What is IoT Internet of things?

What is IoT? This is a big question! Of course, IoT is the next technological revolution that promises to change the way we live and the way we work. So what is IoT? According to the most important IoT experts/ influencer, Internet of things will be a pervasive technology. It will span its effects across different sectors:

  • Transportation
  • Healthcare
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail
  • Smart cities
  • Agriculture

Anyway, the Internet of things is an emerging topic that is gaining importance. For sure you heard about IoT and how it will affect our life in the near feature. In the post titled “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy” (McKinsey, May 2013),  Internet of things is one of the top 3 disruptive technologies in the next decade. Let’s come back to our question: What is IoT?

What is IoT?

If you come here to read this post, it is because you want to know what is Internet of things. So let try to answer this question. First of all, it is quite difficult to answer to it because of its pervasive aspect. To understand what is IoT, it is important to go back in the time.

The first time, the term Internet of Things was officially recognized was in 2005, when the ITU Internet Reports 2005 talked about Internet of things and gave the first definition:

A new dimension has been added to the world of information and communication technologies (ICTs): from anytime, any place connectivity for anyone, we will now have connectivity for anything…. Connections will multiply and create an entirely new dynamic network of networks – an Internet of Things

So in this definition, the answer to the question what is IoT (Internet of Things), is related to the ubiquitous network, or a pervasive network that connects everything everywhere. During the last year, the definition of IoT has been evolved and matured. There are several definitions  addressing different IoT aspects.

For example, Wikipedia defines IoT as:

The Internet of things (stylised Internet of Things or IoT) is the internetworking of physical devices, vehicles (also referred to as “connected devices” and “smart devices”), buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data.

IoT is much more than a network of smartphones, tablets, computers that talk each other exchanging data. IoT covers all the “things” around us. Generally speaking, Internet of things is an environment, or an ecosystem, where smart objects (including of course smartphones and so on) connect each other. These smart objects are always , anytime, anywhere connected. They exchange data, sending it to the cloud. IoT cloud platforms collect this data analyse the information. As result, they activate other processes. Moreover, the analysis result is useful to make predictions. There are several IoT projects that use this paradigm.

Even the name Internet of things (IoT) is not unique, there are other names that address the same concepts. For example, IoT is named Internet of Everything (IoE) or Smart Things. Anyway the same concept and idea stand behind these terms.

Everything can connect to the Internet to send  and receive data. For this reason, IoT covers all our life aspects.

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What is a Smart object?

As defined above, Internet of things is an environment of smart objects. So the next step is defining what smart object means. An object is smart when it is able to connect to the internet and exchange data. An object can be a simple sensor that measures the environment temperature, the pressure etc. It must be able to connect to the network and send the measured data. Another smart object, much more complex, is a smart watch. It can monitor our health for example, or,  more generally speaking, wearable objects.

As you can see, there are infinite possibilities to create smart objects. If we extend this concept, a car can be a smart object, once it will be connected to the network. Our oven and our fridge are some examples of smart objects. Even our home can be connected to the network.

So when an object gets smart? An object is smart when it has a unique identifier (ID) so we can reference it when it sends and receives information. Thus an object is smart  when it is connected. Optionally, it can have set of sensors to “sense” the world around it.

Moreover, IoT prototyping boards play an important role. These boards simplify the process of prototyping IoT projects. Just to name a few of these devices, we can remember Arduino, Raspberry PI, ESP and so on.

what is iot

How smart objects exchange data?

One important aspect in IoT is how these smart objects talk each other. There are several IoT protocols available. Even if we can use protocols like HTTP, there are others much more efficient and suitable in the IoT ecosystem. There are two important constraints that must be considered when using smart objects:

  • power consumption
  • computational power.

These two factors  need using efficient protocols with small overhead. There are several protocols available:

and so on. If you want to know more about them, look at my post about IoT protocols.

How can we experiment IoT?

Even if IoT is a big topic with different aspects and applications, it is possible to experiment IoT by ourselves. We can build some simple projects and test them. When building an IoT project we have to follow the definitions above, so that in your project we should have:

  • Microcontroller (smart object)
  • An internet connection (connected device)
  • Sensors, Servos (get information)
  • IoT cloud platform (optional) (send data to the cloud)

As a microcontroller, we can use one of the prototyping boards describes in a previous article. They are not expensive and we can buy one fitting our needs. For example, Arduino Uno is one of the most used prototyping board. Otherwise,  you can buy Raspberry PI even if it is a little bit more expensive but at the same time, it has much more computation power.

Moreover, there are several boards on the market and you can buy one of them to experiment an IoT project.  It is important that these boards can connect to the net  directly or through an expansion shield (like Arduino ethernet shield or WIFI). In this way, the board can send and receive data and we can communicate with it. I developed some interesting project about integrating Arduino and Android.

Another important aspect is sensors or servos. Using sensors, we can acquire information like temperature, humidity, pressure, light intensity, magnetic fields, gas leaks and so on. All these sensors can be used to build Internet of things projects. Your fantasy is the main limit!! Servos are useful too if you want to control motors and so on.

If you want to store sensor data to the cloud or you want to access to the prototyping board from everywhere, you should use IoT cloud platform. These are PaaS platforms, that are useful to store data, create charts or implement some event processing logic to trigger events.

Even if you can buy microcontrollers, sensors, servos and so on separately there are other components (like resistances, wires and so on…) that are necessary to create an IoT project. So to make things faster and not get lost, there are available on the market some kits that help you to start easily.

Internet of things Security and Privacy

There are two important aspects regarding internet of thing:

  • Security
  • Privacy

These two aspects play an important role in the internet of thing future. Considering that all these devices are connected to the network they can be used to attack servers. Then the problem is how we can secure the communication between billions of smart objects. The perception of the security problem is growing after the recent attacks made using IoT devices.  There are different strategies available to address this concern and the market big players are providing several solutions to this problem. You can refer to this link to have a deeper understand of internet of things security.

Another important aspect, related to the security, is the privacy. As you already know, there is a huge amount of information exchanged between smart object.  Some part of this data can be sensitive: you can think about medical information.

These two themes will shape the Internet of things.

At the end of this post, hopefully, you get an overview of what is IoT (Internet of things).