First it was the era of Smartphones and then came in Smart TV’s, Smart Cars, Smart Homes, Smart Cities which gradually starting building a Smart World. Yes, the World is changing and its started to wear an electronic skin.
The invention of microprocessor leading to the manufacturing of the personal computer and in turn the World Wide Web was indeed a remarkable milestone in the history of mankind. And now, the world looks upon yet another big wave – Internet of Things (IoT). This wave, by analysts, is being perceived as a bridge which will close the gap between the digital and the physical world. For example, many newly constructed buildings today already have various sensors for attempting to save energy; home automation is occurring in terms of energy savings as well as security — turning simple homes in to smart homes; people have smartphones with sensors for running many useful apps like tracking physical activity, diet, sleep patterns, etc; industrial plants are connecting to the Internet; healthcare services are supporting remote medicine, etc. However, all these are just the tip of the iceberg. They are all still at early stages of development.
As Nikola Tesla (an inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist who also gave us the design of the alternating current (AC) electricity supply system) quoted in an interview given in 1926 — “When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole…and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.”
And how it stands true today as we look forward towards the 21st century. A new dimension is being added to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and connectivity is no longer limited to anytime, anyplace, anyone but anything too. A new dynamic network of networks is being created which is now popularly called the Internet of Things (IoT).
So what’s this buzz?
IoT revolves around three main components: Sensors, Controllers and Internet.
- Sensors are simple or complex devices that convert physical properties in to electrical signals. For example, sensing the temperature or humidity in an environment and converting the analog signals in to digital signals.
- Controllers are devices which convert the electrical signals in to physical properties. For example, turning on or off a switch or a motor. They are devices which allow to perform an action based on the data received through a digital signal.
- Internet – as we all know – is a network of devices that use the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and links billions o devices worldwide.
In short, IoT = Sensors + Controllers + Internet. OK, let’s understand this with a few examples so that we can decode this jargon further.
Imagine you are driving your smart car in the night on an highway and it’s raining. Due to the rains, the roads have become slippery in certain areas which could lead to fatal accidents if the car skids. Worry not as IoT can come to the rescue. Sensors implanted in the roads, would detect and communicate the information to a central server about the condition of the road. This information would than be analysed and broadcasted via the wireless internet to all cars traveling on that highway at that point in time. Your smart car now knows that there is a hazard ahead and it will instruct you to slow down. If you don’t, the car will automatically take control and slow down the car for you.
Here’s another example from our daily life. It was your best friends party and you return home late. Tired you crash on your bed but with all the food and drinks that you have consumed; somehow you are unable to catch sleep before an hour ticks by. Your bed has an in-built sensor that monitors your sleep cycle. It senses that you are tossing and turning in the bed and are not having a sound sleep. Your bed tells your alarm clock about this situation and your intelligent alarm clock in turn pokes your calendar to see if you have any early morning appointments. Nope…none found and so the alarm is reset to wake you up about an hour late and let you get your sleep.
Neat. But this also means that in an IoT world, there will exist vast amounts of data which would be continuously collected, stored, analysed and transmitted. There will be needs to convert this raw data in to knowledgeable data and that’s where the cloud and big data analysis will come in to focus. On the flip side, the smarter the objects become, the smarter our life but more chances of this data being misused and so security and surveillance will also be the need of those time. These are not new issues around IoT which will spurt up, but they are already associated with the Internet and will simply be magnified.
If question our children about how the world existed before the Internet–they are speechless and if we tell them how pigeons delivered messages, they are awestruck or roll in laughter.. They are unable to comprehend how the world communicated or how people lived their lives when Internet was a luxury and not a household necessity. The same is going to happen with IoT. Maybe 10-15 years down the line, we will be dependent on the knowledge churned out from data which is accumulated from various devices like our wearables, homes, societies, industries, etc. and we shall have no idea how we managed our lives before. Our decisions will be more informed, accurate and timely – decisions that will improve our lives. Hopefully.