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What Is IoT? Know How It Works, The Technology Behind, And Examples

‘Internet of Things’, or IoT, is a term used to describe the network of physical devices around the world that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies, and connected to the Internet. The function of these devices is to connect and exchange data with other devices over the Internet. IoT devices facilitate communication between devices and the cloud, and also between the devices themselves. There is a wide array of IoT devices, from ordinary household objects to sophisticated industrial tools. For instance, even a toothbrush can use sensors to collect data and respond intelligently to others. Billions of devices are connected to the Internet due to advancements in technology and the manufacture of inexpensive chips and high bandwidth telecommunication, among others. 

There are more than seven billion connected IoT devices today, according to a report by software giant Oracle. The number of connected IoT devices is expected to reach 22 billion by 2025. 

IoT: An overview

IoT devices integrate everyday “things” with the Internet. Since the 1990s, computer engineers have been adding sensors and processors to everyday objects. Earlier, chips were big and bulky, as a result of which the progress was slow. Initially, expensive equipment was tracked using low-power computer chips called RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags, a type of tracking system using smart barcodes to identify items. Chips became smaller, faster, and smarter over time because computing devices shrank in size. 

Integration of computing power into small objects is no longer expensive like before. One can now add connectivity to MCUs (microcontroller units) with Alexa voice service capabilities with less than 1MB embedded RAM, according to the official website of Amazon Web Services (AWS). An MCU is a compact, integrated circuit designed to govern a specific operation in an embedded system, and typically a processor, memory, and input/output peripherals on a single chip, according to a TechTarget report.

Now, homes, businesses, and offices also use IoT devices, which can automatically transmit data to and from the Internet. According to AWS, these “invisible computing devices” and the technology associated with them are collectively referred to as the Internet of Things. 

IoT: How does it work?

An IoT system, which has three components, works through the real-time collection and exchange of data. The three components of an IoT system are smart devices, IoT application, and a graphical user interface. 

Smart Device

A smart device is a device that has been given computing capabilities. Some examples include a television, security camera, and exercise equipment.

A smart device collects data from user inputs, usage patterns, or its environment, and communicates data over the Internet to and from the IoT application.

IoT Application

An IoT application is a collection of services and software that integrates data received from various IoT devices and uses machine learning or artificial intelligence technology to analyse the data and make informed decisions, according to AWS. The informed decisions are sent to the IoT device which, in turn, responds intelligently to the input.

Graphical user interface 

A graphical user interface manages an IoT device or a fleet of devices. A mobile application or a website that can be used to register and control smart devices is a graphical user interface.

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IoT: Technologies that made it possible

Recent advances in different technologies have made it possible for the world to use IoT. These advances include cloud computing platforms, access to low cost, low-power sensor technology, conversational artificial intelligence, connectivity, and machine learning and analytics, according to Oracle. 

Cloud Platforms

The increase in the availability of cloud platforms is beneficial because it enables both businesses and consumers to access the infrastructure they need to scale up without actually having to manage it all.

Machine Learning And Analytics

Over the years, there have been advancements in machine learning and analytics. Also, people and businesses have access to varied and vast amounts of data stored in the cloud. This has made it possible to gather information faster and more efficiently. Therefore, machine learning and analytics make IoT more efficient. 

Sensors

More and more manufacturers can use IoT technology due to the availability of affordable and reliable sensors. 

Connecting sensors to the cloud and to IoT devices has become easier due to the availability of a host of network protocols for the Internet. Therefore, connectivity ensures efficient data transfer. 

Over the years, there have been advancements in neural networks, bringing natural-language processing (NLP) to IoT devices. As a result, IoT devices have become viable, appealing, and affordable for home use. Examples of IoT devices are digital personal assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Cortana. 

Due to the increase in the availability of cloud platforms, both businesses and consumers have access to the infrastructure they need to scale up without actually having to manage it all.

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Instances of IoT in daily lives

Some examples of IoT systems include connected homes, smart buildings, connected cars, and smart cities. 

Connected Homes

The function of smart home devices is to improve the efficiency and safety of the house, and enhance home networking. In connected homes, devices such as smart outlets monitor electricity usage. Meanwhile, smart thermostats provide better temperature control. 

Gardens can be managed using hydroponic systems that use IoT sensors. Hydroponics is a production method where plants are grown in a nutrient solution rather than in soil, thereby eliminating soil-borne pests and diseases. 

IoT smoke detectors detect tobacco smoke, and home security systems such as security cameras, door locks, and weak leak detectors have the ability to detect and prevent threats and send alerts to homeowners. 

The functions of connected devices in homes include finding misplaced items like keys or wallets, automatically turning off devices when not being used, automating daily tasks such as vacuuming, making coffee, as well as management and maintenance of rental property, according to AWS.

Smart Buildings

College campuses and commercial buildings use IoT applications for lowering maintenance costs, utilising workspace more efficiently, and reducing energy consumption. 

Smart Cities

Urban planning and infrastructure maintenance have become more efficient, thanks to IoT applications. These can be used to tackle problems in the environment, health, and infrastructure.

For instance, IoT devices can be used to detect maintenance needs for critical infrastructures such as pipelines, streets, and bridges, measuring air quality and radiation levels, increasing profits through efficient parking management, and reducing energy bills with smart lighting systems. 

Wearables To Monitor Health

People can use IoT wearables to better understand their own health. Also, physicians can use these wearables to remotely monitor patients. IoT wearables enable companies to track the health and safety of their employees, especially those working in hazardous conditions 

IoT: How it improves our lives

IoT is one of the most important technologies of the 21st century because it helps us connect everyday objects such as thermostats, kitchen appliances, baby monitors, and cars, to the Internet using embedded devices. This makes seamless communication possible between people, processes, and things.

Physical things can share and collect data with a minimal human intervention using low-cost computing, mobile technologies, and data analytics. The role of digital systems is to monitor, record, and adjust each interaction between connected things.

IoT allows machines to perform tedious tasks and makes life more comfortable, healthy, and productive. 

For instance, in smart homes, one can just hit the snooze button to cause the alarm clock to automatically turn on the coffee machine and open the window blinds. Also, IoT enables one’s refrigerator to auto-detect groceries that are going out of stock. The refrigerator can also order these groceries for home delivery. 

A smart oven will tell a person the menu of the day, and cook pre-assembled ingredients to ensure the lunch is ready. The role of a smartwatch is to schedule meetings, and monitor one’s health.

IoT: Disadvantages and Concerns

While it is true that IoT devices make our day-to-day lives easier, they come with some disadvantages. The four main concerns accompanying IoT are the breach of privacy, over-dependence on technology, high cost, and the loss of jobs, according to an article published by the State University of New York at Cortland. 

Privacy Concerns 

Though security measures are taken to protect information, there is always the possibility of hackers breaking into the system and stealing private data. For instance, Anonymous is a decentralised hacking group that hacked into federal sites and released confidential information to the public in 2012. 

Through IoT devices, one’s personal information is stored on the Internet, which increases the possibility of others hacking into it. Moreover, companies misuse the information they are given access to through IoT devices because this data can be immensely beneficial to the firms. For instance, Google was recently caught using information that was supposed to be private.

In other words, IoT devices breach consumers’ privacy. 

Over-dependence on technology

The current generation has become overly dependent on technology and the Internet. Since several people rely on technology to make decisions, the outcome could be devastating. This is because no system is robust and fault-free, and is associated with glitches. If one is overly dependent on IoT devices, and the system crashes, it could lead to a potentially crippling event. 

High Cost

IoT devices such as Alexa and Echo are very expensive. As a result, the relatively poorer sections of the society will not be able to afford these devices. Moreover, if IoT devices are damaged, the cost of repair is high. 

Loss Of Jobs

The increased use of IoT devices is leading to the loss of jobs. For instance, people who evaluate inventories will lose their jobs because IoT devices can communicate with each other and transmit that information to the owner. 

Due to the development of automated machines, people are losing their jobs. 

Thus, the disadvantages of IoT can have a catastrophic impact on society as a whole, and to individuals and consumers. 

Despite the disadvantages of IoT devices, the fact that they make our day-to-day lives easier is undeniable. IoT devices accelerate innovation, enable smart manufacturing, and drive new possibilities in existing processes.

Through IoT, the physical world meets the digital world, allowing them to cooperate.


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