In this series of posts, I will emphasize primarily over the world of IoT (Internet of Things). We’ll start with looking at the origins of IoT, its common elements and approaches, look at the market growth and trends for IoT in the industry. We will also touch base with the newer extensions of IoT like IIoT (Industrial IoT), CIoT (Consumer IoT), IoE (Internet of Everything) and IoRT (Internet of Robotic things).
IoT is an umbrella term for a broad range of underlying technologies and services depending upon the use cases and in turn are part of a broader technology ecosystem which includes related technologies such as AI, cloud computing, cyber security, analytics, big data, various connectivity/communication technologies, digital twin simulation, Augmented reality and virtual Reality, block chain and more.
The idea of the Internet of Things goes back quite some time. The RFID has been a key development towards the Internet of Things and the term Internet of Things has been coined in an RFID context (and NFC), whereby we used RFID to track items in various operations such as supply chain management and logistics.
The roots and origin of the Internet of Things go beyond just RFID. Think about machine-to-machine (M2M) networks. Or think about ATMs (automated teller machine or cash machines), which are connected to interbank networks, just as the point of sales terminals where you pay with your ATM cards. M2M solutions for ATMs have existed for a long time, just as RFID. These earlier forms of networks, connected devices and data are where the Internet of Things comes from. Yet, it’s not the Internet of Things.
The Role and Impact of RFID
In the nineties, technologies such as RFID, sensors and a few wireless innovations led to several applications in the connecting of devices and “things”. Most real-life implementations of RFID in those days happened in logistics like warehouses and the supply chain in general. However, there were many challenges and hurdles to overcome (mainly warehousing and industrial logistics as RFID was still expensive).
An example of an RFID application – electronic toll collection. The use of RFID became popular in areas beyond logistics and supply chain management: from public transport, identification (from pets to people), electronic toll collection (see image), access control and authentication, traffic monitoring, retail outdoor advertising. That growing usage was, among others, driven by the decreasing cost of RFID tags, increasing standardization and NFC(Near Field Communication).
Journey of RFID to IoT
The possibility of tagging, tracking, connecting and “reading” and analyzing data from objects would become known as the Internet of Things around the beginning of this Millennium.
It was obvious that the connection of the types of “things” and applications – as we saw them in RFID, NFCs – with the Internet would change a lot. It might surprise you but the concepts of connected refrigerators, telling you that you need to buy milk, the concept of what is now known as smart cities and the vision of an immersive shopping experience (without bar code scanning and leveraging smart real-time information obtained via connected devices and goods) go back since before the term Internet of Things even existed. Th attention for IoT in numerous other areas without a doubt has led to the grown attention for it as you’ll read further.
Coining of IoT Term
According to the large majority of sources, the term Internet of Things was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton at MIT.
RFID existed years before talked about the Internet of Things as a system, connecting the physical world and the Internet via omni-present sensors. Team there wanted to solve a challenge as wired reports: empty shelves for a specific product. When shelves are empty, obviously no one can buy what’s supposed to be there. It’s a typical problem of logistics and supply chain. The solution was found in RFID tags, which were still far too expensive to be able to put them on each product. Once the benefit was realized, there were many who invested in the expensive RFIDs to derive the benefits. The rest is a standard system, solving miniaturization challenges, lowering RFID tags prices and…history.
Definition of IoT
The internet of things, or IoT, is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
Physical devices are either designed for the Internet of Things or are assets, including living beings, which are equiped with data sensing and transmitting electronics. Beyond this endpoint dimension with devices, sensors, actuators and communication systems, the Internet of Things is also used to describe what is effectively done with the data acquired from connected things.
The Internet of Things describes a range of applications, protocols, standards, architectures and data acquisition and analysis technologies whereby devices and items (appliances, clothes, animals,….) which are equipped with sensors, specifically designed software and /or other digital and electronical systems, are connected to the Internet and/or other networks via a unique IP address or URI, with a societal, industrial, business and/or human purpose in mind. As you can read below, data and how they are acquired, analyzed and combined into information value chains and benefits are key in it. In fact, the true value of the Internet of Things lies in the ways it enables to leverage entirely new sources and types of data for entirely new business models, insights, forms of engagement, and ways of living and societal improvements
The Internet of Things is not a thing. Data which is acquired, submitted, processed or sent to devices, in most cases travels across the Internet, fixed lines, across cloud ecosystems or via (tailored) wireless connectivity technologies which are developed for specific applications of IoT
Bridging digital, physical and human spheres through networks, connected processes and data, turned into knowledge and action, is an essential aspect in this equation. In recent years the focus in the Internet of Things has shifted from the pure aspect of connecting devices and gathering data to this interconnection of devices, data, business goals, people and processes, certainly in IIoT.
Elements of IoT
Most IoT definitions have several aspects in common. Here are the elements they have in common:
- Internet of Things Connectivity
All IoT definitions include the connectivity and network aspect: a network of things, devices, sensors, objects and/or assets, depending on the source. It’s pretty clear that a dimension of networks and connectedness, we would even say hyper-connectedness, needs to be present in any decent IoT definition.
2. The Things in the Internet of Things
IoT-enabled assets, devices, physical objects, sensors, anything connected to the physical world, appliances, endpoints, the list goes on. They are all terms to describe what an essential part of a network of things. Some add words such as smart or intelligent to the devices. Let’s say that they contain technology that grants them an additional capability of ‘doing something’: measuring temperature or moisture levels, capturing location data, sensing movement or capturing any other form of action and context that can be captured and turned into data.
3. The Internet of Things and Data
This is part of that intelligent notion but it also brings us far closer to the essence. You can define the Internet of Things by simply describing all characteristics (“what it is”) but you also need to look at its purpose (“the why”).
4. Communication in the Internet of Things
Data as such is maybe not without value but it sure is without meaning unless it is used for a purpose and it is turned into meaning, insights, intelligence and actions. The data gathered and sensed by IoT devices needs to be communicated in order to even start turning it into actionable information, let alone knowledge, insights, wisdom or actions.
5. Internet of Things, Intelligence and action
We just touched upon this aspect. However, in most definitions we see that intelligence is attributed to just the network(s) and/or the devices. While we certainly need, for instance, ‘intelligent networking technologies’ in many cases and while connected devices have a capacity of action, the real intelligence and action sits in the analysis of the data and the smart usage of this data to solve a challenge, create a competitive benefit, automate a process, improve something, whatever possible action our IoT solution wants to tackle.
There is always a degree of automation, no matter the scope of the project or the type of Internet of Things application. Most IoT applications are essentially all about automation. And that often comes with costs and benefits. Industrial automation, business process automation or the automatic updating of software: it all plays a role, depending on the context.
Meaning and hyper-connectedness is what we miss in many answers on the questions regarding what the Internet of Things is. We stay too descriptive and focused on just the technologies and don’t look at purpose and intelligent action enough
While the above mentioned elements come back in all Internet of Things definitions there are a few we miss that are essential in the evolving views regarding the Internet of Things as it moves from devices and data to outcomes and actionable intelligence, and ultimately to a hyper-connected world of digital transformation (DX) and business.
The aspect of hyper-connectivity and integration often lacks. In a context of a reality whereby devices, people, processes and information are more interconnected than ever before; an Internet of Things definition and approach just needs to mention these aspects as the Internet of Things is part of something broader and is more about data, meaning and purpose than about objects. A key element of that hyper-connectivity in the Internet of Things sphere is that sometimes mentioned ongoing bridging of digital and physical environments, along with human environments, processes and data as the glue, enabler and condition to create value when properly used for connected purposes.
Then there is also the possibility to create new ecosystems where connected device usage by groups of people can lead to new applications and forms of community ecosystems. Last but not least and we’ve mentioned this often before: no Internet of Things without security.
Stay tuned…. Part 2 of this foray, we will look into key definitions and approaches for IoT.
Please feel free to review my earlier series of posts
- AI-ML Past, Present and Future – distributed across 8 blogs.
- Machine Learning – The Primer – distributed across 5 blogs