Are you ready for the Internet of Things to come …

By 16th November 2018Big Data, IOT

With the proliferation of Internet connected devices, and ever growing, ever faster networks, the Internet of Things (IoT) has a solid foundation to exponentially grow from. All indications are that IoT is going to have a big impact on the way we work, interact with the world around us, the impact of machines and how they will interact with each another. The jury is still out on how fast and to what extend it will impact all of us.

It is widely accepted that the Internet of Things (IoT) is the next wave of Internet growth and innovation. Research points to this and IoT-type products are already widely available. IoT is a phrase first conceived by Kevin Ashton in 1999 [1]. In essence, it describes the idea of various Internet connected computing devices, identifying themselves, producing and exchanging data with each other and Internet hosted services. In 2019 there will be 26 billion Internet connected devices. A direct consequence of this is an exponential increase in Cloud data storage with volumes approaching 44 Zettabytes [2].

IoT is not founded on new technology nor inventions rather existing ones. The following technologies all form a vital part of the makeup of IoT.

  • Actuators
    • Sensors
    • Mobile devices
    • Local Area Networks (LAN)
    • Personal Area Networks (PAN)
    • Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN)
    • Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
    • Cloud Based Computing

IoT connects the physical objects in the world around us via embedded intelligence. This interconnectivity generates streams of data originating from static sensors and actuators. These triggers can spawn multiple events, based on this data. These events can then create data of their own.

Ubiquitous sensing provides the ability to monitor the physical and natural world around us. The ever-expanding Wi-Fi and Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks aid in the generation of ubiquitous information and expand the footprint of the Internet and subsequently IoT. Figure 1 shows the convergence point of IoT. Drivers of IoT include: falling hardware costs, more advanced software, managed infrastructure and better connectivity.

Figure 1 : Venn diagram – Internet of Things [3]

2.1 Real world train safety example

In a real world example [4] of IoT and data analytics, a train is traveling towards a predefined destination. Sensors connected to the railway track monitor any changes in climate and railway conditions. These sensors also communicate the metrics of the train passing over, like speed, time and weight. This data is vital and needs to be stored and reported on, but in case of emergency needs to be analysed in real-time and acted on immediately.

IoT is explained in the context of a system named Positive Train Control (PTC) [5]:

  1. PTC processes two data streams:
    • Critical data to be acted on in real-time
    • Metric data sent from the sensors to the datacenter for analysis and reporting
  2. Sensors record and collect data as the train passes. The train is identified, the weight, speed, route and load are logged. All data is transferred to the control tier, where analysis and decisions are applied.
  3. As the train approaches dangerous areas and intersections, real-time messages to reduce speed are relayed to the train’s visual dashboard with the highest possible priority.
  4. If these high priority messages are ignored, the Central Processing Unit (CPU) automatically applies actions like stopping or slowing down.

Impact on distribution systems

IoT runs off and generates unprecedented volumes of data. Typically, IoT defines three connections from which data will be generated and consumed.

  1. Person-To-Person (P2P)
    2. Person-To-Machine (P2M)
    3. Machine-To-Machine (M2M)

To support IoT, systems must be able to consume a wide range of data inputs, delivered on various protocols such as Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP), Hyper Text Transfer Protocol(HTTP), Message Queueing Telemetry Transport (MQTT). In time, new protocols such as HyperCat [6] and Thread [7] will also have to be made provision for.

Large volumes of data will have to be stored and analysed. This creates its own set of challenges [8]. Critical data could be analysed in real-time, while other data can be analysed with a lower priority. This data must also be made available to other applications on the IoT platform.

Systems must have the ability to apply business rules based on the contents and analysis of a wide range of streaming device data. The management of devices will also be a necessity, especially when device operation can be merged into current business processes. For example, when a person enters a room and the lights are switched on, this is process-to-device or when railway track sensors sense danger, the train is slowed down and warnings given to the driver in sequence, this is device-to-process. This unlocks the real power of IoT.

Systems must be able to model rules and processes designed by software engineers. These models can then automatically be applied to, and executed on distributed connected devices.

Integration to other systems and usage of industry-specific functionality can aid software engineers to use domain-specific functions supported by other applications on the IoT platform.

Raw computing power

Connecting countless sensors, devices and humans generates unprecedented volumes of data. This data typically does not carry any intrinsic value, unless it is analysed. P2P, P2M and M2M data streams also require different types of analysis. This requires computing power and infrastructure that most companies aren’t geared for yet. Further to this, tools to analyse, visualise and integrate data has to mature.

WAN connectivity and capacity

WANs in production today have been engineered for moderate to high data-throughput, struggle to meet the current needs of devices and sensors. LTE aims to address this problem but falls short when compared to the data demands of IoT. With the continuous introduction of data generating and data consuming devices more pressure is placed on the WANs with data throttling and lower productivity levels as a result of this.

Interoperability

Interoperability is a major challenge to IoT. Standardisation will aid devices in the exchange of data regardless of manufacturer, location or format, but the sheer number of device types, manufacturers and protocols make this a daunting task.

IoT requires horizontal platforms to implement standards that allow communication, operation and the update of devices regardless of model, manufacturer or industry. A lack of interoperability will create silos, for instance the Apple IoT or the Google IoT.

Privacy and security

Connectivity allows for the transfer of data and the creation of derived data associated with a connected device. In some cases, this derived data associated with device is more valuable than the actual device or intended use.

Take an Internet connected pen as a hypothetical example. Data can be derived from its use in everyday scenarios. The geolocation of the pen can be logged, as well as the usage of the pen. This pen could trigger audio and video to be recorded upon usage. When IoT reaches maturity, the volume of potentially private data that is generated and made available to third parties at a price certainly poses risks for users. This data can also become a risk to store adding further complexity.

As with any new technology, initial roll outs will always be faced with growing pains and IoT will be no different. A uniform or generic approach to security is not possible within the IoT ecosystem, purely because of the diversity of sensors, devices and connections. Industry bodies are still working on standards. As companies drive to get their products to market, security is often an afterthought.

Perpetual energy

In very large deployments, batteries that supply energy to sensors, actuators and machines may not be replaceable or rechargeable. This could lead to the need for near perpetual energy supply.

Big data and storage

By its very nature, IoT is responsible for generating large volumes of data. Storage of this data drives infrastructure costs. More infrastructure means more management, which in turn is also a cost driver. Traditionally relational databases scale vertically and as a result don’t handle large volumes of data very well, as shown in Figure 2. NoSql databases can handle much more data, but also have their limits. IoT data volumes present a significant challenge to software vendors.

Figure 2: Performance vs. Data Volume [9]

Emerging standards

There are various companies, consortiums and organisations trying to drive their respective standards as the default for IoT. The standards vary in maturity, scope and collaboration.

5.1 Allseen Alliance [10]

The Linux Foundation and Qualcomm are the founding members of this alliance. Members include companies like Microsoft, LG, Sharp, Panasonic and Cisco. With more than 160 member companies, this open source project aims to cut across industries in the standardisation of IoT.

5.2 HyperCat [6]

HyperCat allows clients to discover (in a standard way) the services that are available on an IoT server. HyperCat allows software engineers to write applications that can integrate across a range of industry specific IoT servers, using standard protocols like HTTP, Representational Sate Transfer (REST) and JavaScript Object Notation (JSON).

5.3 The Thread Group [7]

Using the 2.4 GHz and built on existing standards, the aim is to provide a low-power mesh network that serves as an alternative to ZigBee, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Thread is simple to use, power efficient, secure and runs on many home products like appliances, lighting, access and climate control.

Figure 2: Performance vs. Data Volume [9]

The final word

While IoT is going to have a big impact on the way we work, interact with world around us and how machines interact with one another, it will take time to mature. Standards are being drafted by various organisations with little or no collaboration, and a clear leader is yet to emerge.

The physical environment will be more connected creating vast streams of sensor and event based data. New usage patterns and business opportunities will emerge. IoT will drive the next wave of Internet growth and innovation in industries like manufacturing, finance and insurance, home automation and transportation and distribution.

ENDS

Abstract: ‘The Internet of Things’ describes the idea of Internet connected sensors, actuators and devices exchanging data with each other and Internet hosted services. It is estimated that by 2019 there will be 26 billion Internet connected devices. A direct result of this is the unprecedented volume of data being generated, 44 Zettabytes by some estimations. With the proliferation of Internet connected devices, wider and faster networks, the Internet of Things is poised to grow exponentially. Standards and interoperability will play a vital role in how big the initial impact will be, but with maturity it has the potential to disrupt business and life as we know it.

 

REFERENCES

[1] Smithsonian.com . URL http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/ kevin-ashton-describes-the-internet-of-things-180953749/?no-ist. Last accessed: 5 May 2015.

[2] Microsoft News Center . URL http://news.microsoft.com/speeches/ satya-nadella-convergence-2015/. Last accessed: 17 May 2015.

[3] Adapted from Bit-Tech . URL http://www.bit- tech.net/news/bits/2012/01/13/ internet-of-things-government-cash/1. Last accessed: 5 May 2015.

[4] RadHat Inc. URL https://www.redhat.com/en/insights/internet-of-things. Last accessed: 5 May 2015.

[5] Meteorcomm LLC . URL http://meteorcomm.com/. Last accessed: 5 May 2015.

[6] HyperCat. URL http://www.hypercat.io/. Last accessed: 5 May 2015.

[7] Thread Group. URL http://threadgroup.org/. Last accessed: 5 May 2015.

[8] Bosch. “Internet of Things white paper series Part II: IoT technology.” Tech. rep., 2014.

[9] CARRIER IQ, Inc. “Analytics for the Mobile Internet of Things.” Last accessed: 17 May 2015.

[10] Allseen Alliance. URL https://allseenalliance.org/. Last accessed: 5 May 2015.

by Carel Fourie

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