What is IoT and How does It works? Most important IoT Words

What is Internet of things?  What do IoT sensors, IoT platforms mean?

What is IoT (Internet of Things)? This is a big question!

Want to learn IoT? or Want to know more about IoT technology? or maybe you are looking for developing the next IoT product that will transform the world? If they are the questions that bring you here you are in the right place. Before starting your journey on the Internet of things technology is important to have a solid background and start learning what others are doing in IoT world.

Of course, the Internet of things 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? Keep reading…

Internet of things (IoT) definition

If you come here to read this post, it is because you want to know more about what is Internet of things and its effects. 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 definition 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. Nowadays, 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 analyze 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. The integration between cloud app and Internet of things application is one of the most promising aspects related to the IoT.

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.

What is the internet of things and how does it work

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 smartwatch. 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 the internet of things? Find more...

How smart objects exchange data?

One important aspect in IoT (the Internet of things) 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 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.

What is internet of things security and Privacy?

There are two important aspects regarding internet of thing:

  • Security
  • Privacy

These two aspects play an important role on 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 understanding 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.

IoT dictionary: IoT terms to use

This Internet of things IoT wiki guide describes common terms and meanings used in the IoT technology.  This Internet of things wiki guide wants to give you an overview of the Internet of things technologies so that you are able to start understanding what is Internet of things and how you can use it to built IoT products and IoT applications.

If you are approaching the Internet of things technologies for the first time, it is important you learn the terms used in this context like:

These terms are the background you must know to start learning Internet of things. This IoT wiki will not address all the terms anyway at the end of this post you will know more information about IoT and how built IoT solutions.

The Internet of things is a quite new topic and one of the most disruptive technology. It is important to know the meanings of the words that stand at the base of this new revolution. This IoT wiki guide will introduce some important words that are used to better understand what is IoT and how to use it. This IoT wiki is somehow an Internet of things vocabulary that you can use and get your path into the IoT ecosystem.

Below a list of words used in the internet of things:

Internet of things (IoT): 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. The internet of things is an ecosystem where objects are connected together exchanging data. Objects can be a complex system or a small system. The important aspect that identifies an object is its capability to connect to the network and exchange information

Industrial Internet of things (IIoT): We define the IIoT as the Internet of things applied to the industrial systems.  IIoT is a set of technologies and strategies derived from IoT and applied to industrial production systems. Foer example, IIoT can be used to monitor a production system so that we assure higher quality levels. IIoT promises to have a large impact on the production systems. The idea that stands behind IIoT is using smart machines with sensors to improve the product quality and the efficiency. An important aspect is represented by Machine to Machine (M2M).

IoT wiki

IoT Device: A device is a smart object with internet capability or in other words, it can connect to the internet. This is the small brick in the Internet of things ecosystem. Thousands of interconnected devices build this ecosystem. A device can be, for example, a sensor connected to the internet or a wearable that we use nowadays to monitor our health. Moreover, an object can be a simple home appliance that connects to the internet or a IoT sensor we use to monitor a physical property.

IoT platform: This is an important component in the IoT ecosystem. An IoT platform provides several services and it is the glue between the devices and the data stored in the cloud. An IoT platform provides several services like:

  • Data storage. The information sent by sensors are stored in the cloud and used later
  • Connectivity services: Several devices can be connected to an IoT platform using several protocols (MQTT, HTTP, CoAP and so on)
  • Data analytics: This a set of services (that uses data stored) ranging from simple service to complex services like machine learning and so on
  • Data visualization: It provides several ways to represent data using charts

IoT Gateway: A gateway is, conceptually, an object that connects several devices to the cloud. These devices can be placed in different areas and instead of connecting directly to the cloud they use a gateway to connect to it. A gateway can provide protocol translation feature, for example, a gateway connects to the devices using a low power protocol and sends and receive data from the cloud using a different protocol. Moreover, a gateway can enforce security providing encryption mechanism.

IoT board: A board is MCU (Microcontroller Unit) that provides set futures to connect sensors, actuators and so on. Usually, they can connect to the internet natively or we can add a shield on top to extend their features. For example, Arduino boards are widely used in the IoT prototyping. There are boards with different features and specifications and we have to select the right one according to our needs and use case.

Machine 2 Machine: Machine to Machine (knows as M2M) is a set of protocols and techniques used to make machines talking to each other. This is IoT branch is widely used in Industrial Internet of things. It focuses its attention on the way we can use to make machines exchanging data without the human actions.

MQTT: It is an emerging protocol widely used in IoT protocol. We have discussed it several times in this blog. It is a light-weight protocol message oriented. It decouples the sender of the information from the receiver using a broker that behaves as a message router. If you want to more about it, delve into the MQTT. Find more about IoT protocols.

LoRaWAN: LoRa alliance maintains a protocol called LoRaWAN that is a Low Power Wide Area Newtork built for Internet of Things. It enables the things interoperability without using complex systems. LoRA uses a star network topology based on gateways that permit the message flow from the devices to the central server. While the gateways are connected using standard IP connections, the devices use a single-hop wireless network to connect to the gateways.  The connection between the devices and the gateways takes place using different frequency channels and data rate. To have more information read the LoRaWAN official documentation.

SigFox: It is a company that has created a proprietary network that connects objects using a low power network. Nowadays, this network is gaining momentum and it is getting widespread. It uses ISM (Industrial Scientific Medical) radio band. The ultra narrow-band waves pass through solid objects using low power. Find more about SigFox.