Things you need to know about IoT

What is IoT

The Internet of Things, also called the Internet of Everything or Industrial Internet is fundamentally shifting the way we interact with our surrounding environments. It offers one essential capability which was hitherto mostly unavailable – “measurement of real-time data”. The ability to collect and process data makes data-driven management very effective. This leads to the optimized performance of systems and processes, of time savings for businesses and individuals and better quality of life for everybody.

Though, there is no universal definition exists, but we can define it as “Internet of Thing (IoT), also called ‘Internet of everything’ or ‘Industrial Internet’ is a global network of ‘objects’ or ‘things’ embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enable these objects to collect and exchange data”.

Coined in 1999 by British technology pioneer Kevin Ashton, and evolved to the mainstream in the 2010s in both academic research and commercial applications, the Internet of Things was defined as a worldwide information infrastructure in the physical and virtual objects were uniquely identified and connected over the internet, enabling innovative, advanced services and creating more convenient and smarter life.

Example of IoT
There are several examples of IoT. Few of them are

Nest Thermostat (Nest Lab)
WeMo Switch (Belkin International)
Hue Smart Light – Philips
August Smart Lock

How IoT Works

Internet of Thing (IoT) is not the result of single novel technology; instead, several complementary technical developments provide capabilities that taken together help to bridge the gap between the virtual and physical world. These capabilities include

Communication & Cooperation
Embedded Information Processing
Wearable User Interface

There are five key technologies that make IoT possible. These are

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
Wireless Sensor Network
Cloud Computing
Application Software

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
Radio frequency identification (RFID) allows automatic identification and data capture using radio waves, a tag, and a reader. The tag can store more data than traditional barcodes. The tag contains data in the form of the Electronic Product Code (EPC), a global RFID-based item identification system developed by the Auto-ID Center. Three types of tags are used. Passive RFID tags rely on radio frequency energy transferred from the reader to the tag to power the tag; they are not battery-powered. Applications of these can be found in supply chains, passports, electronic tolls, and item-level tracking. Active RFID tags have their own battery supply and can instigate communication with a reader. Active tags can contain external sensors to monitor temperature, pressure, chemicals, and other conditions. Active RFID tags are used in manufacturing, hospital laboratories, and remote-sensing IT asset management. Semi-passive RFID tags use batteries to power the microchip while communicating by drawing power from the reader. Active and semi-passive RFID tags cost more than passive tags.

Wireless Sensor Network
Wireless sensor networks (WSN) consist of spatially distributed autonomous sensor-equipped devices to monitor physical or environmental conditions and can cooperate with RFID systems to better track the status of things such as their location, temperature, and movements (Atzori, Iera, & Morabito, 2010). WSN allow different network topologies and multihop communication. Recent technological advances in low-power integrated circuits and wireless communications have made available efficient, low-cost, low-power miniature devices for use in WSN applications (Gubbi, Buyya, Marusic, & Palaniswami, 2013). WSN have primarily been used in cold chain logistics that employ thermal and refrigerated packaging methods to transport temperature-sensitive products (Hsueh & Chang, 2010; White & Cheong, 2012). WSN are also used for maintenance and tracking systems. For example, General Electric deploys sensors in its jet engines, turbines, and wind farms. By analyzing data in real time, GE saves time and money associated with preventive maintenance. Likewise, American Airlines uses sensors capable of capturing 30 terabytes of data per flight for services such as preventive maintenance.

Middleware is a software layer interposed between software applications to make it easier for software developers to perform communication and input/output. Its feature of hiding the details of different technologies is fundamental to free IoT developers from software services that are not directly relevant to the specific IoT application. Middleware gained popularity in the 1980s due to its significant role in simplifying the integration of legacy technologies into new ones. It also facilitated the development of new services in the distributed computing environment. A complex distributed infrastructure of the IoT with numerous heterogeneous devices requires simplifying the development of new applications and services, so the use of middleware is an ideal fit with IoT application development. For example, Global Sensor Networks (GSN) is an open source sensor middleware platform enabling the development and deployment of sensor services with almost zero programming effort. Most middleware architectures for the IoT follow a service-oriented approach to support an unknown and dynamic network topology.

Cloud Computing
Cloud computing is a model for on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable resources (e.g., computers, networks, servers, storage, applications, services, software) that can be provisioned as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Software as a Service (SaaS). One of the most important outcomes of the IoT is an enormous amount of data generated from devices connected to the Internet (Gubbi et al., 2013). Many IoT applications require massive data storage, huge processing speed to enable real-time decision making, and high-speed broadband networks to stream data, audio, or video. Cloud computing provides an ideal back-end solution for handling huge data streams and processing them for the unprecedented number of IoT devices and humans in real time.

Application Software
The IoT facilitates the development of myriad industry-oriented and user-specific IoT applications. Whereas devices and networks provide physical connectivity, IoT applications enable device-to-device and human-to-device interactions in a reliable and robust manner. IoT applications on devices need to ensure that data/messages have been received and acted upon properly in a timely manner. For example, transportation and logistics applications monitor the status of transported goods such as fruits, fresh-cut produce, meat, and dairy products. During transportation, the conservation status (e.g., temperature, humidity, shock) is monitored constantly and appropriate actions are taken automatically to avoid spoilage when the connection is out of range. For example, FedEx uses SenseAware to keep tabs on the temperature, location, and other vital signs of a package, including when it is opened and whether it was tampered with along the way. While device-to-device applications do not necessarily require data visualization, more and more
human-centered IoT applications provide visualization to present information to end users in an intuitive and easy-to-understand way and to allow interaction with the environment. It is important for IoT applications to be built with intelligence so devices can monitor the environment, identify problems, communicate with each other, and potentially resolve problems without the need for human intervention.

Application of IoT
Despite growing popularity of the IoT, few studies have focused on categorization of the IoT for enterprises (e.g., Chui, Loffler, & Roberts, 2010). Based on the technology trends and literature review, this article identifies three IoT categories for enterprise applications:

(1) monitoring and control
(2) big data and business analytics
(3) information sharing and collaboration.

Understanding how these three IoT categories can enhance the customer value of an organization is a prerequisite to successful IoT adoption. This article next discusses the three IoT categories, along with an illustration of real-world IoT applications developed to enhance customer value.