Hyper-Connected World - IoT

Insights > Internet of Things

In the Internet of Things (IoT), everything in the world can be connected to everything else. Connecting things through the Internet will make our lives simpler and more comfortable, and ultimately create new values in various areas. For individual houses, a good living environment can be created to fit the resident’s preferences using data collected by sensors installed at home (e.g., thermometer and hygrometer). For factories, various sensors can be used to remotely control processes and monitor environmental factors, such as water quality, air quality, and soil conditions. The Internet of Things can be applied to many more sectors, including energy management, healthcare, logistics, and environment monitoring.

A lot of researchers and global network operators have painted a rosy picture of the Internet of Things. Gartner predicted that by 2020 there will be 26 million connected devices. Cisco CEO John Chambers expected based upon Cisco’s figures and predictions that the Internet of Things would become a $19 trillion market within the next decade. We will look at which components comprise the IoT, what kind of technologies are required for the IoT, and what opportunities the IoT can bring.

Internet of Things

Components of the IoT and Related Technologies

The Internet of Things—a network of Internet-enabled physical objects—consists of the following three main components: sensors that detect things, communication networks that enable data transfer, and service applications that process and make use of the data to create new values. Each component is described below with related technologies.

1. Sensors

In the IoT, devices are embedded with various sensors to monitor and detect things that happen around the world. A wide range of sensors are used in various areas: thermometer and hygrometer to monitor temperature and humidity at home; sensor to monitor air pollution in the city; optical sensor to improve energy efficiency of streetlights; GPS sensor to monitor flow of logistics; heart rate monitor to detect abnormal heartbeats.
As the IoT becomes an integral part of our lives, more various, advanced sensors will be developed. Manufactures are introducing integrated, multi-sensors that have different types of sensor capabilities for smart home as well as specialized sensors for a specific industry. As the demand for such sensors goes up, they will go into mass production and the price will go down.

2. Communication Networks

As the Internet of Things is expected to be applied to virtually every area, different types of communication networks are required depending on the connection conditions, data size, and purpose of service. For instance, environmental monitoring sensors are usually installed at remote locations, so they are equipped with communication modules to connect to a 2G, 3G, or LTE network. For sensors installed in isolated areas such as buoy floating in the sea, they can be equipped with satellite communication modules.

On the other hand, when a large number of sensors are installed in a limited area, such as home and factory, it is more effective to connect them to the Internet through a hub, rather than using embedded communication modules. Sensors can be connected to the hub via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, or Z-Wave. For fast data transmission, Wi-Fi is ideal. For energy saving, Bluetooth, ZigBee, or Z-Wave is ideal. To connect sensors installed at every corner of a large house, ZigBee or Z-Wave can be used to implement a mesh network.

3. Service Applications

A service application is responsible for periodically communicating with sensors to collect data and processing the collected data to create new values. For instance, a smart home system collects data from the thermometer and hygrometer and analyzes the temperature setting patterns to provide a safe, healthy and comfortable living environment. For a smart store system, it analyzes the inventory status and consumer’s patterns using shelf sensors and CCTVs. For a smart grid system, it collects and analyzes the power output, consumption patterns, and standby power to enable efficient energy output and consumption.

To enable service applications to perform such roles, they must be capable of processing big data from an increasing number of devices and sensors in various formats. In addition, appropriate big data technologies need to be employed in service applications, which provide the ability of flexible, real-time response.

Other components of the Internet of Things include security solutions to protect IoT data and energy solutions to operate billions of devices (energy generating technologies, such as solar energy, battery technology, low power technology, and energy charging infrastructure).

IoT Ecosystem

New Opportunities Created by the IoT

Since the IoT market is not fully mature yet, its main application areas are still limited in some of public (e.g., environmental monitoring, city energy management, and location tracking for criminals) and private sectors (e.g., connected car and healthcare).

Thanks to the low price of sensors, easy Internet connection using Wi-Fi and, open source hardware such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino, it becomes easier to roll out innovative IoT services. In his article, “25 weirdest things in the Internet of Things”, Colin Neagle gives interesting examples on how the Internet of Things is already changing our lives. Those examples include MIT’s connected bathrooms at its Random Hall that tell you where the nearest vacant bathroom is; San Francisco’s parking meters that help you find open parking spots; wireless diapers with embedded chips that send you SMS when the diaper is wet; Internet-enabled coffee machines that allow you to instruct your machine to brew a cup of coffee remotely. The Internet of Things will continue to grow and affect every aspect of our lives. Its impact may be even more dramatic than experts’ predictions.

If smartphones have changed the way we live, the IoT will bring massive changes in every aspect of society eventually as Gartner Vice President Jim Tully said. As we looked in the examples of college dorm bathrooms and diapers with chips, the Internet of Things is already around us at one level. At many different levels, it will create unprecedented opportunities.

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