Internet of Things: A Brief Overview

Over the past few months, Evenset has created two custom Internet of Things (IoT) software solutions for its clients in Toronto. ‘Internet of Things’ is one of the terms that we are sometimes asked to further explain during presentations, and we are always happy to do so. Obviously, there are already plenty of articles covering the same subject, however, we thought we would try and do it differently by keeping it brief, simple, and jargon-free as much as we can.

The natural starting point seems to be a definition of the term. We are going to skip this step. Let’s start instead with an example and work our way back to a framework that will help us understand what IoT is. Then we will check out two more examples, and a fun exercise at the end to help the concept sink in.

When we think of being connected to the Internet, the first thing that comes to mind is some kind of computer, be it a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone. Now think about an everyday Thing that is not a computer. Really! anything! How about, say, your living room! Imagine being able to tell from anywhere in the world, at any point in time, what the temperature is in your bedroom. Nothing too crazy right? You can probably explain in detail how this can be done? We need a thermometer (Hardware), to measure the temperature (Data), and send it (Connectivity) to your smartphone. And we know that we will also need a way for all the different objects in this system to speak with each other (Software).

This is obviously a simple example, but we can keep building on it. How about being able to not just read and monitor the temperature, but control it too! Easy! All we need to do is establish a connection between your smartphone and the thermostat in your living room. How about monitoring and controlling humidity or light as well? How about we embed all the measuring devices into the thermostat and make it a single device? You can probably think of several other properties about your living room that can be measured and controlled the same way, and other clever ways to implement the ideas in terms of the hardware and software being used.

So, just to have a quick recap, for us to be able to refer to this system as Internet of Things, it needs to have four distinct components: Hardware (e.g. sensors), Data, Connectivity, and Software. You can add the ‘Thing’ itself to the list if you like and make it five. Sometimes it may be hard to distinguish between the hardware and the ‘Thing’ though, but we are not worried about that for now.

Let’s take a look at a couple of rather familiar examples of Internet of Things, this time using the above framework. Heads-up, we are going to have to break our ‘jargon-free’ promise a little bit.

Hardware: a 3-axis accelerometer, a device that turns movement into digital measurements

Data: your movement, your heart rate, your location

Connectivity: connected using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to a smartphone with phones which in turn can be connected to the Internet through WiFi or cellular connection

Software: well, for the purpose of this article, all that matters is we are aware that there is software written to enable communication between components inside fitbit, and between the fitbit and your phone.

Hardware: pretty much any measurement devices in the car fits in the list, provided that the software and connectivity is added to them.

Data: again, the list is virtually endless, but here are a few examples: Speed, acceleration, fuel level, tire pressure, location, etc.

Connectivity: bluetooth and WiFi, among other things, to facilitate connectivity both within the car between its components, and between the car and other devices connected to the Internet, like your phone.

Software: once again, in the interest of keeping it jargon-free, let’s just say there is plenty of software facilitating the connectivity and exchange of data among all the different components.

Now, take a look at Things around you at this very moment. But this time, from an IoT perspective. Ask yourselves the following, slightly overlapping, questions. And remember! We are using the word “Thing” on purpose, so that you do not limit yourselves to “objects” around you. For example, a street on which you may walk or drive every day is very much a Thing for the purpose of this exercise! So, on with the questions:

  • What are the ways in which this Thing can be turned into a smart Thing?
  • What kind of information would I be interested in having about this Thing at any point in time?
  • What kind of data can be generated, and transmitted, about this particular Thing’s features and properties at any point in time?
  • How can that data be put into use to make my life easier, help others, or create value in any possible way?
  • And plenty of other questions along those lines.

Do this exercise and who knows?! You may come up with a million or billion dollar idea! And when you do, Evenset will be here to help you develop the software for it and bring that idea to life!

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