IoT is the inter-network of smart devices or things. The vision is to have a myriad of devices connect and communicate with each other to drive efficiencies in production, and assist in executive decision making through data analytics. This requires a management platform to coordinate the data gathering, analysis, and distribution. IoT, therefore, involves smart devices, connectivity to the internet, and a platform to coordinate or orchestrate the data flow.
There are a plethora of smart devices available on the market today. Most consumers are familiar with Nest and Ring products, for example. These devices already interact with your personal devices, like your cell phone, and can be programmed to adjust the temperature automatically as you leave your home, or send alerts to your phone when someone or something is in close proximity to your house.
Industrial IoT (IIoT) devices can offer the same benefits, however, they are tailored for applications in the field, and are usually more expensive. For example, video cameras installed in a process plant or at a city intersection have different requirements due to their exposure to vibration, noise, chemicals, sunlight, etc. In addition, length of exposure, tolerance, and other factors are also considered based on product application. Environmental conditions, therefore, have a significant influence on IIoT product development cost. Consumer products, in general, do not have such stringent requirements.
Another category of smart devices are wearables; for example, smart watches, health monitoring bands/belts, implants, etc. Although some of these devices may require exacting conditions, they do not need to be qualified for operation in extreme conditions, and, therefore, are not classified as “industrial” IoT devices. However, these devices generate data that are beneficial for key players in the value chain.
Connectivity to Internet
The internet has come a long way since its origination in the late 1960s; whereas only a couple of characters were successfully transmitted over a few hundred miles back then, now we have the ability to send movies all around the world and even the space station. Connectivity to the internet comes through a transmission medium; e.g., wired or wireless connection to the device.
As of today, wireless is the most popular medium for IoT. The primary connection is through a cellular telecommunications service provider. However, satellite communication is also possible, but it is usually associated with GPS. Smaller IoT devices can also be tethered to the primary device, called an IoT gateway, having the connection, and thereby get access to the internet. Similarly, technologies like Wi-Fi (802.11), Bluetooth, RFID, and NFC can also be used to communicate data from source points.
Platform for Coordination
As smart devices proliferate throughout the planet and beyond, we will need a way to manage and coordinate the distribution of the burgeoning data; which will come from things located in the home, the personal devices, smart cities, vehicles, agriculture, enterprises, factories, and other venues. That is, data will be generated ubiquitously.
Big data in its raw form has no meaning; however, when this endless supply of data is systematically filtered and organized in relevant ways, a value system can emerge for the smart devices to collaborate on to drive efficiencies and solve problems. For example, vehicle traffic has the potential to yield monthly data in the exabyte range by 2025. Sharing this data with transportation service providers may produce more cost-effective solutions for transit needs, with reduction in traffic and pollution.
A pandemic like the COVID-19 virus is invisible and hard to target its propagation. When real-time data on individuals’ where-about is frequently collected everywhere, individuals that came in proximity of the infected carrier can be identified through software. Subsequently, health authorities can isolate the infected and cure the disease before it reaches global scale.
If we rely on data for the above applications to be processed on smart devices, the computational requirements will dictate an impractical design; i.e., the product may require a large battery, or a CPU that is larger than the device itself. To solve these issues edge computing is emerging to provide intermediate storage, compute, and distributed networking services to process device data before its result is sent back to the device for subsequent actions and/or before a filtered set of data is sent forward to the cloud for further processing. This type of coordination requires a software platform at the edge for distributing the workload.
The Future of (I)IoT
As each subsequent generation of technologies build on top of legacy offerings, the complexity increases. There is no doubt we will experience many failures along the way. Along a similar tangent are security and privacy concerns; the more devices our data travels on, the more vulnerable and insecure we feel. One of the benefits of edge computing is its localized nature; if data does not have to reach the cloud, then it can be gated at the edge or on premises, for that matter.
Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is definitely coming to the planet, and we need it; the current global pandemic is an attest to that. The benefit of these technologies will be our collective ability to predict outcomes. We are already seeing some of this in the NFL as game plays are showing the likelihood of success. While ML and AI are nice buzz words, it may not be clear as to where they fit in the IoT realm.
AI is the “intelligence” that is exhibited by machines through learning over time; hence, ML is a subset of AI, and involves computing algorithms that learn and adapt automatically as the device matures. Both of these technologies are compute-intensive; however, since learning is a subset and a prerequisite to building intelligence, edge computing has strategic advantage for it.
According to a World Economic Forum report, (I)IoT could contribute $14.2 trillion to the global economy by the end of this decade. This is just the industrial side of IoT. With consumer devices for the smart home and personal devices, this number is even higher.
While this provides us with great opportunities, we also need to consider the ramifications of our decision to innovate and execute. There will be smart devices, smart cars, smart factories, and the like, but we will also experience smart crimes and smart problems that are tough to figure out. The goal of building the “Internet of Things” is ambitious.
At Taubyte, because we understand the challenge, we built a distributed cloud platform at the edge of the internet. Like a sensory cortex our platform has the intelligence to dynamically provision compute and storage needed by (I)IoTs as close to them as possible.