Internet Of Things — IoT

Ethan Mayer Bloom
The Startup
Published in
7 min readJul 29, 2019

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A brief introduction.

In the world we live in today, almost every single thing is connected in some way to the internet. The Internet of Things is a pretty simple concept — taking all the things in the world and connecting them to the internet.

“Internet of Things: the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.”

This sounds quite terrifying. Why would we need everything connected to the internet?

Let’s first think of a typical day in your life. How many internet-connected devices do you already use? Probably a lot more than you realize.

Your day starts with the ringing of your smart alarm, which is connected to your phone so it can show you the notifications you received during your beauty sleep. Then you check your smartwatch, which tracked your sleep during the night and lets you know how it was in comparison to other nights, and obviously is also connected to your smartphone so that you can see the meetings you have today at work. You brush your teeth with your smart toothbrush (yes, this actually exists), which somehow tracks your teeth-brushing. You get up and ready for work while yelling “Alexa! What’s the weather today?” so you know what kind of clothes to wear. You turn on the heater in your tesla from your phone because Alexa said it’s quite chilly.

(Of course, this “typical” day is a little extreme, but is absolutely possible in today's world).

As you can see, the rest of the day will continue similarly; most of the devices you use are connected to the internet.

The Internet of Things as a concept wasn’t officially named until 1999, however devices following this idea already existed.

One of the first examples is from the early ’80s: a Coca-Cola machine located in Carnegie Melon University. Programmers would connect via the Internet to the machine, and check if their preferred drink was available and cold, before heading to the machine.

The idea of adding sensors and a connection to the Internet was discussed already a few decades ago, but progress was slow; the technology just didn’t exist yet. As you can tell by the graph, the growth has been exponential for the past ~10 years and more internet-connected devices are being created, very fast.

Why IoT Is Important

All things connected to the internet can be divided into three categories:

  • Things that collect information and then send it
  • Things the receive information and act on it
  • Things that do both

To make this more clear, we could use some real-life examples.

Collecting Information

These devices use sensors (usually) to collect information. For example, a thermostat in your smart home, can measure the temperature in your house and show you the degree on an app on your smartphone.

The sensors along with an internet connection allow us to automatically collect information and make smarter decisions based on complex computer algorithms, while not having to interact at all with anything but an internet-connected device.

Receiving Information and Sending it

Most of the devices we know operate like this — getting information and acting upon it. A printer receives a document to print and prints it. A car unlocks if it receives a signal to unlock.

These operations can be as simple as turning on a device from farther away. The real power of the Internet of Things is when these two behaviors can work simultaneously from the same device!

Things That Can Do Both

Let’s take the example with the thermostat from before; what if it could operate completely on its own? The thermostat measures the temperature, and once the house becomes too hot it automatically lowers the temperature.

This way the device is collecting information but also receiving its own information and acting upon it. This is the true power of IoT.

Let’s go over one more great example:

Farming! How could IoT possibly help us with farming? The first thing to think about is how much human interaction is needed for plants to grow, and if anything could be replaced (and even do a better job) by some internet-connected device. The first thing that comes to mind is the watering system!

How does a person know when a plant needs to be watered? When a certain amount of time has passed? When the soil feels dry? These decisions can be made by algorithms from a device that can do all this for us. Let’s say we have an automatic watering system, with sensors in the soil that measure how moist it is. This would be a device collecting information, and we could make it even more advanced by acting upon the information; once the water content in the soil reaches 14%, turn on the sprinklers for 2 minutes.

This system can be improved even more; it has access to the internet. It could check the upcoming forecast and see if any rain is coming. If so, it will know not to turn on the watering system today.

This is just one type of device with moisture sensors. Think about how many things can be done with all the different types of information that can be collected — things that don’t exist yet. With the world today being all about ‘big data’, we must find ways to make the smartest decision based on it.

IoT In Your Life

Automated Farming might seem less impactful in your personal world, so let’s think of how things can change in your day. Using our “typical day” story from before, we could think of different ways to improve the use of devices, especially by making them interact with each other (making them “smart’).

What if your morning alarm could automatically turn on the coffee machine for it to be ready once you need to leave? What if your smart fridge could take care of your groceries? It could track every food item, and use an app on your smartphone to automatically order more. If these sound a little useless (or lazy for some people), we could think of more significant uses.

What if your wearable devices can sense when you’re in danger, and automatically let someone know? What if you have some kind of device that tracks your house’s energy consumption, and automatically turns different things on or off depending on your usage, saving you thousands of dollars a year?

The possibilities are endless.

Security

As I’m sure you’ve heard, everything connected to the internet can be hacked (yes, everything), and IoT products are no exception to this rule. With everything being connected to the internet, anything could be hacked and messed with. Following the previous example, one cyberattack could ruin an entire crop in a day.

One other issue is the amount of data being stored. If every device is constantly storing all the data it’s collecting, there is a possibility of someone reaching all this data and using it for other purposes.

Also, what about your personal privacy? If everything in your house is connected to the internet, everything could be hacked and information about you and your habits come out. With a smart fridge, everything you eat and when you eat will come out. With your smartwatch, every heartbeat and step could be accessible. With almost all devices around you having some kind of sensor (some with cameras), hackers would have access to every aspect of your life.

These issues are very serious, and the truth is there isn’t any real solution yet. Different security methods have been released, and these issues are constantly being thought upon:

  • In September 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a public service announcement, FBI Alert Number I-091015-PSA, which warned about the potential vulnerabilities of IoT devices and offered consumer protection and defense recommendations.
  • In August 2017, Congress introduced the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act, which would require any IoT device sold to the U.S. government to not use default passwords, not have known vulnerabilities and offer a mechanism to patch the devices.

Reliable Standards

If the whole point of all devices being connected is for them to communicate, we need to find a way to allow that to happen. If all devices run on different standards, they’re going to struggle to communicate and transfer data to each other.

Currently, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Standards Association lists a large number of standards that exist and are being worked on for different devices.

Also, Microsoft has started to think about this issue and came up with their own system — IoT Central. The system gives businesses a central platform for setting up their IoT devices.

Conclusion

To sum things up, revolutionizing the planet with IoT is often thought of as “The 4th Industrial Revolution”, because of how impactful it can be. We should all be aware of the changes happening and the issues they bring, but also appreciate we live in a world where these kinds of changes are possible and are actually happening.

I’m sure lots of people will believe these changes are useless and are meant for “spoiled” people (mostly those with more old-fashioned ideologies), but we must think of all the positive impact it can bring, to the extent of saving lives (and even the planet).

Feel free to reach out on Twitter @eitanmayer57
http://eitanmayer.com/

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