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This week we had our Morning Coffee with Santiago Herrera Gómez.
As I have done in times before, I will be explaining an important piece of technology: IoT. In this post, I am going to take a look at the basic concepts that perhaps many of the readers have already heard of and which are the building blocks of this fast-growing technology.
What is IoT?
The internet of things (IoT) is defined by the conjunction of three elements (see figure):
Any object can be an IoT device, besides a computer. Objects like electro-domestics, tools, job equipment, buildings, clothes, school supplies, industrial equipment, etc. could be connected to IoT technology.
In order to connect to the internet of things, the device has to have hardware-software capable of computational processing. This hardware and software set up what is called an embedded system.
Embedded systems improve the functionality of objects and also can control operations and store relevant information. Nowadays, common devices like TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, toasters, music players, and cell phones, among others have embedded systems to improve and control their functions.
Last but not least, the device has to have access to the internet. The type of connections depends on the design purpose, such as by cable, wireless, satellite, etc.
Example of an IoT device: A refrigerator
- Classical refrigerator: A mechanical system that lowers its internal temperature in order to accomplish its fundamental function as a refrigerator.
- Modern refrigerator: Can include sensors that control temperature, lights or timers; also embedded systems can help to reduce energy usage, alarms, etc.
- IoT refrigerator: A refrigerator that can order food, look for the lowest prices across the internet based on its location, order a water filter when needed. It can order periodic maintenance or cleaning companies. It can provide consumption information to digital companies for marketing purposes. It can email the owner detailed information, etc.
As you can see, IoT is about networking, connectivity and making the most services and companies available online.
IoT devices are specific: This means they are not intended for computing general stuff. IoT devices are special purpose-designed. Most of them are very precise and efficient doing only one and generally not a complex task. But this does not mean that IoT is not flexible. Indeed, you can do almost anything you want by using IoT devices as parts of a far more complex system.
Trends that support the fast-growing adoption of IoT
There are a bunch of key subjects that support the current development and future implementation of the IoT.
Cost of hardware:
Nowadays, technological hardware such as microcontrollers, silicon components, etc. are cheaper than ever. This explains why many home appliances and everyday objects have embedded systems installed on them.
As well as their reduced cost, hardware has become smaller and lighter, making available a universe of possibilities for IoT. It is intended to have an impact on daily life with very practical uses or to affect the processes of industrial or commercial companies.
Hardware and software capabilities are greater than at any time before, achieving exponential growth since the arrival of personal computers. It is easy to achieve high efficiency and reliability processors at a low cost.
Every country in the world has access to the internet, as well most cities, if not all of them. High speed—bandwidth—and diverse types of connections and infrastructure constitute the foundations for IoT. New technologies are available like 4G, Wifi, satellite internet, and others are coming ahead (5G).
Big tech companies like Google, Amazon, Huawei, Azure, and others are offering a lot of services that are essential for IoT development. This allows the companies working with IoT to focus on their businesses and at the same time being supported by those big companies.
IoT is powerful and pervasive
Real-world applications of IoT include:
Smart Homes: Interconnected devices at home can be an exciting way to improve daily life. An Internet connection can be used to improve energy usage, home security, and endless products to make life easier and simpler.
Wearables: IoT devices with functionalities for fitness, health, and entertainment are already widely used today. Medical devices that monitor the body, smartwatches, bracelets, and many others.
Car industry: The obvious example is the self-driving car, but other services such as connection to websites for entertainment, for security, and in case of emergencies, like automatically dialing 911.
Smart cities: IoT can be used to intelligently control traffic lights, reduce car crashes, activate street lights, surveillance and others.
Agriculture: Data acquisition and improved operation by controlling the farming conditions and water or fertilizer usage.
Social benefits and downsides of IoT
IoT makes life easier and simpler, giving devices independence from people to be in charge of tedious activities. IoT lowers the need for humans in companies, and more importantly, it contributes to interconnect the world and make society more productive.
Along with all those benefits, IoT has some downsides such as social isolation. In developed countries the kids and teenagers are isolating in such a way that is alarming for their physical and mental health.
Dependence in technology and internet infrastructure make society vulnerable to many environmental or technical risks like:
- Power outages.
- Network issues.
- General blackouts.
- Software bugs.
Privacy and security related to IoT
The main concern about generalized IoT is the risk of unauthorized tracking. Information that IoT devices could be prone to adversarial attacks. IoT devices can be tracked to get, among others:
- Health condition
- Media watching habits
- Purchasing habits
- Driving habits
That is why privacy is becoming a main concern when talking about new technologies. User data may be used by marketing companies, also by political campaigns or scammers.
In many cases, purchasing an IoT device could lead a user to give permission to manufacturers to take over their data. In other words, not all actors are trustworthy.
Get in touch with Santiago both on LinkedIn and Twitter, @santiherrerago.