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What is the Internet of Things (IoT) and Can This Future Become a Reality?
April 30, 2019
The Internet of Things is a system of devices connected both locally and globally that are equipped with data-collecting technology to communicate on a larger network of machines. In essence, the Internet of Things is the web of data threads that foster machine to machine communication.
Across the world, billions of physical devices connected to the internet are working to compile and share digital intelligence to better the individual human experience. That’s right, the future is now.
Classic cinematic masterpieces like Blade Runner have presented to generations of people the many imaginative possibilities of future technology. From self-driving cars to artificial intelligence robots who complete mundane household chores, the modern day has turned those movie creations into thriving companies like Tesla and Roomba.
Today, more than ever before, technology is geared toward optimizing human interaction and experience far beyond the convenience of a microwave or a wireless phone.
The Internet of Things is a futuristic concept that has already taken flight today, whether you notice it or not. But what is the larger purpose, the possibilities, and the future for this revolutionary technology?
Let’s break down everything you need to know about the Internet of Things and what you can expect to see in a future nearer than you ever imagined.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the giant network of interrelated digital computing devices that are connected by the internet and engineered to collect and exchange data.
Think of it this way. You wake up in the morning and as your check your watch, you’re notified that you got a great 8-hour sleep cycle. About 20 minutes before your regular wake-up time, your smart thermostat warmed up your bedroom so getting out of bed doesn’t feel as difficult.
As you slip into your fuzzy slippers, your bathroom light turns on and your smart speaker starts playing some smooth jazz to prompt your regular morning routine. All of this happens hands-free. But how?
Given your futuristic home is equipped with smart digitized appliances and lights, the Internet of Things makes this type of human experience automation possible. IoT connects all of these devices over a local internet-connected web.
Functioning as a system of other systems, the IoT is a massive network that transforms data collection into efficient problem-solving.
How does the Internet of Things work?
The end goal of the Internet of Things is to use collected real-time information to digitally advance the human experience in our homes, careers, and daily lives. There are many working parts that get the IoT cogs churning, so we’ll break down the three key elements that a complete IoT system requires.
1. Sensors & actuators
These are the “things” in Internet of Things. Sensors and actuators are responsible for collecting information from their respective environments and turning it into useful data.
Some of these things include accelerometers, thermometers, air-quality sensors, and heart rate monitors. An actuator is even capable of environmental modification that changes the physical conditions where data is generated.
This includes simple data like:
- Hours of usage
- Sign-on times
- Location statistics
In short, these active sensing devices gather data from an environment and perform simple processing operations.
After the complex analog data is gathered, it is converted into simpler digital streams by data acquisition systems, or DAS. DAS is the process of sampling signals used to measure real physical conditions, and converting results into computer-digestible digital numeric values.
2. The internet gateway
So where does the aggregated and digitized data from DAS go? The DAS connects to the sensor network while the internet gateway receives the data. That same data is then routed over WiFi, wired LAN, Bluetooth, or the internet for further processing.
Once successfully transmitted, the data now sitting in the cloud can be used for making predictions and inferences.
3. Data processing
Once the data has reached the cloud, a number of different software processing operations can be executed. This could be as simple as checking for appropriate temperature readings.
This layer of more in-depth data analysis can be managed, examined, and securely stored on the cloud, then used to improve user experience.
What are popular IoT devices?
The Internet of Things is rapidly transforming the modern world. From our bedrooms to our cars, IoT products give digital brains to objects beyond our imagination.
From hands-free light adjustment and door locking to automatic garage door opening and thermostat modification, the IoT connects many facets of everyday life through a wireless web of digital communication.
Whether you’re an everyday person looking to make the most of your home appliances and handheld devices or a business leader itching to boost productivity, these IoT devices will get you on the fast-track to the future.
1. Amazon Echo
What is it: Virtual personal assistants have taken tech markets by storm. Completely operated by voice commands, the Amazon Echo is always on and always hands-free.
Seven integrated microphones along with beam-forming technology gives Echo the ability to hear you from across the room. Connected to Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, the Echo is nothing short of a talking brain in your house.
Ask it for the weather, the latest song by Ariana Grande, to turn off the lights in your bedroom, or to print a recipe with the HP Tango smart printer and it will deliver.
How does it work with the IoT: Echo setup requires downloading an app on your smartphone and connecting the device to your local WiFi network.
Through this connection, Alexa can be paired with a number of smart home devices and appliances that can be launched by voice command. It’s this intercommunication between smart devices that makes the Echo an IoT device.
2. Nest thermostats
What is it: Unlike your typical thermostat, Google's Nest Learning Thermostat programs itself to heat and cool your home.
In fact, it’s called the “Learning Thermostat” because of its hands-free ability to learn your schedule and use predictive analytics to ensure proper heating while you’re home and save energy when you’re out. Some rooms in your home are cooler or warmer than others, and Nest understands that imbalance perfectly.
The Nest Temperature Sensor communicates with the thermometer, telling it to either warm or cool those isolated spaces in your home. In essence, Nest thermometers guarantee your home is always comfortable without you having to make any manual adjustments.
How does it work with the IoT: The Nest Learning Thermostat collects an array of user and location information from recording your regular habits and heating expectations.
With this information, it’s able to make predictive inferences that allow it to automate heating and cooling operations without any manual prompting. This is all made possible because the Nest Learning Thermostat is connected to the internet, and connected to your many devices chatting on the Internet of Things.
What is it: We’ve all been there. Losing a wallet, phone, or keys can feel like the end of the world when you truly can’t jog your memory to recall the last moment you had it.
Tile is your one-stop-shop answer to finding your valuables fast. Once programmed with the Tile app, the small Bluetooth tracker square can be geographically tracked from anywhere. Even if your phone is on silent, the Tile app will prompt a ringing sound that makes finding your smartphone hidden deep in your sofa cushions a lot easier.
How does it work with the IoT: Tile effectively converts your smartphone into a homing device capable of locating your lost valuables.
A virtual button on your phone alone can facilitate communication between your phone and your keys.
What is it: The pet industry has seen a striking surge in spending over the past decades, which can only indicate that not only are more people adopting animals, but the level of care for pets has increased. Whistle is a direct result of this shift.
Pet parents across the country want to be better in-tune with their dogs, and Whistle provides the data you need. Snapping this tiny wearable onto Fido’s collar grants location tracking, physical activity updates, and can even notify you when he’s gotten out of his pen.
How does it work with the IoT: Using advanced GPS and cellular technology on AT&T’s network, Whistle offers location tracking across the nation where service is available.
Connected with your smartphone via the Whistle app, the Whistle Activity Monitor is capable of tracking your dog’s behavior and health in addition to its whereabouts, wirelessly sending that data to your mobile device without any prompting.
What benefits does the Internet of Things offer consumers?
The ordinary American’s life has become completely inundated with smart devices engineered to keep us connected to the things and people that matter most.
Not only can our smartphones connect us with friends overseas, but they can also tell us how much sleep we’re getting per day, week, and month. Our smart watches tell time, but can also track the quality of our sleep cycles. The Internet of Things connects these two devices, aggregates the collected data, and works to find an efficient solution to better your sleep.
Digital automation is no longer a thing of futuristic cinema. There are many benefits that the Internet of Things can provide to the everyday person.
While it’s true that the digital age has made us more dependent on smart technology than ever before, it also remains a universal truth that humans desire comfort.
IoT devices and systems offer hands-free automation that aims to enhance convenience. This is made perfectly clear by the surge in virtual assistant popularity. Since introducing the Amazon Alexa and Echo, top tech companies like Google, Sonos, Facebook, and Netgear have all joined in the voice assistant craze.
Being able to accomplish tasks by voice command provides a certain effortlessness that requires little to no human intervention at all. The bottom line is that people like when things are easy, and that’s what the IoT is all about.
There’s a reason why we call these IoT devices smart. They are capable of learning, understanding, and adapting to our habits based on the data they collect and patterns they recognize. On an individual and personal scale, IoT systems work to optimize efficiency to better the flow of day to day operations.
For a business, this could make way for more in-depth monitoring of consumer trends or lead to increased sales and profit margins. At home, this could be constant and comprehensive air quality readings, or an IoT smart fridge giving you meal recipes with the ingredients sitting on the shelves.
IoT devices are engineered to devise greater flows of information to better the decisions people make.
As you’re headed out on your normal commute, your Amazon Echo may inform you that there is a better route available due to a traffic jam. Or your smart fridge may tell you that you’re low on eggs and milk which you’ll need for the next day’s breakfast. It’s this expedited information delivery that works to smooth your day out and make the most of your 24 hours.
They say time is money and there is plenty of truth in that statement. Wasted time and energy results in wasted money.
Whether it’s saving on heating costs by lowering the heat when you’re not home, or alerting you to an intruder before they’ve broken into your home, IoT devices work for you and your wallet in the long run.
What does the future have in store for the Internet of Things?
With a greater understanding of the IoT world, people will likely respond in two ways; hesitation and excitement. But what does that mean for the Internet of Things’ future?
We’ve been warned about the takeover of robots and the rise of too-powerful artificial intelligence in the movies, so it’s only fair that IoT devices and technology are met with a bit of anxiety. However top tier tech companies are working endlessly to bolster IoT security to safeguard all connected devices from error.
In the face of new technology, there will always be kinks and mods to be fixed and fine-tuned. Fortunately, within the IoT world, the rapid growth has encouraged the market to engineer indomitable technology that inspires consumers to indulge in the many benefits the IoT offers.
At the end of the day, there are no signs of slowing for the IoT world, and we can expect to see smart homes become less of a movie-dream and more of an everyday reality. Change is coming, even if it lies in an invisible web of a new-age digital network.
About the Author: Tulie Finley-Moise is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Tulie is a digital content creation specialist based in San Diego, California with a passion for the latest tech and digital media news.