Operationally Defining The IoT, Part I

Sensors Insights by Mat Dirjish

One of the most buzzed-about concepts, or industry trend if you prefer, is the Internet of Things (IoT). It is mentioned in almost every new-product announcement, and not just sensor and sensor-related devices. For example, software developer Express Logic recently launched its X-Ware Platform that is initially tailored to the ARM developer community for IoT applications. Last month, semiconductor titan TSMC unveiled an ultra-low power technology platform aimed at a wide range of applications for the IoT and wearable device markets. The platform involves several processes that promise significant power reductions for IoT and wearable products and accelerated times to market.

Everyone from software and embedded developers, through component makers, and sensor OEMs are jumping on the IoT train. And just to help things along application wise, the Internet Protocol for Smart Objects (IPSO) Alliance keeps everyone on track with standards and interoperability concerns. The organization recently introduced its Smart Objects Guideline - Starter Pack (SOSP) 1.0 that provides a basis for interoperability across devices connected to the IoT through an open common object model.

With IoT on the minds and tongues of many, what exactly is the IoT? Simple, you may say and rightfully so. The most common answer to that question by tech-savvy and lay persons alike is, "a plethora of sensors hooked up to anything and everything that collect data on everything and everyone, and transmit that data over the Internet to everyone and anyone." As per the "trillion sensors" folks, that's pretty aptly put. But we're all tech people, so let's get technical.

What Is It?

At Sensors Expo 2014, IoT was a hot topic. Judging by the exhibits and demos, it quickly became apparent that there's a lot more to this IoT thing than just a mass proliferation of sensors and the data resultant thereof. Since there is no such thing as a dumb question, and if you ask, you will receive, the best way to find out how IoT is truly perceived in the market place is to ask those who are actually creating it.

It's a Network

"Autonomous products that share information" is how Dr. Jim Knutti President and CEO of Acuity Inc. defines the IoT. That's fairly clean cut and to the point; independently operating devices that communicate with each other, leaving the quantitative aspect open. Greg Montrose, Marketing Manager at American Sensor Technologies, Inc. similarly states the, "IoT encompasses the ability to record, monitor, and track data through the Internet." Again, no mention of the quantitative aspect, possibly because we assume everything involving the Internet is huge, being worldwide and all.

"The IoT is an infinite network of data generating objects that can make decisions and drive actions" says Dave Coughlan, President of TE Sensor Solutions. "Data can be generated, shared, managed, stored, and processed. In the world of automotive, a car is a thing on the internet of things. In the past, we thought of a vehicle network as a hardwired network confined to the car itself, like a CAN bus, for instance. With a modem in the car, that network definition can now span across the globe."

Staying in a network state of mind, while also referencing the humanitarian element, Ryan Maley, Director of Strategic Marketing at the ZigBee Alliance claims, "The ZigBee Alliance has a simple definition of IoT: Everyday objects communicating with each other and with people. IoT networks enable objects to communicate all type of information to people, enables people to have more control over the objects around them, and allow objects to communicate with and control each other to help people."

It's a Potpourri

Director of Business Development at Novati Technologies Inc., Tim Scott sums each of the aforementioned definitions/observations with greater detail. "Basically IoT refers to the interconnection of electronic devices within the existing Internet infrastructure. IoT offers advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services that goes beyond machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and covers a variety of protocols, domains, and applications." Tim outlines further, "The IoT refers to a wide variety of devices in a broad range of industries such as implantable medical devices, biochip transponders on animals, automotive sensors, or devices that assist smart thermostats, washers and dryers, and other household appliances."

It Is Functional

Mike Ballard, Senior Manager, Home Appliance Solutions Group and Cloud Enablement Team Leader at Microchip Technology Inc. has a more utilitarian view. "We consider an Internet of Things end product to be any embedded system that utilizes integrated technology to enable communication and coordination with cloud servers." Not an all-encompassing description, but does take into consideration the backbone of most front-end applications, the embedded system.

Scott A. Nelson, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Logic PD defines the IoT as "the integration of devices with an open architecture data storage and application facility, i.e. cloud, to enable new sensor and data driven experiences that increase productivity, convenience, and security for operational entities and individual users."

It Works For Me

In my opinion, Scott Nelson's definition above truly outlines the IoT concept we all have in our minds, but overshadow with extensive descriptions and ponderings. Philosophy seems to have no real place in ground-level technology because technology is a business. In a creation-first, consequences-later environment, it's not essential to kick the tires before getting on the bus.

Using Scott's definition that the IoT is a collection of devices (sensors, wired/wireless interfaces, data-collection devices and software, etc.) connected within an open architecture (the Internet) for data collection, analysis, transmission, and retrieval for the purposes of increasing productivity (personal and business), convenience, and security for all (individuals and groups large and small), we can reach two conclusions: there will be an ever expanding collection of devices, predominantly sensors, interfacing to that open architecture known as the Internet and these devices will play an essential role in nearly all current applications while creating a staggering plethora of new ones.

What will the ever expanding collection of devices consist of? If they are predominantly sensors, what sensors will be the most in demand? And what apps and designs will offer OEMs the greatest opportunities for innovation and profit? We'll find out next week when we ask these industry aces where the IoT concept is heading. Initial thought, the future of the IoT will not involve 'selfies'.

About the Author
Mat Dirjish is Executive Editor of Sensors magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

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