. 5G networks are shaped by a power management system that is very different from 4G and earlier networks, optimized to drastically reduce latency and power loss. It will also offer connected devices higher bandwidth. All in all, 5G is capable of delivering up to 10 times faster speeds than 4G at its peak performance. Up to 10 Gbps. In addition, 5G services allow its users to allocate specific bandwidth for each activity performed, further optimizing network performance.

As IoT networks become more complex and the number of different devices required to operate them increases, they become more vulnerable to external threats. Each of the devices, as well as the web applications where they run, must have a certain authentication, data encryption before sending them to other devices, digital certificates, among other good practices that prevent or obstruct access to these devices and their information to unwanted users. It is also important to periodically update the software as more vulnerability problems are found.

It is also recommended to properly train anyone who manages IoT network devices, especially if they are to be used in complex environments, as is the case in the medical sector. A recent study in the USA concluded that most medical staff (including IT staff) were misusing IoT devices, connecting to other unknown objects or even unaware of the existence of many devices they had in operation. Also, many of these objects were vulnerable to attacks or had already suffered security breaches.

As for data privacy issues, as mentioned above, it is recommended to use some encryption technique to prevent unwanted access or modification of such information (eavesdropping or other attacks).

As a comprehensive solution to all these problems, there are companies that are considering implementing a decentralized system with blockchain to prevent manipulations of the IoT network by means of shared logging among all nodes in the network. This could also function at the same time as a kind of edge computing.

Having covered all the technical aspects and the importance of the Internet of Things in different areas of life, we can move on to describe some examples of IoT systems and their purpose of creation.

Voyce is a dog tracker that, in addition to its main function, also measures the pet’s heart rate, respiration, calories burned and level of rest, displaying the results on some previously linked smartphone. This information can be shared with the veterinarian or social networks.

Amazon Dash was a service provided by Amazon that consisted of offering special buttons to order the instant purchase of a consumer good that was missing at home. It consisted of several components that connected to an Amazon API that allowed to perform all this task automatically. It was replaced in 2019 by the Alexa voice command, a virtual voice assistant also owned by the company.

Speaking of virtual assistants, in Japan this concept has been taken to a new level. Gatebox is a holographic device containing a virtual assistant named Azuma Hikari, which was endowed with a physical form for the hologram. This assistant is able to connect to home appliances or home automation system, and provide you with information about them and modify them when needed by the user. It can also connect to the Internet and offer a variety of information on current news. But its main attraction, and what differentiates it from other virtual assistants, is that it also functions as an emotional support for the user, cheering him up when he is down in the doldrums and being able to chat with him at any time, directly or by chat, taking on the role of friend or “girlfriend” of the user.

Now, we will talk about an example of IoT application in industry. ABB is a robot factory which relies heavily on the IoT system to optimize its work. For example, it uses low-cost sensors to monitor robot maintenance, promoting repairs at the necessary time to avoid product deterioration. It also has a connected oil and gas production system to maximize its energy efficiency and achieve the company’s business goals. There are also sensors installed inside the engines produced for the purpose of checking the condition of the parts. This data can be viewed on the company’s mobile applications or on the Internet through a secure server.

Software developer at Holberton School

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Estefano Misme

Estefano Misme

Software developer at Holberton School

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