What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the billions of physical devices around the world that are now connected to the internet, all collecting and sharing data. Thanks to the arrival of super-cheap computer chips and the ubiquity of wireless networks, it’s possible to turn anything, from something as small as a pill to something as big as an aeroplane, into a part of the IoT. Connecting up all these different objects and adding sensors to them adds a level of digital intelligence to devices that would be otherwise dumb, enabling them to communicate real-time data without involving a human being. The Internet of Things is making the fabric of the world around us more smarter and more responsive, merging the digital and physical universes.
How does the IoT work?
The basic elements of the IoT are devices that gather data. Broadly speaking, they are internet-connected devices, so they each have an IP address. They range in complexity from autonomous vehicles that haul products around factory floors to simple sensors that monitor the temperature in buildings. They also include personal devices like fitness trackers that monitor the number of steps individuals take each day. To make that data useful it needs to be collected, processed, filtered and analyzed, each of which can be handled in a variety of ways.
Collecting the data is done by transmitting it from the devices to a gathering point. Moving the data can be done wirelessly using a range of technologies or on wired networks. The data can be sent over the internet to a data center or a cloud that has storage and compute power or the transfer can be staged, with intermediary devices aggregating the data before sending it along.
Processing the data can take place in data centers or cloud, but sometimes that’s not an option. In the case of critical devices such as shutoffs in industrial settings, the delay of sending data from the device to a remote data center is too great. The round-trip time for sending data, processing it, analyzing it and returning instructions (close that valve before the pipes burst) can take too long. In such cases edge-computing can come into play, where a smart edge device can aggregate data, analyze it and fashion responses if necessary, all within relatively close physical distance, thereby reducing delay. Edge devices also have upstream connectivity for sending data to be further processed and stored.