IoT, or the Internet of Things, consists of all devices, physical objects and things that are connected to the internet and capable of sending and receiving data.
One of the most common misconceptions about IoT, or the Internet of Things, is that it's only about connecting devices. In reality, the term “Internet of Things” applies to any object or thing that can be connected to the internet—and that includes things like people and ecosystems.
For instance, a smartwatch is an example of an IoT device, but so is a wearable fitness tracker. Even a wireless-enabled tablet can be considered an IoT device. Each one has its own unique software and hardware components that allow it to send data to and receive data from other devices and sources (via the internet) while also functioning on its own as an independent unit with inbuilt processing capabilities.
With all these different devices connected together over one network, they can then communicate with each other—or even operate autonomously by collecting data from their surroundings and making decisions based on them (this process is known as machine learning).
Let’s check which kind of different emerging technologies can be used in the IoT.
Most IoT devices aren’t expected to be mobile—they can stay in one place all the time without risk of damage. The ones that are expected to move around, however, need special networking protocols.
- TCP/IP: Most IoT devices use this protocol suite to transfer information. It’s not the only option, but it’s probably the most popular, due in large part to its reliability and easy scalability.
- Mesh networking: This is an arrangement where data transmitted by one device is relayed through other devices until it gets to one that has a strong enough connection to send it back “upstream” toward its destination. It’s important for many IoT applications because it means that each node doesn't have to have a direct connection with every other node on the network.
- Low-power wide-area networks: Another kind of specialized network, this one lets smart meters and other low-power devices transmit data over relatively long distances (up to about 10 kilometers).
- Bluetooth Low Energy: A more power-efficient version of traditional Bluetooth, BLE sends very little data over short distances at any given time—a good choice for sensors or monitors that don't store much data or don't need extremely fast transmission times.
Beacons are a type of sensor device that transmits data (usually Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE signals) to a mobile app, enabling the delivery of dynamic information in a physical space. Beacons can be used to make apps proactive by giving them access to information about how far away they are from a particular beacon.
Beacon technology is still in its early stages, and there's been some confusion around the use cases for this type of IoT technology.
One of the most common uses for beacon technology is indoor navigation—think of an app that helps employees find their way around an unfamiliar building, or one that helps shoppers navigate inside large malls or campus buildings.
Beacons can also be used to provide directions based on proximity within large areas, even those without WiFi such as open stadiums or concert venues.
Another application for beacons is pushing location-based notifications—for example, when you walk near Starbucks stores, you might see coupons or notifications about your rewards points pop up on your phone screen. This kind of interaction has huge implications for retail—beacons are one of the technologies making it possible for brick-and-mortar retailers to fight back against online competitors like Amazon using new concepts like "retail as entertainment."
By using sensors and mobile devices together with great customer experiences, physical retailers can turn shopping from an errand into a fun experience where customers come back again and again because they know they will have unique offers and experiences waiting just for them.
Machine learning is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed. In the past decade, machine learning has given us self-driving cars, practical speech recognition, effective web search, and a vastly improved understanding of the human genome. Machine learning is so pervasive today that you probably use it dozens of times a day without knowing it. Many researchers also think it is the best way to make progress towards human-level AI.
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When you think about IoT, what comes to mind is a connected home with lights activated by voice commands or an intelligent factory where machines communicate with each other to alert humans of maintenance needs. These scenarios illustrate that connectivity technologies are central and critical to the world of IoT. The following technologies have been playing a key role in enabling this connectivity:
- Wi-Fi – This is one of the most common wireless communication protocols used today, especially in personal devices like laptops, smartphones, and fitness bands. As a result of its popularity, it’s easy to see why it plays a significant role in the world of IoT.
- Bluetooth – This technology was originally created as an alternative cable replacement for connecting portable personal devices like keyboards, mice, and headphones. Today this short-range wireless transmission protocol is also used in healthcare applications such as wearables used for medical monitoring and smart medical appliances that wirelessly connect to smartphones for data collection purposes.
- NFC (Near Field Communication) – Though similar to RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), NFC works via electromagnetic induction rather than radio waves. NFC has become popular for mobile payments and information sharing when two devices are brought together within close proximity (20cm or less).
IoT sensors are typically miniature devices that can collect and transmit data, such as temperature, humidity, air quality and motion. While these sensors are small in size, they're big when it comes to their impact on IoT.
"Sensors drive the majority of IoT use cases," says Healy Cypher, CEO and founder of Oakland, Calif.-based LimeBike. "There are estimated to be over 24 billion IoT sensors today with a forecasted growth rate of over 30% per year."
The key to the success of IoT sensors is that they must be low-cost, low-power devices that can be easily integrated into devices or objects already in use. When it comes to sensing technology in particular, Cypher says there's even more opportunity ahead because current systems tend to require too much computing power at the edge device (i.e., where the sensor is located) and don't have enough power efficiency or memory for mass adoption. To address this challenge area, Cypher points out that companies like Qualcomm are working on multi-sensor platforms for cameras and smartphones with machine learning capabilities embedded into them at the chip level.
IoT is a combination of different technologies that have existed for several years. It is the ecosystem of physical objects that collect and exchange data using embedded sensors, processors, and communication hardware.