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What is IoT?

There is a certain level of misunderstanding when it comes to the term the "Internet-of-Things". In this article, we hope to demystify some aspects of IoT by giving concrete definitions, easy to understand examples, some challenges it faces, and domains where IoT may be utilized.

Definition

Internet-of-Things - "The Internet of Things is a network of physical objects... that use sensors and APIs to connect and exchange data over the Internet." (source)

It's important to realize that the "Internet-of-Things" is not a brand-new concept or some "novel" idea. As defined above, at its core, it is simply a device that connects to the internet or to other devices which connect to the internet. As computers and sensors continue to get smaller and more efficient, it is natural that they will be used in more and more scenarios. Likewise, as the ability to connect to the internet becomes easily integratabtle with these devices, it only makes sense that these devices would be connected to the internet.

Examples

To people unfamiliar with IoT, examples will help in understanding exactly what the term means. Any device which connects to the internet, generally besides smartphones, laptops, and PCs, can be considered an "IoT" device. A common example given is a temperature sensor placed in a body of water which sends data to the internet about the temperature of the water. This system allows users to monitor the temperature of the body of water without being near the body of water. The data is sent to the internet, which is then processed by some kind of server, and then can be viewed via an app or a website. Clearly, there is a lot of benefit to an IoT product in this case because it allows the monitoring of this system without actually being there.

Another popular example is the Philips Hue lighting system. Essentially, the device is a light bulb that is IoT enabled, which allows the user to control the temperature and colour of lights throughout their home. This system also allows users to schedule the state of the lighting, for example, set the lights to dim and become warmer in the night and eventually turn off at a certain time. The user can also interact with the lights on a "by-room" basis, instead of having to control each light individually. In this case, the main benefit of using such a system is convenience. Automating lighting so the user does not need to constantly interact with each light can be quite valuable to some people.

Challenges

There are a number of difficulties that the majority of projects which utilize IoT devices face. Likely the biggest issue is not a technical issue but that of trust. Since many systems which utilize IoT feature some level of automation, ensuring that the system acts how a user expects is a top concern. In our article 5 Ways Mobile UX Can Build Trust in IoT Products we go into more detail about the importance of user trust in an IoT system.

This idea of trust is connected to another challenge associated with IoT, namely security. With scenarios such as baby monitors and home security systems being hacked, a risk is associated with using IoT technologies. As IoT becomes more integrated into some of our lives, the potential costs of a security breach become much higher. For example, it may be the case that in the future our health is in someway reliant on a number of sensors in an IoT system. Of course this is hypothetical but it is important to understand that as these devices become more prevalent in our lives the security risks go up.

A related challenge to security is that of maintenance and longevity. Since the introduction of the smartphone, it is common for a device to have security patches for only 1-3 years. There is no reason to assume this will not be the case with many IoT devices in the future. This means that many IoT devices will become obsoleted by newer generations and developers will have little incentive to support them.

There are a number of other challenges that IoT faces, which we will discuss in a future article.

Domains

Essentially, every field can utilize IoT devices in some way. From farming, with automated farm equipment and crop monitoring systems, to medicine, with medical instruments collecting data about patients. In many fields, IoT will provide a great deal of value. An important question to ask in the future will be "will my domain benefit in some way with IoT integration". Some domains, for example like a toothbrush, do not have a high potential of value from being internet connect. On the other hand, some domains, such as ones where a large amount of data need to be collected from some kind of field, IoT will provide an tremendous value.

In summary, it's fair to assume that most fields will hope to take advantage of IoT in some way, but it's only likely to stick in those fields that find true value from doing so.

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For information about user interaction in IoT systems, we recommened our article 3 Types of Interaction in IoT Systems.

For information about the difference between the Internet of Things and Wireless Sensor Networks, we recommend our article IoT vs WSN.

References

https://www.ibm.com/blogs/internet-of-things/what-is-the-iot/

https://iot.ieee.org/newsletter/march-2017/three-major-challenges-facing-iot.html

https://www.sap.com/canada/trends/internet-of-things.html