Welcome to the World of Connected Devices, Part I: Intro to the Internet of Things
Tapping & Clicking Our Way Through the Internet of Things
Remember when a Razr flip phone and an iPod determined your level of “coolness”? (Yeah me neither, I was never cool. ) Well now, having a handheld robot that’s also your personal assistant/doctor/trainer/nutritionist/lawyer and can unlock your doors/change the temperature in your house/drive you places and probably even feed you is what the cool kids are raving about. We’ve come a long way from simple mp3’s and camera phones. We’ve gone so far, it’s nearly impossible to imagine life without technology (Generation Z has no idea). Innovation is a natural progression — a progression that has resulted in a world of connected devices and the “Internet of Things”.
What is IoT?
I’m assuming, if you’re reading this you already know what IoT is. If not, I’d highly encourage you get out from that cave you’ve been living in and Google it. In short, IoT is the connection of everyday devices, or “things”, to the Internet or one another. Devices refer to objects that are not intended to be full fledged computers such as wearables — they are “things” first and computers second. From smart phones to smart cities and everything in between, every “smart” product we touch is part of “internet of things”. It’s a ubiquitous concept that’s not new, and it’s most definitely not going anywhere, and for those who are still waiting for it to happen… well, it’s happening.
The goal: to provide users with smarter, more efficient experiences.
How Big is IoT?
Big. It’s important to understand that the list of connected devices is dynamic. The types of objects are not only pervasive, ranging from wearables to light bulbs to cars and everything in between, but are also omnipresent in verticals such as medicine, government, and infrastructure.
It’s also growing at an exceptional (cough — alarming) rate. About 8.7 billion connected devices existed at the end of 2012 and whether it’s going to be 50 billion, 34 billion, or 25 billion by the end of 2020, that’s still a crap load of connected devices.
What’s crazier — the web we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Nobody really even knows how big it is but we do know we’re not seeing all of it — experts say only about 3%. With over 4 billion pages that we do see, I can only imagine what we can find in anonymity browsers such as Tor (actually I do know because I tried it).
It all started in the 1960’s when the government created ARPANET which in turn created the Internet. At the time it was limited to government and research institutions but is now widely available to the public. In fact, over 3 billion people in this world are using the internet. It’ll probably get to 4 billion by the time you’re done reading this.
That means half of the world’s population is on the internet. And because it’s getting cheaper, more and more devices are being created with WiFi capabilities. Nearly everything is “smart” now, including my pen and notebook. This creates the perfect platform for the Internet of Things.
Let’s take an example — Apple Watch. Like most other wearables, the Apple Watch enables you to keep a track record of your health and daily activities through its sensors. It reports it to the cloud and spits back comprehensible data to your smartphone or your healthcare providers smartphone. In addition, it also lets you send notifications from either device, listen to music, take calls and oh yeah, tell time (but who cares about that). This simple concept, is applied to more complex structures like homes, cars, and cities.
How Does IoT Work?
This can get pretty technical so let’s b-r-e-a-k-i-t-d-o-w-n
First. There are the “things” — the hardware, the actual devices such as phones, door locks, thermostats, cars, etc.
Second. Wireless radios. Things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and RFID that enable the devices to connect to the Internet and to each other. Some of the ones you’ve probably never heard of are ZigBee, Z-Wave, 6LoWPAN.
Third. There’s the cloud services that collects and houses the data.
The opportunities IoT has enabled are unparalleled — like out of this galaxy unparalleled. All with a sole mission to continue making our lives faster, smoother, and easier. McKinsey estimates that IoT will have a total potential economic impact of $4 trillion to $11 trillion per year by 2025 (job alerts!).
As the name would suggest, “internet” is a vital component for the “internet of things” — at least for now, until Google achieves it’s ambition of going offline. IoT relies on a network connection in order to transmit data from point to point. Approaching big data computing can either be at the core or at the edge (more on this later). But basically “core” is your data center and the “edge” is outside of the traditional data center and closer to where the data was initially collected. Think of it as a “sub-core”. This allows for faster access to data and less bandwidth for data transfers — making infrastructure much more efficient.
Yeah cool, but precarious. It sounds like the domino theory except instead of neighboring states, it’s server farms and instead of communism, it’s our personal data. Basically, the more connected devices you have, the more personal data is collected. The more data being stored, the more access points you have. The more access points, the greater risk of a cataclysmic catastrophe.
With all the data collected, security and privacy is of utmost concern. And just how domino theory influenced foreign policy in the 1960’s, this too will result in enhanced government regulation. Investing in privacy and security is extremely costly — more about that in a different article. Only by taking dynamic measures can we prevent things like this, this, and all of these.
Fortunately — more people are jumping in the security line.
So basically, all the focus and energy we push into making our lives smoother and more efficient through connected devices will also be the demise of our own society…no, totally kidding, that’s a little extreme. Although there are important security measures to take, IoT and its possibilities, is something we should embrace (also because you don’t really have a choice, it’s gonna happen regardless).