An Introduction to the Internet of Things: Part II
This is the second part of a three-part blog on the Internet of Things (IoT). In the last post, I introduced the Internet of things (IoT) as the expansion of digital devices communicating with each other. I discussed the first main factor enabling this: the improvement of standards and protocols that network devices together.
In this post you'll learn about the second main factor: the improvement and diversification of sensors that convert environmental signals into data. I will also discuss how the IoT is impacting industry. And highlight relevant resources in case you want to learn more or try out hands-on projects.
Standardized transmission protocols allow devices to communicate to each other. Sophisticated sensors then will increase their capabilities to extract information from their environments. Statista estimates that today there are around 13 billion connected digital devices. This number is on an exponential upward curve. But the world of things is much vaster than the world of connected devices. It spans ecologies, furniture, clothing and foodstuffs. Some have codified this distinction as between digital-first objects and physical-first objects. Digital-first objects include your computer and smartphone. Physical-first objects include everything else with no capabilities of gathering and transmitting information.
Now imagine more and more things manufactured as digital-first. From automated homes with smart appliances to autonomous cars. Imagine things that are intrinsically non-digital like food, trees and packaged goods equipped with sensors that absorb information. Then they send it to a computer that extracts meaningful patterns for human utility. This is the direction that industries, consumer goods, public works and our personal lives could be going.
The second part of the equation in the emergence of the internet of things then are sensors. These have the capacity to "datafy" parts of our environment. To "datafy" means to convert an environmental variable like temperature or traffic into data. Experts predict that they will come in handy for things that need rote human maintenance. They include tasks like inventorying, spoilage and repair tracking, health tracking, and temperature modulating. But what are sensors?
We are all familiar with mercury-in-glass thermometers. The mercury expands up the tube as the temperature increases. Or, home thermostats that convert heat levels into electrical energy to set heating or cooling to desired levels. In other words, sensors are mechanisms that detect a certain environmental input and convert it into information. The input could be temperature, motion, light, humidity, pressure and heartbeat. This information (usually digital) is meaningful either to a human or a machine.
As devices that transform an analog signal into a digital one, sensors have grown sophisticated. They can recognize human voices, biological and chemical processes, and even smell and taste. Your smartphone alone has a wealth of sensors:
- an accelerometer that detects change of movement and orientation
- a gyroscope that detects direction
- a microphone that takes sound input
- GPS receiver for satellite signals to determine position
- heart rate sensor that measures your heartbeat
- a barometer that measures steps you take, etc.
But the predominant use of sensors will be in industry and institutions. Many organizations use motion sensors for security and statistical purposes. Soon enough occupancy sensors will track real-time space use to increase workplace efficiency. Industry uses an even wider array of sensors. They use them for purposes of asset tracking, production efficiency and increased automation. These include echolocation sensors for detection of object proximity. RFID tags for inventorying. Power monitoring sensors for energy efficiency. Pressure sensors for air hazards. And vibrations sensors to monitor machine functioning.
Now imagine sensors embedded in roadways, soil, plants or the ocean. These could monitor relevant variables for purposes of public safety and environmental health. Imagine also nanoscale biosensors for food analysis, glucose level monitoring, and cancer detection. You see where this is going. Sensors exponentially increase data points, and exacerbate the analysis of big data. Since humans can only consume a limited amount of information, the voluminous information generated will be circulated between smart devices before being packaged for human readability. In light of the above, the IoT promises increasingly smart environments generating information at rates that vastly exceed human capacities.
Learn more about sensors and how to build them:
The effects of the IoT are already visible in industry and stand to transform production.
The industrial IoT is sometimes called industry 4.,0 following three critical periods of industrial transformation that preceded it. The industrial IoT is expected to usher in automated mining, highways, grid systems, automobiles, retail industry and homes to name a few.
What will be different about these systems? The use of sensors and standards will optimize production by increasing cost efficiencies. These include lower energy consumption, real-time error detection and optimized maintenance. One of the aspects of the industrial IoT is predictive maintenance of equipment. These are achieved through sensors and optimized data collection. Increased visibility of parts and equipment will streamline supply chains. But also reduce inefficiencies at the distribution level. Amazon, for example, leads in the industrial IoT through its cloud service Amazon Web Services.
On the consumer end, something like your car will be able to communicate directly with the manufacturer or dealer. This enables real-time monitoring and performance improvement of your vehicle. Because the IoT relies on the interconnection and integration of systems across industries, it also poses security risks worth considering.
But this unprecedented transformation of production also stands to create new jobs. These will be in design, assemblage and maintenance capacities to name a few. You can learn more about the Industrial IoT with Library resources in a variety of formats including physical books, ebooks and videos. For technical aspects check out Hands-on Industrial Internet of Things through O'Reilly Learning.
Learn more about the industrial IoT, how to build projects and IoT investing:
O'Reilly has a great array of resources from ebooks to videos accessible with a valid library card. You will be asked to sign in to review these resources.
Let's Learn Tech
Another great way to get started with the IoT are the free, interactive and self-paced let's learn tech courses offered through the TPL.
Please stay tuned for part three in this series. Part three will explore the effects of the IoT on broader society, consumers and personal identity. When the post is published, the link will be added to this section.
If you missed it, read part one: What is the Internet of Things?