What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things is a modern term that describes the trend of technology development especially with regard to the interconnection and cooperation of individual devices - "things". It is thus becoming a general term covering already established terms such as: control and automation systems, monitoring and analytical systems, etc.
Today, the Internet is already a completely natural and well-established concept. Most people use it as a means of transmitting information to other people, for example via email or websites. Today, however, Internet technologies are much more consumed by the things themselves.
Thanks to the interlinking of individual fields and areas that previously had nothing to do with each other, completely autonomous solutions are created. An example would be a smart home that listens to human speech and identifies the need to raise the temperature in the room, prompting the heating system to raise the temperature.
Such solutions, which have the potential to significantly change our daily lives, are usually very complex and complicated, and they must also be sufficiently robust and secure. And this regardless of whether it is a solution for controlling a production line in a factory or controlling heating in a family home. At first glance, it may seem that quality needs to be demanded only in industrial facilities, where system failure can mean huge financial losses. Unfortunately, this idea is promoted by marketing specialists, whose goal is to cover the demand of not only households, but in some cases also companies, for the modern trend with the help of cheap devices (mostly not meeting the above requirements). This makes the term Internet of Things (IoT) just a buzzword, even though the real potential of the possible benefits is huge.
Areas of use of the Internet of Things
In the same way that computer technology penetrated practically every field of human activity, the Internet of Things finds its application in many areas. In some cases, to such an extent that new terms are being created for this trend.
Not only thanks to IoT products in the field of industry and agriculture, but also through the involvement of IoT in science, research and education, it is possible to draw an incredible number of services in which it is possible to use the Internet of Things on a huge scale. For example, it can be healthcare, shops from small shops to supermarkets or accommodation and catering services (hotels, restaurants, etc.)
For example, in the core areas of human food and product production, i.e. agriculture and industry, the potential application of IoT technologies is truly significant. An industry that relies on the collaboration of individual machines, their management, control and monitoring (in general, the digitalisation of production) is referred to as Industry 4.0. Even before industry, these technologies have begun to penetrate agriculture, where they are being applied as a tool for efficient farming, known as Precision Agriculture.
An important objective is that the activities of agriculture, industry, services and logistics do not have a negative impact on the Environment. In particular, the environment that is closest to us and where we spend most of our time, i.e. towns and villages together with the surrounding nature (forests, meadows, fields, water bodies). Here, the goals of sustainable development apply everywhere, to which IoT technologies can make a significant contribution. For example, in terms of waste management or protection of the water ecosystem, such as fighting drought or, conversely, flooding. The Internet of Things is therefore fundamentally linked to concepts such as Smart City. Within this concept, it is primarily applied in the areas of parking or the management of public lighting.
Logistics is an important area without which the interconnection of services, industry and agriculture could not exist. In logistics, it is important to get the timing right so that everything gets to the right place, in the right quantity and with the right quality. Ensuring these requirements is no easy task and there is constant scope for optimisation. The Internet of Things will find applications in particular in the transport, storage, or distribution of energy (smart grid) and drinking water.
Within most IoT solutions, they are applied as a whole that cannot function without the other parts. The devices themselves provide interaction with the environment, for example, acquiring data or performing actions. They use various wired or wireless networks for communication within complex solutions, for example so that information can be stored in the Cloud for later evaluation.
Security principles are essential throughout the entire IoT architecture. Disrupting the integrity of the solution at any point can have disastrous consequences.
IoT devices can be seen as the very thing that communicates. It can be a traditional smart device, such as a mobile phone, or previously quite ordinary objects such as a rubbish bin. From an IoT perspective, a bin can transmit information about its fullness, etc. There is an increasing number of such things that were previously unable to communicate.
One option to make "dumb" devices "smart" is to enrich them with universal sensors or actuators. In this case, it is important to think about the physical constraints, which may be the size of the electronics needed, the power supply method, mechanical resistance, the environment (temperature, humidity, etc.), and many other specific parameters.
Networks in the field of communication can be divided according to topology (i.e. the way they are arranged) and technology (wired, wireless, etc.). Networks are the next essential element of the Internet of Things after the "things" devices. They are hidden within the meaning of the word Internet, i.e. large communication networks composed of sub-networks connecting individual end devices.
It is the increasing demand for interconnection of "things" that is motivating the emergence of new communication technologies specialized for the IoT. In the IoT, most devices are powered by an embedded battery/accumulator and need to achieve the lowest possible power consumption. Modern wireless "IoT" networks include for example LoRaWAN, IQRF and LTE-NB . Important parameters in the selection of suitable connectivity are for wireless coverage: the frequency of transmissions and the size of the measured data content, or the cost of connectivity.
From the perspective of IT technology, the cloud is a technology in which the user accesses services via the Internet. Services and data are constantly available to the user without knowing where exactly they are located. Data and services are provided through servers located in data centres (rooms or halls full of servers and data storage) connected to high-speed internet. At the same time, cooling and backup power make Cloud services one of the most reliable solutions in IT. At the same time, they are highly scalable solutions that provide the ability to be deployed at any stage of a project and can be expanded very flexibly to suit your needs.
There are many cloud service providers on the market today. They differ both in the level of services provided, as well as in their scope (regional, global) and, last but not least, in the form of distribution of cloud services (cloud computing).
The preparation of projects based on this service is very fast and high quality and safety of the entire solution can be achieved from the beginning. An example is the predictive estimation service based on the analysis, processing and evaluation of large volumes of data. For these reasons, the cloud is the ideal place to store and work with data collected from sensors over wireless networks.
A relatively new area of cloud computing is the so-called SaaS (Software as a service) distribution model, which offers software as a service rentals. In contrast to the traditional provision of computing power and storage (IaaS, Infrastructure as a service), over which a functional platform (PaaS, Platform as a service) has yet to be developed, the SaaS model works with a highly available application that already offers specific functionality directly. The preparation of projects on the basis of this service is very fast and the high quality and security of the entire solution can be achieved from the outset.
Applications are understood in the context of IT as software, i.e. a program created by a programmer. Programs describe procedures and make decisions based on input requirements. Hardware, most often a computer, is necessary for their life. Data processing and analysis applications tend to be very large and have high computing power requirements, which is why they are most often run on cloud platforms.
In the case of IoT devices, the term firmware is used. Firmware is a specific software (application) designed for single-purpose devices controlled by microprocessors (miniature computers). For the IoT domain, applications are the place that defines how the entire system will behave and greatly influence the final solution. Especially in the Software area, it is important to pay attention to cyber security.
This fact greatly assists further development and education in this area. These platforms are also ideal tools for initial testing of ideas and concepts to build comprehensive and sustainable solutions.
In terms of long-term sustainability, for example, it is necessary to think about what happens in case the system breaks down, how it can be serviced and how it can be kept up to date. Another key parameter is also the selection of individual components, for example some plastic boxes can completely break down in an outdoor environment. IoT is thus not just about a specific device, but about an overall approach to solving a problem through technology.
The Internet of Things is the intersection of most fields in electrical and computer engineering. For simplicity, it can be divided into the following interrelated parts, which are detailed below.
- DEVICES (HW)
- APPLICATION (SW)
IoT is not just about toys from the hobby market
The Internet of Things is also very often associated with simple, single-purpose devices communicating, most often using one of the modern wireless networks. Thanks to some projects, such as the Arduino platform or the Raspberry PI miniature computer, anyone can now build their own single-purpose intelligent systems.
Capabilities of the Internet of Things
Some of the IoT capabilities can be considered for use in monitoring and measurement, for example. Here, a wide range of modern sensors and measuring devices are available, in some cases completely wireless, i.e. battery-powered with a lifetime of many years and communicating wirelessly over relatively long distances.
The output of these analyses provides information that can be used for process optimization and better management decision-making. In addition, if corrections are needed, IoT capabilities can be used for remote management and regulation. Especially in combination with action members to provide the required intervention. For example, this can be the control of lighting or heating.