What is IOT?
Internet of Things (IOT) is a network of internet connected smart objects. The smart objects are any physical devices that include a sensor, communication circuits, an embedded processor and internet connectivity. The smart objects are capable of collecting environmental data and exchange it with outer world via internet. The sensor inside the smart object can detect or sense any changes such as rise of temperature, drop of pressure, rainfall or absence of light in any surrounding region and send the information to a nearby processor. The embedded processor in the smart object can collect the information and with the help of communication circuit, send the information to a remote server via internet. In order that smart objects can send data via internet, each of them must have a unique IP address so that they can send data through internet using Internet Protocol (IP). When the information reaches the remote server, appropriate action is taken by authorized persons in order to avoid undesirable consequences. The examples of smart objects include smart refrigerators, smart washing machines, smart phones, tablets, smart watches, heart-beat monitors etc. In some of these devices, along with sensors, actuators are also fitted. The actuators have the capability of moving small objects (such as valves or switches) that can open or close some machine parts for specific purpose. For example if a sensor detects an abnormal rise in temperature of an engine it can activate an actuator which in turn closes an alarm circuit in order to generate an alarm.
Why does it Matter?
Internet connected smart objects can sense environmental data and instantly send the information via internet to remote servers so that suitable actions could be taken as and when needed. This unique feature has made Internet of Things (IOT) an extremely valuable business proposition that has the potential to combine physical world with computer based internet. As more and more common day to day devices such as auto-mobiles, cameras, microwaves, door-bells, thermometers, bill boards etc., will become smart i.e., will be fitted with sensors/actuators and embedded processors and will have unique IP addresses in order to get connected with internet, they will bring a revolution in the way people think and act today. Smart devices will themselves generate valuable information regarding manufacturing, inventory, transportation, healthcare, security or customer satisfaction and enable people to take instant action whenever required. In other words, IOT empowers humans in taking important decisions efficiently and accurately.
Industrial Applications of IOT
Industrial application of IOT spreads in various sectors such as manufacturing, retail, healthcare, logistics, supply chain, agriculture, real estate and more. In manufacturing, smart machines fitted with various thermal and hydraulic sensors can instantly detect any abnormal behaviour and raise alarms in order to replace faulty machine parts and thus avoiding production delays. In logistics and transportation, smart vehicles fitted with RFID sensors allow efficient inter-vehicular communication which leads to centralized fleet management and organized, error free & on-time delivery. IOT finds wide application in healthcare where numerous wearable sensors are available such as smart watches to track heartbeat, smart fitness bands to count steps while walking, smart monitors to check body temperature/pressure etc. All these smart monitors help tracking the patients’ health conditions and are capable of generating instant alarms so that healthcare providers can take necessary actions to save the life of the patients. Another major application area of IOT is in supply chain. Efficient inventory management is possible with smart RFID tags fitted with each inventory item or finished product in a warehouse. The smart tags keep track of the items present in the shelves and as soon as the item is consumed alarms are raised so that stock can be replenished to avoid any bottleneck. In agriculture, environmental sensors are fitted in the field so that they can constantly monitor temperature, pressure, rainfall, humidity, wind speed, soil quality and presence of various harmful pests in the farm land. This information enables farmers in minimizing risks and improving quality of crop. Thus IOT finds application in almost all walks of life and in coming days, more and more smart devices will be connected together and as a result newer and more innovative applications will continue to come.
The major concern of IOT is security and privacy infringement of individual as well as organizations. For organizations, as smart sensors are embedded in the interior of a machine, laboratory, or various corners of an organization, they can collect private and confidential business data which, if falls to wrong hands could be misused against the organization. Similarly, for individuals, private medical records or contact details as well as financial or tax details can be hijacked by unwanted persons for exploitation purpose. Proper security arrangements in the form of encryption, authentication and access (password) control must be undertaken so that private and confidential data could not be misused or destroyed.
IOT in Cloud
Another big concern of IOT is collection, storage and analysis of huge amount of sensor data. In any IOT application, be it manufacturing, retail, healthcare, logistics or supply chain, innumerable sensors are employed to collect important environmental data so that comprehensive information could be gathered which will lead to accurate analysis and decision making. Total number of sensors in any typical IOT application could be hundreds of thousands or even millions. The sensor data coming from millions of sensors could be of the order of petabytes (1015 bytes) or exabytes (1018 bytes). In order to handle such huge amount of data, special storage arrangements as well as super-powerful processors are required. Supercomputers with distributed storage facility (HDFS – Hadoop Distributed File System) and distributed processing capacity (Hadoop MapReduce) are usually employed. A low-cost alternative to storage and processing of IOT data is cloud computing. Cloud servers are available that offer storage and processing of IOT data at a nominal rental cost. Corporates can opt either for I-A-A-S (Infrastructure As A service) cloud mode to get subscription based storage facility, or they can opt for S-A-A-S (Software As a Service) cloud mode to get subscription based processing and analysis of sensor data, or they can opt for both. Thus cloud computing offers a cost effective solution for storage and analysis of bulky sensor data that will help corporates in taking accurate business decisions.
The future prospect of IOT is enormous. As it combines physical world (i.e., sensors) with computer world (i.e., internet), the scope of IOT increases manifold. Be it smart refrigerators, smart street lamps, smart trees fitted with RFID tags, smart buckles (to track wild animals), smart traffic lights, smart cars etc., IOT will touch all branches of human society. Accordingly, business applications of IOT will thrive and it will revolutionize the way humans interact with computers. With the growth of internet as well as of internet-literate population, newer applications of IOT will continue to come and it in turn will lead to intense human interaction with both the surrounding physical world as well as computer based internet. It will allow humans to gain better insight about Mother Nature and apply the knowledge to the betterment of human, plant and animal world.