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What Is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to an array of internet connected devices beyond traditional personal computers, focusing on appliance devices, like in the home: clocks, thermostats, refrigerators, or in industrial sectors: sensor, actuators, robots.

IoT devices collect and share data, if designed with the appropriate features, about their use, behavior, and surrounding environment. These devices are made possible by advances in embedded technologies and interconnectivity that have significantly shrunk device footprints and reduced their costs. Now, there are literally billions of connected devices, far more than phones and computers, in all facets of manufacturing, governance, business and more.

Generally, IoT is the interaction between multiple remote devices, and an IoT platform. The combination of platform and devices are application specific. For instance, an IoT enabled device, such as sensors that collect water and electricity consumption measurements within the confines of a specific building, will connect with an IoT platform that aggregates that data, and applies analytics to them. In this case, analytics could return results that say which are the least energy efficient floor levels, or possibly identify abnormal water consumption that could indicate plumbing leaks. Building maintenance could then look for leaks, or administration could enforce better energy policies.

The idea is to gather volumes of device generated data, and then use data algorithms to detect patterns, discover insight, make recommendations, and potentially predict the future. This is the power of the Internet of Things.

In home situations, IoT was novel when it introduced smart televisions and microwaves. Now, home IoT is much more sophisticated, for example, home security is now remotely accessible via smart phone. IoT enabled cameras send their data to an IoT platform that can be accessed via the web. Cloud platforms make smarthomes remotely accessible too, giving homeowners control over their house while even on vacation.

IoT has gained more and more use within industrial settings, now labeled Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). In these situations, the difference is one of complexity and application. Take a manufacturing floor with IIoT equipment. Sophisticated IIoT software can now integrate all the devices and machines on the shop floor using a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) platform. Combined with ERP software, changes can be made to the manufacturing line based on supply availability. In this case, IIoT has created more control and efficiency through the entire manufacturing system.

The Internet of Things benefits organizations in different ways based on their end goals. For manufacturing, IIoT can help reduce waste. In human environments, like homes or buildings, IoT helps maintain optimal environments while reducing utilities costs. However, the root benefit is greater transparency and data-driven understanding of operations, environments, customers, and employees. Generally, all IoT enabled businesses share in the same common benefits:

  • Monitor business process holistically, understand usage, environment, and device health
  • Improve all manner of experiences
  • Save time and money
  • Enhance employee productivity
  • Make smarter informed business decisions

For consumers, the same functionality can impact their households and personal lives. Consumers benefit from IoT in how it transforms their once static living space into an interactive home.

  • Appliances that were once dumb are now smart and monitorable
  • Home security systems bring greater sense of safety to residents
  • New innovations, like Amazon Echo and Google Home bring new functionality into the home
  • Home environmental controls can reduce temperatures and turn lights off when they are not needed.

IoT and IIoT are game changers in many respects but they do carry with them a set of cons that balance the pros.

IoT Pros

  • Easy Access
  • Wireless
  • Eases Communication
  • Saves Money
  • Business Benefits
  • Increased Productivity

IoT Cons

  • Complexity
  • Compatibility
  • Privacy or Security
  • Lesser Employment
  • Technology Takes Control of Life
  • Addiction to Technology

There are numerous IoT devices today. The following categories highlight some popular devices that consumers are finding useful in the home.

Personal Assistants — These devices provide a basic virtual assistant for getting things done. The Google Home Voice Controller allows you to control lights, televisions, speakers and volume, set timers and alarms, and more. In similar fashion, the Amazon Echo Plus allows you to make calls, play songs, turn lights on, etc.

Security Devices — Controlling your house is essential which leads logically to securing it with smart locks and cameras. IoT cameras come in many forms, door cams, night-vision cams, baby cams, pet cams, nest cams, and more, providing remote monitoring of your entire house. Smart locks help extend that security by offering digital keys, metrics on who comes and goes, and auto unlock features for convenience.

Air Quality Monitors — For those with asthma, IoT air quality monitors can prove useful. While some simply monitor air quality, alerting you when quality reaches inhospitable levels, others are more sophisticated, and can purify air as needed.

House Controls — Home IoT controls are advanced. Smart light switches can be controlled from wall switches, smartphones, and even through voice commands. Similarly with thermostats and smart plugs can help to reduce home expenses.

As IoT finds greater usefulness, it will appear in more industries. Today, several industries are already benefiting from IoT and IIoT technologies.

Agriculture — The agriculture sector has been a technology innovator for some time, so adopting IoT solutions is a natural course. IoT has found many agriculture applications. IoT helps to automate greenhouses. IoT also helps to monitor climate conditions over large areas. Drones are used for the mapping and imaging of farm lands. And IoT makes it easier to monitor crops and livestock.

ManufacturingIoT in manufacturing aims to essentially remove the human from the shop floor, for efficiency, safety, and overall capability. Because many manufacturing processes can be reduced to robots, IoT has helped to optimize these processes through digital monitoring, remote equipment management, condition-based maintenance, and interconnected supply chains.

Retail — IoT has tremendously improved the operational efficiency of retail chains. In stores, smart inventory management uses RFID technology and gates to immediately catalog inventory—no more tedious inventory by hand. Further, omni-channel marketing is bolstered by IoT to improve inventory and supply chain management.

Healthcare — There is a need to maximize and optimize hospital resources and time. In an effort to do this, the healthcare sector has applied IoT as a solution in nearly every hospital system. IoT has been able to seamlessly connect hospital operations, like scheduling, with hospital inventory, like drugs, equipment, and supplies, to coordinate exceptional operational efficiencies. This has both decreased the cost of running a hospital, but also increased its usable capacity by tighter and more accurate coordination.

Energy — IoT in energy is complex but proving to be a useful tool in improving many of its aspects including: Remote assets monitoring and management, process optimization, grid balancing, load forecasting, and smart decision making.