What Is the IoT?

Doorbells, dog fitness collars, cars, MRI machines, even beer coasters are getting smarter, connected, and frankly, more chatty. IoT devices are taking the world by storm, changing the way we receive medical treatment and play video games, even improving the air we breathe.

What Is IoT Technology?

An everyday object containing a specialized microchip that enables an internet connection can become an IoT device. A fish tank, a human with a heart monitor implant, or a car with built-in sensors alerting the driver of low tire pressure all count. Various objects can now be assigned IP addresses. Then, they can transfer data to an online platform, and finally, a user.

So what is IoT technology? When analyzing the technology supporting the IoT and its inner workings, a complete IoT system combines four main components: devices (or items), connectivity, data analysis, and a user interface.

Devices/Items

A teddy bear, a TV, an airplane part, or a wearable fitness tracker. All these devices have microchips inserted into them and are assigned unique identifiers (a 128-bit number that uniquely identifies an object or entity on the internet). Smart devices collect data from their environment like temperature, motion, or even full videos. Then, they send the collected data to the cloud.

Connectivity

Depending on the type of device, the data can travel to the cloud via various methods: WiFi, satellite, Bluetooth, cellular, low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN), or the ethernet.

Data Analysis

Once the data reaches the cloud, it’s analyzed. This analysis could include checking if the room is too hot or checking whether there’s movement in your home while you’re away on vacation. What is the IoT doing when it comes to analyzing a potential emergency as opposed to fulfilling your daily whims? The difference between the two will affect the way the information from the cloud is communicated to the user.

User Interface

What happens when there is, in fact, an intruder in your house, or maybe a fire? You receive a push notification, an email or a text, depending on the degree of urgency and your own preference.

Most people use internet of things applications on their phones or web browsers to send requests to a device via the cloud. In doing so, they can dim the lights, turn on the coffee machine, or increase the temperature in the bathroom before taking a shower. You could also send requests via a smart voice assistant like Alexa, Cortana, or Siri.

Mobile phones and computers don’t count as IoT devices even though they’re regularly connected to the internet. Your phone or computer instead become remote controls for all of your connected devices, meaning they make it easy for you to check if you’ve turned off the oven before leaving the house, and you can even turn it off via said device if you need to.

The standard internet of things definition would best be illustrated with an example. A smart thermostat measures your home’s temperature and then delivers the collected data using the IoT software hosted in the cloud. The data is then stored and analyzed on a cloud-based IoT platform (which also keeps information on millions of other devices). Once there, the data is sent to an authorized user when they request it. A user can view the data using a web-based app.

What is an IoT platform? An IoT platform is a form of “middleware” that works between your IoT devices and data and the applications that you use to access them. There are a few popular control platforms on which developers have built IoT apps that interact wirelessly with smart sensors and devices. Some of these include Samsung’s SmartThings, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s HomeKit.

What Are IoT devices?

On a basic level, the IoT includes devices and sensors that can be used in most industries. Certainly, consumers purchase the most devices—individuals use the IoT to facilitate their day-to-day lives and enrich their homes. Businesses spend more money on IoT devices and use them both for convenience and to facilitate everyday processes, often resulting in a higher ROI. Connected motion sensors let you know if there’s someone on your doorstep, soil moisture measurement data improves crop quality, and a smart airplane part can let you know when you should have it replaced, to name some examples.

What Does “IoT” Mean?

“IoT” stands for “internet of things.” Its processors are cheap and power-frugal. That’s why you get to enjoy smart doors, smart fish tanks, smart air fresheners, and even smart airplanes, as if you were in some insane Sci-Fi flick. It’s also why somebody thought it was an okay idea to smart up a simple pair of flip flops for no conceivable reason other than sending discount ads. Sometimes the role of the IoT makes sense, and sometimes it’s a touch ridiculous. In the end, everyone uses the IoT differently.

Along with making your home look cool, IoT smart devices provide trustworthy information. Measuring and monitoring the outside world generates valuable data and eventually saves time, energy, and money. It also helps various industries advance.

Although increasingly present in everyone’s lives (15.4% of homes worldwide contain IoT devices), the IoT also makes real changes in the lives of people with disabilities and the elderly. You can now call a nurse, adjust a room’s temperature, and ensure you have the right drug distribution schedule with the swipe of a finger.

How the IoT Works and Connects

This actually depends on the provider and the company, as very little standardization has been established. It’s increasingly difficult to connect devices from various manufacturers within a single home, let alone secure them. Sticking to a single provider is therefore advised.

What Are the IoT’s Applications?

The wide range of IoT device applications is often divided into four main categories: consumer, commercial, industrial, and finally, infrastructure—a particularly futuristic and exciting one.

What Is the Internet of Things for Consumers?

Consumers take the lead with the biggest number of purchased smart devices. As far as consumers are concerned, an ideal IoT-enabled home might as well be a fully automated, eco-friendly spaceship. Due to the price requirements, however, they tend to start small and build from there.

Smart lighting is one of the most popular features: it’s cheap, it’s easy and quick to install, and it helps with security and energy conservation. According to a 2017 Crime Lab New York study, the implementation of smart lighting cut night-time crime by 39%. Internet of things devices and sensors are therefore not to be taken lightly. The types of sensors include home security motion sensors, smoke detectors, and contact sensors. Some examples of home devices are smart locks, smart door controls, and even smart power outlets and water heaters.

If you want to receive a notification as soon as your motion sensors detect movement near your front door, you can simply program your internet of things software to send you one. You can also connect your smart light bulbs with your front door or garage door and have welcoming light greet you as you come home from work.

The whole point of a smart thermostat is to help you save money on your heating and cooling bill. It can start a scheduled heating process just in time for you to come back from work into a cozy, homely environment. It can also turn itself off when you’re asleep, to save energy.

Internet of things home security is no longer just about remote access to on-site cameras. Motion and heat sensors are connected to each other and to your web-based app. They will send you a notification as soon as they detect any alarming changes. Add security cameras to the equation, and you’ll get excellent burglary and home invasion protection. An IoT-enabled system connected via a common hub also offers protection from floods and fires.

And finally, no internet of things network is complete without some lean and mean smart entertainment. You can ask your smart speaker to play music for you. Your hub will transfer data and set a timer while you’re baking a carrot cake. Your AV (audiovisual) system will call you an Uber and deliver a weather report, even check the traffic to see why your ride isn’t there yet.

Some people only use the IoT for entertainment purposes, integrating their smart TV and smart speakers for a full-blown immersive experience. First-party Xbox games like Forza are using the IoT to enhance their gaming experience by adding connectivity. Developers can now benefit from IoT data collection from gamers, which is then sent back out to other gamers. This creates a great live experience, even for players who aren’t playing together.

The IoT’s ability to communicate between devices helped the game Fortnite connect players all over the world through their console, PC, or phone. The IoT connects the players to the viewers, via Twitch and YouTube. As the gaming application shows, the internet of things’ benefits expand to unique communication between a customer and a business. Once gamers could be connected to the games, and then to devices, and finally to platforms, both the gaming industry and the opportunities created by the internet of things grew tremendously.

Basically, consumers automate their homes for many reasons—the IoT saves power and energy, facilitates one’s everyday life, and makes it more pleasant (room temperature and voice-activated earworm included).

How many devices does an average person have? It’s estimated that by 2020 (counting the estimated population of 7.6 billion), there will be 6.5 IoT devices per person. This means that the overall quality of many services will also likely improve. Connected devices can gather user data, allowing companies to produce targeted ads and even improve their products or services depending on what people enjoyed the most.

Commercial IoT

In 2017, consumer spending on IoT devices amounted to $725 billion. Businesses, in spite of owning fewer IoT products, spent $964 billion. By 2020, business and consumer spending on IoT hardware is expected to hit $3 trillion. So what is the IoT going to do in order improve these industries?

First of all, commercial IoT covers a wide range of businesses: healthcare, transportation, and building automation services, to name just a few.

There are many benefits to IoT in healthcare: Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City, for example, effectively reduced wait times for their emergency room patients by 50% with the new IoT-driven software, AutoBed. A 2015 Goldman Sachs report concluded that IoT devices in healthcare “can save the United States more than $300 billion in annual healthcare expenditures by increasing revenue and decreasing cost.”

Many other benefits of the IoT in healthcare include tracking patient’s fitness activities or heart rate or knowing when to replace malfunctioning machines. In fact, Philips’ new IoT system monitors medical hardware and alerts hospital staff members in case of malfunction.

Fitbit uses the IoT to monitor personal health. Health Net Connect developed a diabetic management program for improving treatment and reducing medical costs. Both the long-term and short-term health and financial benefits from the  IoT are becoming more and more apparent, prompting businesses all over the world to make investments.

Internet of things companies are thriving along with their clients. The IoT in the automotive industry is another profitable matter. It incorporates specific types of communication that improve the driver’s experience, such as V2N (vehicle-to-network), V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle), V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure), V2P (vehicle-to-pedestrian), and others.

Users can track the real-time status of vehicles, demand weather reports, and track traffic changes, making appropriate decisions along the way. When combined with the concept of machine learning, the IoT also helps reduce the number of traffic accidents. Additionally, drowsiness alerts examine driver fatigue and send warnings before tragedy strikes.

One more way for internet-connected devices to save lives is via break-down alerts. After a long road trip, a person might get a notification from their car to check the engine. At the same time, the IoT app on their phone can find the nearest certified mechanic in the area and make an appointment. The IoT sensors inside the car could even find out which part should be replaced, order it online, and send it to the mechanic before your appointment.

Consumer and enterprise IoT applications, therefore, cooperate to build you a better future, save you a lot of time, and reduce the risk of injury, even death. The term “Enterprise IoT” refers to devices used in business and corporate settings. By 2019, it’s estimated that the EIoT will account for 9.1 billion devices worldwide.

What Is the Internet of Things for Industries?

The industrial IoT covers many sectors and is usually a sound investment, currently making the market more competitive than ever. Technologies using the IoT are especially present and useful in contemporary agriculture. A high degree of asset control, as well as objective data, translates into better livestock and crop quality.

Drones, i.e. ground-based and aerial-based internet-enabled devices, provide unique data collection for crop health assessment, planting, soil and field analysis, and irrigation. In fact, agriculture has become one of the major industries incorporating this technology into everyday activities. Overall, precision farming, livestock monitoring, smart greenhouses, and expert water management are generating top-notch results for modern farmers and slashing resource waste.

In manufacturing, the IoT has a way of collecting and sending information to improve product quality, and keep workers safe and sound. For example, an employee covers more ground when checking the soil on a giant property with a smart device. Also, IoT sensors in a boiler about to reach dangerous pressure conditions would send a warning long before it explodes and causes serious damage.

In case of a flood or a fire, worker monitors can determine every person’s location and help them evacuate. Receiving and acting on information, even when dealing with huge corporations, has become quicker, easier, and safer than ever.

Infrastructure IoT

Over 50% of the global population lives in cities, and this figure is projected to grow to over two-thirds by 2050. With cities growing at an amazing rate in most of the developed world, it becomes ever more difficult to combat the strain of growth, from traffic control to environmental issues. This is where smart cities can make a difference.

A smart city is a municipality that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency. Cities share information with the public and improve the quality of government services and citizen welfare. With the IoT developing and growing so quickly to accommodate these new needs, it’s hard not to wonder, How many IoT devices will there be in 2020? Well, by 2025, it’s estimated that there will be 30.73 billion, and many of them will be integrated into municipal systems.

Both the authorities and citizens need access to correct and relevant data. An automated network on a city scale could significantly improve how we tackle an array of municipal activities, like overflowing trash cans, traffic jams, traffic accidents, or air pollution. Traffic jams, environmental problems, and safety issues can be avoided to a degree when the scope of the IoT expands to the city level.

Currently, the most prevalent smart city programs include visual surveillance systems, public transport and smart outdoor lighting. Put together, these three areas account for nearly 25% of smart city spending. With a smart vehicle or an appropriate app, you can easily search your area for available parking spaces and avoid slow traffic. The current smart city programs using artificial intelligence are working toward achieving superior transportation and parking management.

Mobile operators are helping authorities reduce pollution with smart air quality sensors. Updates on pollution are delivered in real-time, and accurate monitoring helps officials find sustainable solutions. The combination of AI, smart sensors, and cloud computing should result in the more affluent cities reducing their environmental impact.

IoT Security and Privacy Issues

The IoT market is relatively new, and more and more companies are fighting to get ahead, be the next person to contribute something innovative, needed, and original. Unfortunately, the ubiquity of connected devices was met with an almost proportional rise in cybercrimes. This is even more problematic now that the number of devices connected to the internet in 2019 exceeds 26.6 billion.

On top of that, the number of IoT devices that will be out there by the end of this year is expected to hit 22.66 billion. So odds are, the market is expanding way too quickly to stay safe. It’s something else to keep in mind if you’ve been wondering, How many IoT devices are there in the world?

The risks of becoming a target of a cybercrime attack via your connected mobile device or IP security camera is significant. The password protection is usually uncomplicated, unfit to fend off even brute-force attacks. The convenience and brilliant simplicity of IoT usage becomes a cyber-bug, depending on your perspective.

Sure, you can easily connect to your IoT device remotely and make yourself a nice cup of coffee before you get home from work. And while on vacation, you’re one click away from checking your home security cameras. But precisely because the internet of things and the cloud provide easy access to users, they are so easy to hack.

Considering how IoT devices can be a liability if not properly secured, attacks involving an IoT botnet have been creeping up on contemporary analysts. The Wired suggested that hacked IoT water heaters could trigger mass blackouts in the future, emphasizing the dangers of particularly large IoT botnets. An IoT botnet is a group of IoT devices and appliances secretly co-opted for illicit purposes by third-party criminals. Needless to say, the concerns authorities have about the IoT and cyberwarfare seem to be well justified.

To minimize the risks of problems affecting your cybersecurity, three main protocols need to be followed. First of all, IoT devices typically come with default passwords, and many users make do with these default settings. Start out by setting a unique username and password.

Then, you’ll want to identify which devices in your home or office are part of the IoT. In enterprises and even large, tech-friendly households, listing all internet of things products can be a challenge. Once devices are identified, a centralized control mechanism should start enforcing regular updates of the latest security software patches.

Finally, don’t forget to segment your IoT devices from the rest of your systems or data. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones containing confidential data need to be in separate, secured network zones and deploy their firewalls separately. Do this, and you’ll be able to enjoy all the benefits the IoT can offer today without having to worry about safety.

Is the Internet of Things the Future?

If you ask German Professor Dr. Detlef Zühlke, the head of one of the largest research centers for smart factory technology, “We will have a fourth industrial revolution.” China, the US, South Korea, Japan, and Germany are all making big steps toward building smart factories and establishing global quality standards.

Connected homes, buildings, and even cities could revolutionize the way we organize these huge municipalities. Huge reductions in the number of traffic accidents, pollution-related health hazards, and energy waste could be the future of the IoT.

Life and the way we do things would become immensely easier, saving us a significant amount of time, money, and emissions. Day-to-day issues would become a breeze with novel opportunities utilizing the internet of things—finding a parking space in a busy area is a breeze, movie night with friends becomes a mind-blowing experience with pristine connected entertainment systems, and even your fridge webcams can help you order a healthy meal once you’re out of eggs or vegetables.

An internet of things overview wouldn’t be complete without accounting for people with disabilities and the elderly. Never-before-seen home care—aided by strong sensors for easier movement and dependable, scheduled medication use—is changing the world for the better as we speak. Remote health monitoring for various illnesses like arrhythmia is already saving lives, reducing medical costs by 50%. In a world of IoT, industrial, healthcare, agricultural, and even entertainment products could achieve better quality with an ear for user demands.

These new concepts sound swell, but a clever bystander ought to be careful. Only in a well-secured environment can an individual, a business, or a city enjoy the IoT’s benefits while hoping for a progressive, bright future. And what is IoT technology good for if not to give hope for a better, technology-enabled future? So if you’re reading this, schedule regular updates for your security system and consider changing your usernames and passwords.

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