An Introduction to the IoT: How Does the Internet of Things Work?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects, or Things, that have sensors, software, and other technologies integrated into them to exchange data with other web-enabled devices and systems.
Interestingly, the concept of the IoT is not new. Back in 1982, students at Carnegie Mellon University tinkered with a Coca-Cola® vending machine to keep tabs on stocks in the machine and make sure they were at the right temperature. This machine became one of the very first IoT devices.
With the advances in technology and networks, so much more is now possible and the IoT is increasingly becoming part of our daily lives.
How does the Internet of Things work?
Think of the IoT as a group of technologies connected in three key areas:
Things: Things are physical, web-enabled devices with integrated sensors. These Things send telemetry data (for example, when a car travels along a highway via movement or pressure sensors).
Insights: The results obtained from processing and analyzing the raw data sent by the Things. For example: calculating the number of cars per minute can reveal the traffic situation along a highway.
Actions: The automated or manual response to the information obtained from the Insight. For example: If the Insight shows congestion, alerts can be sent to various systems, such as highway variable-message signs or the different navigation apps used by drivers.
Why Create an IoT?
The IoT helps give individuals a better understanding of their environment and better control of the various elements. Having connected Things in the home allows you to optimize and automate multiple aspects of everyday life. The same applies to home automation with multiple technologies and devices to manage heating and lighting, etc.
The IoT gives companies a real-time overview of all their systems, providing insights about data they need to control, from machine performance and supply chain operations to logistics. With the IoT, companies can therefore automate processes and reduce labor costs. It also helps reduce waste and improve service delivery by significantly cutting production and delivery costs. For a more in-depth look at how new digital tools, such as the IoT or blockchain, can improve company performance, read about some use cases involving the digitization of the construction and public works sectors and factories (only available in French).
Benefits of the IoT
The Internet of Things has many advantages for companies. Although needs may vary from one sector to the next, the benefits remain roughly the same:
- A real-time overview of all production processes
- Optimization of time which, in turn, cuts expenditure
- Productivity gains
- Improved decision-making
- The ability to generate more revenue
The IoT encourages companies to rethink how they approach their activities and the tools they need to enhance their business strategies.
How Is the IoT Implemented in Different Sectors?
There are numerous applications for the Internet of Things in the real world, from the consumer IoT and commercial IoT to the industrial IoT (IIoT). IoT applications cover several sectors such as medical, home automation, agriculture, and even urban planning.
The industrial Internet of Things, or the “IIoT,” uses sensors and smart actuators to improve production and industrial processes. Also dubbed Industry 4.0, the IIoT harnesses the power of smart machines and real-time analysis to utilize the data generated by production lines in industrial environments. The philosophy behind the IIoT is to capture and analyze data in real time and communicate crucial information that can be used for predictive maintenance (PdM), to improve services in the field, manage energy, and track assets.
The IoT in the Medical Sector
Several hospitals have blood pressure and heart rate sensors connected to a central system. This means that medical professionals can respond quickly when there is an emergency and use the data collected to predict their patients’ condition and act accordingly.
The IoT in Home Automation: Smart Homes
Home automation is one of the sectors where the IoT is most commonly used. You can now use your mobile or smart devices to turn your lights or heating on/off, monitor your house remotely in real time, keep tabs on your energy consumption and check the temperature and humidity levels in every room in your home.
The IoT in Agriculture: Smart Farming
Smart farming is a management concept that aims to give the agricultural industry the infrastructure needed to take advantage of cutting-edge technologies – using big data, the cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT) – to track, monitor, automate and analyze.
The farmer adopts a precision farming approach with smart sensors and devices to analyze soil and manage water, lighting, humidity, and temperature. This can reduce overall costs, improve produce quality and quantity, and help farmers move toward more sustainable farming.
The IoT for the City: Smart City
Using the IoT in a smart city, such as in streetlights, traffic lights, and smart electricity meters, can help ease traffic, save energy, and monitor and deal with environmental issues. These devices also populate a database with helpful information about travel and urban development usage, etc.
With the growth in population, rural migration, and new environmental issues, it is now crucial to rethink cities and adapt them to the new ways of life. The IoT provides an opportunity to make technological innovation part of our cities and put in place several concepts that have already been trialed.
IoT Solutions on the Market
The IoT market has long since been a mixed bag of purely proprietary solutions. In the last few years, however, several communication standards and turnkey solutions have emerged, giving companies a wide variety of solutions to meet their needs. The progress made in the technology and concepts has made all of this possible:
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning: it is possible to develop smart systems that try to simulate human reasoning and are capable of adapting to their environment and learning over time.
- Data analysis: There are systems on the market that can read, analyze, and process vast volumes of information in real time.
- Communication protocols: One of the critical elements of the IoT. In communication between connected devices, with a central system or with Edge devices, choosing which communication protocol(s) to use is an important decision.
There are several solutions available on the market:
- Ethernet: With this solution, devices are physically connected to the internal network. It is rarely used because it is challenging to implement with many devices and, in particular, because of the geographical restrictions.
- Wifi: With an extended range (one hundred meters), this solution does not require any physical connection and makes it easier to implement to cover large or small areas.
- 4G/5G: A solution with almost global coverage. Devices can be connected virtually anywhere in the world and communicate with central systems easily.
- LR-WPANs: Low-rate wireless personal area network (LR-WPAN) is a standardized communication protocol designed specifically for the IoT. There are several examples where this standard has been implemented, such as Zigbee, MiWi, or 6LoWPAN based on IpV6.
- Z-Wave: A protocol widely used in home automation with a reasonably extensive range to cover an entire house.
- LoRa: A network protocol aimed at battery-powered connected devices within a regional, national or global network.
Cloud IoT Platforms on the Market
Microsoft’s Edge Technologies
In 2018, Microsoft announced it was investing 5 billion dollars in the IoT and the Edge technologies behind the development of several solutions and services, such as IoT Central, Azure Sphere, IoT Hub, IoT Edge, IoT Stack, and many others.
Two years later, Gartner called Microsoft a market leader in IoT solutions for industrialists and the company saw its solutions adopted by several leading industrialists, including:
- Starbucks, who use Azure Sphere to connect all their machines and achieve automated management. This leaves their employees more time to look after customers.
- Volkswagen, who, since 2020, have been fitting new cars with an Edge solution from Microsoft to monitor their condition and ensure better maintenance.
Google Cloud IoT Platform
Google provides a suite of IoT solutions capable of managing data from millions of devices in real time:
- Google IoT Core for device management, authentication, and communication
- Cloud DataFlow for real-time data processing
- BigQuery for real-time data analysis
One of the strengths of the Google platform is data, with all of the solutions on offer capable of managing, storing, and processing huge volumes of data in real time. Through the Google Maps service, it also provides a geographical overview of the IoT data.
AWS IoT Platform
Amazon is a recognized operator in the IoT market with projects such as “Smart cities,” which have enabled cities like Chicago to automate and optimize its entire administration, or smart homes, where Amazon is widely regarded as a market leader with its smart devices and Alexa service.
Amazon uses its expertise to offer many IoT services, starting with IoT Core. Central to Amazon’s IoT solution, IoT Core manages all communication and authentication and the Device Shadow service, which provides asynchronous state management between the platform and devices.
Other solutions complete the offering, including FreeRTOS for developments in Edge or IoT Device Management to manage device fleets.
Interested in the IoT?
Would you like to know more about the IoT? Do you want to look into the subject in more depth?
We hope this introduction has helped you understand more about the Internet of Things and the various solutions available on the market.
For more information, read our post about Microsoft’s IoT platform. (only available in French)
Any questions? If you have any feedback or IoT experiences you’d like to share, leave us a comment below.