We are rapidly moving to a brave new world of interconnected smart homes, cars, offices and factories known as the Internet of Things (IoT). Sensors and monitoring devices will touch every part of our lives. Let’s take a closer look at the Internet of Things.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things is a worldwide network of objects and devices connected to the Internet. They are electronics, sensors, software and more. These objects connect to the Internet and can be controlled remotely via apps and programs.
Because they can be accessed via the Internet, these devices create a tremendous opportunity to integrate computers and the physical world. They will improve our lives by making things more efficient and accurate, providing economic benefits derived from more effective use of resources.
How big will the Internet of Things become? Consider these statistics:
According to Gartner Incorporated, by the year 2020 the Internet of Things will consist of more than 26 billion devices.
A survey by Pew Research Internet Project showed that 83 percent of technology experts agreed that embedded sensors and wearable computers will have significant global benefits by 2025.
In 2015, the United Kingdom allocated more than 40 million pounds to research the Internet of Things.
Origin of the Term “Internet of Things”
The term “Internet of Things” was originated in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, an entrepreneur from Britain. The Internet of Things goes beyond what is currently known as machine-to-machine (M2M) communications — it is broader, encompassing a wide range of devices, services, and systems.
Because these devices are interconnected, many experts believe we will experience a new level of automation in nearly every field. For example, urban planners foresee “smart cities” that can better control transportation, utilities, power and other systems by continuously monitoring services with smart sensors.
Wide Variety of Devices
The Internet of Things includes almost anything that can be connected to the Internet and monitored remotely. Heart monitoring systems, biochips in animals, electric sensors in the oceans, cars with a complete set of sensors, devices that help rescue teams, and more can be considered part of the Internet of Things.
Each system collects data using a number of various technologies and then sends that data to other devices. A simple example is a thermostat in the home. It continuously adjusts the temperature of the room based on where the homeowner sets it. Another example is the growing use of sensors in washers and dryers that use Wi-Fi for remote operation and monitoring.
Shortage of Internet Addresses
Currently, a connection to the Internet involves an IPv4 address to identify that item. IPv4 has room for over 4.3 billion addresses. However, since experts expect there to be more than 30 to 50 billion devices on the Internet, this will not be enough.
IPv6 will be able to handle all of the addresses the world needs. The IPv6 address space can accommodate millions of objects, but also needs to be able to control devices, not just monitor them. That means that IPv6 is critical to the growth of the Internet of Things in the coming years.
Automating Home Sweet Home
Home automation is another area that will experience rapid expansion in censoring and monitoring capabilities. For example, you can program your home system to start heating the water one half hour before you wake up so that it is ready when you want to take a shower.
These developments led to the term “smart home.” The next extension of the smart home is connecting multiple smart homes together, tying them into a city and statewide grid to help improve energy efficiency, monitoring and emergency services allocations.
Local Networks and Devices
Internet of Things is a series of connected systems. It might be electronic prices on store shelves that change on demand, or city buses that commuters can track on their smartphone.
In the world of business, a company needs to decide which technology they should use. A large facility like a factory requires both actuators and sensors. In that case, a wireless network is probably the best choice because it can cover a large area.
Wireless sensor networks are low-cost and low-power and run on batteries. The edge node of the sensor network is the gateway, which might also have storage and a user interface.
Wi-Fi is common for connecting with devices, but it needs a tremendous amount of power. New technologies exist that are inexpensive and low-power. Researchers are developing many ideas including the following:
Low-power batteries that can last for many months
Energy harvesting as a power source
Mesh-networking that does not need attention from operators
Cutting-edge protocols for operating autonomously
For example, IEEE 802.14.5 is a protocol for personal wireless networks that has a low data rate and only uses 50 percent of the power of previous generations. Experts expect that they can cut the power needs by another 50 percent in the next few years.
Any individual protocol that transports IP packets has many advantages, but no single tech solution can cover every use case. There are too many variables to find one answer with a specific amount of power, efficiency, and range — all at a low cost. For that reason, every Internet protocol (UDP, TCP, SSL, HTTP and others) should be used as much as possible.
Embedded systems mean the software to run a device is on board the device itself. Examples include video cameras, microwaves, thermostats, and systems within cars.
Today’s microprocessor chips have several processors, also known as cores, and a lot of cache memory. On the other hand, a microcontroller is substantially different. It is a single-chip and contains a processor, ROM memory, RAM memory, and I/O control unit and a clock. It is sometimes called, “a computer on a chip.” These microcontrollers are embedded in thousands of products including appliances, automobiles, and toys. A car, for example, has more than 70 microcontrollers handling different functions.
Most microcontrollers handle one task. Microcontrollers are used a lot in the industry because they can be programmed to handle simple instructions and operations. They can open and close a gate, or turn a switch on and off. This simplicity makes it inexpensive to create machines with much functionality. Microcontrollers come in different sizes and power, and their processors range from 4-bit to 32-bit.
Deeply Embedded Devices
An extension of embedded systems is deeply embedded devices. Once the program has been burned into the memory, the system is not programmable and requires no interaction from a user.
Deeply embedded devices are usually single-purpose devices that monitor something, perform some processing, and perform a task. They usually have wireless capability, and often are seen in network situations where many sensors are spread over a large space, for instance in a factory or on a farm.
Modern Network Protocols
In the Internet of Things, embedded devices transfer information with each other. They do not have the equivalent of what people use: browsers and social media. The Internet of Things has different protocols than the current Internet.
The “human” Internet is based on the TCP/IP Internet protocol suite. It has the following:
Physical layer that includes physical devices
Data link layer
Network layer, which is where the Internet is located
The transport layer, which includes TCP and UDP, the two transport protocols
TCP is used for most interaction on the Internet. However, TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) can be “too much” for an embedded system. UDP (User Datagram Protocol) is a better answer for sensors and remote control of devices.
The next three layers above the transport layer are the application layer, presentation layer, and session layer. These include FTP (File Transfer Protocol), HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), and DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). You can make embedded devices with these protocols, but they might not be as efficient as newer protocols.
On the other hand, CoAP (Constrained Application Protocol) was specially made for embedded devices and the Internet of Things. It has many advantages:
Synchronous and asynchronous communication
Another popular new protocol is MQTT (M2 Telemetry Transport). It is very lightweight, bandwidth efficient, and great for constrained networks.
Current web protocols like HTTP, XML and TCP, have a lot of data overhead. Robust newer protocols like CoAP, UDP and Web Objects are more efficient. They are optimized for constrained devices and have much lower data overhead — only tens of bytes rather than hundreds or even thousands of bytes.
Along with the advantages, The Internet of Things presents several challenges. First, because everything is connected, hackers can figure out how to penetrate the systems. In April of 2014, for example, a hacker took control of a security camera in a home in Ohio. Although the manufacturer had upgraded the firmware to prevent access by outsiders, the family had not thought to upgrade the device.
This story indicates another problem: loss of privacy. If hackers can take control of devices in a home, couldn’t the government, do the same thing? How much access should outside entities have to information about your health, credit rating, and other aspects of your private life? Moreover, when millions of devices are interconnected, wouldn’t national security be compromised?
The Internet of Things holds a tremendous amount of promise for creating a better life for millions of people. Sensors and simple devices can make us more efficient and effective. They help use precious resources better and have the capability of solving significant problems from urban centers to rural areas. Researchers are racing to develop low-cost, low-power technology to keep up with the urgent demand for a better-connected world.