What is the Internet of Things?
The concept behind the Internet of Things (IoT) is a situation where everything around us is connected to the internet. For instance, in a home, you have basic individual “dumb devices” (such as; toasters, microwaves, dustbins, etc) all connected to the internet creating a “Swarm Intelligence”. A Swarm Intelligence is simply the collective behavior of decentralized systems.
So IoT basically means that all these “dumb devices” will be able to communicate, interact and talk to each other for more efficient, automated control and monitoring. IoT is built on cloud computing and networks of data gathering sensors. It is going to make everything in our lives, from dustbins to airports, “smart”.
How does it work?
IoT is anticipated to offer sophisticated and revolutionary connectivity of devices, systems and services that extends beyond mere machine-to-machine communications (M2M). IoT works by use of both sensors and machines. A sensor is not a machine. It differs from a machine in the sense that while a machine is a tool which uses energy to carry out an intended action, a sensor is a device that detects, measures and records physical properties like temperature, pressure, humidity, etc.
IoT results from the connection of these sensors and machines. This means that the IoT’s real value is the gathering of data and leveraging it in real-time. Cloud based applications are pivotal to optimizing these leveraged data.
IoT does not operate without cloud based applications to deduce and communicate the data coming from these sensors.
How can the Internet of Things be applied?
The idea behind IoT is to create an environment where everything around us is “smart”. For instance, given the numerous cases of building collapses in Nigeria, IoT could be deployed in such a way that physical quantities such as temperature, humidity and CO2 will be measured by sensor nodes embedded in these buildings. The objective of this is to deploy a sensor system and model the environmental conditions as they reconcile heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) performance. These sensors will at the same time measure the amount of load being applied to the building, telling us if the predetermined maximum load has been exceeded and if the concrete in the building is in need of reinforcements. These monitoring systems send notifications or warnings to avert these dangers.
To paint a more vivid scenario of this concept, in Western countries, if there is ice on a bridge, the sensors in the concrete will detect and communicate the information via the wireless internet to the car. Once the car knows there is a hazard ahead, it will issue the driver a warning, instructing him to slow down and if he doesn’t, the car will slow down for him. This is an example of sensor-to-machine and machine-to-machine communication.
An implication of when a smart car and smart city grid communicate is in traffic grid flow optimization. On account of this, instead of having traffic lights on fixed timers, we have smart traffic lights that can react to changes in traffic flow and reduce congestion. Traffic and street conditions will be channeled to drivers, re-routing them around areas that are congested or under construction.
The opportunities of IoT are so limitless they can be applied to virtually every sector, from Medicine to Transportation, Infrastructure, Agriculture, etc.
What are the challenges facing the Internet of Things?
Although we have various connected devices available for purchase, only quite a few can actually talk to other devices made by other brands. At the instance that they do communicate, the interaction is constrained or limited. Each device comes with its own unique smartphone app, instead of there being one to control them all. Companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Samsung and Nest are striving to bring together these devices, although a decentralized, unified system is required.
Also, we have the challenge of security and privacy. IoT devices which were originally conceptualized to be used solitarily or within the home without connecting to the internet are now revealed to the outside world and can now be vulnerable to cyber and criminal attacks. Assuming certain security measures are not observed, a cyber-criminal or hacker who gains access to your home systems, could turn the sensors and appliances into snooping devices.
IoT is an inevitable phenomenon given the state at which the world is evolving technologically. The scenarios cited were just a tip of the iceberg into the huge potential of this wonderment which is guaranteed to make life much simpler, safer and smarter.