The Internet is agog with news reports trumpeting the rise of the phenomenon called Internet of Things. Reports such as “The number of organisations adopting IoT will grow 50% in 2016”, “By 2020, more than 24 billion internet-connected devices will be installed globally” and the like have become commonplace. Probably you may be wondering, what exactly is this Internet of Things or IoT, as it is commonly known.
Let us disentangle the news. When someone asks you what is this stuff called the Internet, you may come up with the standard answer: a global network of interconnected computer networks in which any computer can communicate with any other computer. Though technically this answer sounds good, what does it actually mean in real life? We use the Net to share information with others, send/receive emails, read newspapers, make banking transactions, and so forth. In this sense, one can say that the Net is a product of humans, created entirely for humans. Here, everything revolves around people-to-people communication.
So, the conventional Internet can be viewed as the Internet of Humans (IoH) – this is the key idea. In our physical world we are surrounded by a wide variety of things: the car, the thing by which we travel; the kitchen , the place where we cook food; the refrigerator the ‘thing’ that keeps items cold; the tractor, the ‘thing’ we use to plough; the chair, the ‘thing’ in which we sit; shoes/shirts, the ‘things’ you wear. An interesting aspect of these ‘things’ is that they also have lots of information to share. A shirt can tell the date in which it was purchased, its size and the like. The chair knows the height of the person/object sitting on it.
So, ‘things’ around us have lots of information to share. Not just information about their features, ‘things’ can share their current activities too- a moving car can share details such as its speed, location, etc. Now, the question is what if ‘things’ could share information with other things/people. The fact that ‘things’ can share their experience- what they know, see, hear and feel- with other things and people, opens up immense possibilities. When a thing shares its information with other things or people the recipient thing(s) might use it do some useful stuff. In response to certain information from a ‘thing,’ another ‘thing’ can send instructions back to the sender or to other ‘things’ relevant to the issue at hand.
An intelligent bridge can detect its cracks and communicate this news to your car, which in turn can alert the driver or may slow down by itself. The smart car moving towards your smart home could alert your living room of its arrival and the room, in turn, could switch on the AC and lights. These examples tell us how useful it would be if ‘things’ can share information with each other and people. This is what the Internet of Things strives to achieve. From the Internet of Humans (IoH), we move to the Internet of Things (IoT) — this is the main takeaway!
Though our ‘things’ contain lots of information within them, obviously, they don’t have any means to communicate on their own. For this, we need to add some type of computational intelligence (the ability to sense/communicate) to them. As all of us know, we humans communicate by collecting input from our surroundings through our five senses. The challenge is to make the ‘thing’ understand its environment so that it can sense/respond to the world around it.
The basic idea, the key to making ‘things’ communicate, is to use sensors (electronic devices) that can measure changes in the world around them. There are a variety of sensors –light sensors (used to measure changes in the intensity of light — brightness and darkness), heat sensors (used to measure the changes in the temperature- is the room, hot or cold?), pressure sensors (to determine the pressure being applied on the sensor’s surface) and the like.
In addition to the ability to sense its environment, we need to add a network connection to the ‘thing’ so that it can communicate with other ‘things’. When you add these features to a ‘thing’ it becomes a ‘smart thing’. So, when you come inside the living room of a smart home and sit on the chair, the pressure sensor in the chair would come to know that someone is sitting on it by sensing the change in pressure. The chair could send this information to the home control system, which in turn can instruct the TV (yet another ‘thing’) to switch itself on.
So, the things in the room are able to understand what is happening around them and take appropriate actions. Such a room is called ‘smart’ room. Point to internalise: a smart ‘thing’ functions without any intermediaries. We have just touched upon the features of IoT-enabled world. IoT devices are very pervasive and are everywhere. By automating many of the life processes it will make our life easier.
However, this is just one side of the story. There is a flip side too. Millions of IoT devices (‘things’) are gathering different kinds of data and transmitting them all over cyberspace. But most of the devices are not adequately secured and are susceptible to hacking. Recent Internet outage that brought down scores of popular websites (Twitter, Amazon and the like) attests to this observation. As per NPR, instead of using computers, hackers used hundreds of IoT devices for destabilising the Net.