The Internet of Things has gotten a lot of attention the last few years and continues to be one of the top buzz terms in technology channels. Although many consider IoT to be just that—buzz—there are many developers and companies that have forged ahead with IoT.
What Is IoT?
To clarify, let me start with my definition of a what the IoT is. In simple terms, IoT is when an object is used to collect information, generally through sensors or other controllers. What differs the object from an enabled device is that an IoT object also connects to the Internet to share the information it obtains. It is the three pieces—object, sensors/controllers, and the Internet—that make up IoT (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: The pieces of IoT
The real value to be obtained from IoT is generally not going to be the things, but rather the information and intelligence that can be obtained from those things. One of the most common and simple illustrations of an IoT device is a modern automobile. Many years ago, automobiles became enabled devices when computers were added to them. For example, GPS is a great enabled device that empowers you to know where a car is. When your car starts communicating its GPS data with the Internet, the power of IoT can begin to be seen. With this information, your car's navigation system can do more than simply show you where you are located. It can begin to tell you traffic issues, travel times, and calculate the best routes for you to get to your destination.
An automobile and its GPS present a complex example of an IoT device. Other examples include wearable computers. For example, a heart monitor that feeds real-time information to the internet can alert a doctor automatically if your heart rate suddenly exhibits a pattern indicating a heart attack. A great example I saw in the book, Designing the Internet of Things, by McEwen and Cassimally was having an IoT-enabled umbrella. By including a simple IoT device in the handle of the umbrella, it would be able to flash a light to indicate when the forecast for the day included rain so that you would know to grab it on the way out the door. Of course, other common examples of IoT devices include refrigerators and other kitchen appliances as well as home automation, ranging from light bulbs to heaters.
Biggest Areas for IoT
In 2018, there are a number of areas where IoT will likely continue to shine. According to IoT Analytics, the top areas where IoT is being applied are as follows:
- Smart City
- Connected Industry
- Connected Building
- Connected Car
- Smart Energy
- Connected Health
- Supply Change
- Smart Agriculture
- Smart Retail
IoT Analytics rankings were based on their classification of 1600 enterprise projects. The number one spot is Smart City, which includes elements such as traffic management and IoT automation of utilities. This should not be surprising because many cities are working to incorporate large-scale connectivity across their regions.
Cities such as Palo Alto, CA, have already pushed Wi-Fi to enable across their area. They are using this to apply IoT technology on a broader scale. For example, they are building a sensor array in their streets that communicate to a centralized network that will provide intelligence on whether street parking spaces are available. It also allows them to track traffic in real time to better understand where they need to make changes to the streets and other infrastructure areas.
Local Support for IoT Development
In addition to a large number of existing companies, there are new companies popping up as well. Many of these companies are researching how they can enable existing things as well as build new ones. The area of IoT is one that is seeing a number of new startups happening. In many cities, including the one where I live, co-working facilities are even being built to help start-ups get launched.
The Indiana IoT lab is such a facility. It is a co-working space designed specifically for start-ups focused on Internet of Things solutions. For a relatively small annual fee, a person can join the facility. For that fee, they gain access to the facility shown in Figure 2, as well as resources and connections to others working with IoT. In a similar manner to co-working facilities, this type of organization also gets the attention of venture capitalists and incubators to help some of the businesses working to build and market IoT solutions.
Figure 2: Indiana IoT Lab in Fishers, Indiana
The fact that cities and businesses are investing to build facilities such as the Indiana IoT Lab is an indicator that many believe there is great potential for IoT companies. The Indiana IoT lab opened this year (2018).
IoT and Data
One of the things Palo Alto did was to make available the data being collected by their city-wide IoT sensors and controllers. Through their Open Data Portal initiative, they've put their IoT data in the Cloud and made it open and accessible. This allows others in the community to use the data to provide additional intelligence.
Similarly to Palo Alto, other cities and organizations also are making their data available. This creates big opportunities to developers that are able to mine and build intelligence out of this data. The deluge of data is providing huge opportunities to not only solve problems, but also build solutions that could make money.
Developer Support for IoT
When it comes to building IoT solutions, developers tend to turn to their tools and to the companies that make their tools. Developers look for a suite of tools and components (an IoT Platform) to build their IoT solutions. Most of the major vendors for software tools (listed below) also offer IoT platforms:
- Amazon Web Services IoT Platform
- Cisco IoT System
- IBM Watson IoT
- Intel IoT Platform
- Microsoft Azure IoT Suite
- Oracle's Internet of Things Cloud Service
- Salesforce IoT Cloud
There are also third-party vendors with IoT platforms that are gaining popularity as well. These include Kaa, Predix, Carriots, and Thingworx.
IoT is not just a buzz term. The infrastructure to support the connectivity of devices is continuing to expand. As more cities add smart technologies and connectivity a part of their standard infrastructures, along with things like electricity and sewage, the growth of IoT has the potential to skyrocket. Cities are adding the technology now, which means now is also the time for developers to take advantage of the opportunity. If you wait until next year, you might miss the initial opportunities!