What is an IoT device?
An IoT device is any device that connects to the internet and can be controlled or communicated with. Mostly referred to as ‘smart’ devices, they range from sharing fairly trivial data and being super-easy to install and control, to sharing very important information and being rather serious and complex.
For instance, you can set up mood lighting in your lounge so you can adjust the settings without leaving your favourite chair. Or you can experience a delay at an airport because a jet engine fitted with IoT components has informed mission control of an issue.
Clever application of smart IoT devices in our world is near limitless.
How do IoT devices work?
IoT devices are password-protected. Once you have the device and the password, that device can gain access to the network and begin to communicate with its necessary transmitters in order to carry out the task it was designed for. Hence, a strong, reliable network is preferable if you have many different devices using it.
Modern homes usually have multiple devices connected to the WiFi network – laptops, tablets, phones, consoles etc – but in the future a lot more devices in our homes will also be active on the network, including speakers, lights, security systems, ovens and even fridges.
What kind of IoT devices are the most popular?
Currently, the most owned IoT devices are things that change the mood and temperature in your home and help to secure your property.
Lighting automation devices are very cheap and easy to start experimenting with first. You can programme them to dim, brighten and switch on and off when you tell them to. You might want to create a mood when watching a certain type of programme on the television.
You might want to time the lights to help wake you and your children up in the morning and begin to dim the lights as they get ready for bed. You could even link your lights to outside sensors so they can change colour or flash when the weather is about to change, giving you the opportunity to get the wash in before your clothes get wet.
Smart thermostats are a popular addition to modern homes too. They allow you to control the temperature in your home from your smartphone, wherever you are. You can warm your home up so it’s nice and cosy when you return from a cold dog walk.
You can switch off your heating from the office if you forget to do it during the morning rush, helping to conserve vital energy. Or you can just joyously control the whole thing from your sofa in front of the telly and reap the rewards while barely moving a muscle.
IoT security devices are also very popular for smart home early adopters. If you have your hands full after doing the ‘big shop’, you can have the doors unlock as you approach. If you get paranoid at the office that you didn’t double-lock the front door, you can open the app and do it from your desk.
You can have surveillance cameras placed around your property to deter unwanted visitors and communicate with any other visitors via your phone from wherever you are in the world.
IoT uses and solutions
The Internet of Things comes in useful in many walks of life, including: wearables, smart homes, healthcare, industrial, retail and transport.
- You can wear watches that communicate movement, heart rate and other physiological attributes to enhance yourself. You can even buy smart socks which translate data to your smartphone.
- Smart homes can help you save on energy bills, modify your home to your exact requirements and keep you safe and secure.
- Devices can remind you when to take your medication, when to slow down or when to get exercise. They can also notify the authorities in case of an emergency.
- Manufacturing equipment can inform you when a part needs replacing or they’ve performed a potentially defective operation without you needing to work it out it for yourself.
- Smart fridges can tell you when you will run out of milk and add groceries to your shopping list.
- And driverless cars can analyse traffic maps and get you across town in the most efficient manner possible without you lifting a finger.
Consumer applications of the Internet of things
The first thing we think about when we consider how the Internet of Things will affect us are smart homes and self-improvement devices, like smart watches and smart trainers.
Remember, the foundation of any reliable smart home is a good internet connection the faster the better and a high-quality router.
- Smart lights: Switch on or turn off the lights in any room in your home from wherever you are. Program them to turn off at certain points in the day to conserve vital energy. Dim them automatically as a way to help you and the family wind down at bedtime. Add sensors to your setup and you can have your bathroom light flick on at 20% brightness for any late-night bathroom visits, too.
- Smart thermostat: Program and control the temperature in your house, in every room, down to the minute. Alter timings during different seasons to help conserve energy and save money. Warm your house up as you’re driving home from an Autumn walk.
- Smart security system: police your property from afar, ward off any unwanted visitors and talk to unexpected guests at your front door via your smartphone.
- Smart blinds: Open and close your blinds with voice controls from your armchair, the office or from a sunshine getaway.
- Smart keyless doorlock: No need to carry a key you might lose when you have a keyless door lock, just pair the app instead.
- Smart speaker: If you’re getting really smart within your home and have multiple cool devices connected to your network, why not have a voice-activated speaker that you can talk to help control your smart apps, entertain the kids, remind you about birthdays, suggest recipes, create playlists and generally act as your friendly PA 24/7.
- Smart oil diffuser: a totally inessential but wonderfully sensual bit of kit that adds atmosphere to any room without you leaving your seat.
- Smart garage door opener: Getting a little tired of exiting your vehicle to manually open your garage door on arrival home? Get a smart garage door that opens as your car approaches then.
- Smart lawn mower: Enjoy having a neatly mowed bit of grass but not all that keen on walking behind your mower to complete the task? Your smart mower will do the job on its own and then return itself to its charging point afterwards ready for your next instructions.
- Smart vacuum cleaner: With room-mapping functionality, your smart hoover will clean the room you designate and then empty and charge itself afterwards without you lifting a finger.
Elderly populations are increasing across the world, putting extra strain on the operational costs and resources of our healthcare systems. Studies have shown that the percentage of this community hold a strong desire to stay at home, but are incapable of accomplishing the simple tasks that mean they can live independently.
Which is where the Internet of Things comes in: wearable and robotic technology can make tasks much simpler and help elderly people function more adequately. Here some of the ways the Internet of Things might be able to help:
- Prevent a fall: If an elderly person has to get up in the night, rather than search for the light switch in the dark they can voice-activate the lights.
- Detect a fall: a smart motion detector attached to an elderly person 24 hours a day – usually as a comfortable waterproof bracelet or pendant – can measure speed of movement in all directions and be able to detect the difference between sitting down and taking a fall. If a fall is detected the sensor can send an emergency signal and get the person assistance to where they are using the GPS functionality.
- Find an elderly person: Speaking of trackers, for elderly people with Alzheimer’s or dementia – or for those using medication which can make them forget – trackers can be very useful in finding them if they go missing. They can be worn on the wrist or around the neck and provide great peace of mind for concerned family members.
- Stay in touch with family. Feeling engaged with the world is very important to the mental health of the elderly. A simple voice command to a smart speaker can really help keep elderly people in touch with their family and friends.
- Virtual hospitals. Rather than gathering patients physically in a set geographical space, staff can monitor patients from a distance instead. Take Covid patients for instance: pulse oximeters would measure oxygen saturation levels and heartrate and armpit patches would measure body temperature, a significant rise in either and information would be transmitted to the virtual hospital so they can provide help and assistance.
- Wearable biosensors: Not only can these contribute to the running of virtual hospitals as outlined above, they can alert medical professionals to the early onset or progression of an illness. They adhere to the chest and transmit respiratory and heartrate data.
- Smart thermometers: Another useful gadget for tracking individual health and also clusters of high temperatures in given geographical areas.
- Smart inhalers: Not only do they prompt usage with audio and visual alerts, smart inhalers give guidance on proper usage and technique and when medication needs replacing or changing.
- Smart watches: Watches by Google, Apple and Samsung are increasingly geared towards the monitoring of health and wellbeing. Newer technical functions include blood oxygen measuring capability, taking echocardiogram with an electric heart sensor and checks for irregular heart rhythm. Standard functions include sleep cycle monitoring and tracking and movement and activity trackers, which can help people fight against excessive weight gain. Breathing and meditation tutorials and exercises can also help with mental health.
- Automated insulin delivery: Automatically adjusts the flow of insulin into the body to prevent patients experiencing any severe highs and lows blood sugar levels.
As the Internet of Things becomes more prominent in our lives and the cities and communities around us get smarter and smarter, transportation will be completely transformed by the mass transferal of data.
- Driverless cars: Cars and other vehicles will become largely driverless and be able to communicate with each other in real-time, exchanging data and dramatically improving the safety of passengers and any nearby pedestrians.
- Accident detection: Cars will be able to detect if a passenger is close to falling asleep or assist a passenger in a medical emergency.
- Real-time car inspections: Cars will be constantly checking their health. Real-time inspections will assess whether cars are safe and pass on any concerns not only to their passengers but also to other vehicles on the road and to mechanics.
- Traffic avoidance: Vehicles will receive constant updates of no-go traffic areas, places to avoid and shortcuts to take. Our time spent in traffic will therefore decrease massively. Car parks will even alert us when a space becomes free.
- Improved public transport: Real-time updates from public vehicles will make using public transport more dependable and more efficient.
The Internet of Things doesn’t just help things that move, it can be of huge benefit to the buildings and infrastructure of our societies, too.
- Improved safety: Any structural changes or compromises in buildings can be made more quickly improving safety and decreasing risk.
- Smart buildings: Buildings themselves can manage and co-ordinate their construction getting the right workers to do the right jobs at the right time with little in the way of time-consuming interruption or costly overlap.
- Environmental improvements: Energy grids will be able to optimise power generation based on household usage by talking to the devices within the house: light bulbs, ovens, boilers, etc.
- Smart cities: These will be able to test and regulate water quality, atmospheric or water quality and make the necessary adjustments to maintain standards.
- Looking after animals: We will be able to monitor our wildlife and their habitats more closely, yet from afar.
- Combatting the elements: We will also be better prepared for extreme weather conditions with emergency services being alerted more quickly to accidents and situations.
Solid IoT architecture is at the heart of everything good the Internet of Things can achieve. Let us explain…
The building blocks of all IoT architecture
All the ‘Things’ in the IoT are built by different manufacturers with different reputations, systems and priorities. Because of that, there isn’t a universal way to control each system or one law that governs the IoT. However, the ‘architecture’ of each system is very similar.
Firstly, your IoT device will collect its data usually through a sensor or actuator. This data will be sent to a ‘data acquisition system’ that processes, aggregates and measures the information ready for analysis. The third step involves ‘edging it’. In basic terms it means further processing the data and enhanced analysis. Lastly, all this information is stored locally or in an IoT cloud where it can be accessed to fulfil its purpose.
A great example of IoT architecture in action
Healthcare is an industry that has adopted IoT systems to help monitor elderly patients. Case in point: if an elderly person with little technical prowess or home help suddenly has a change in their condition, sensors attached to their body will detect it, send the information to data acquisition processors that analyse it, then enhance it and send it to the IoT cloud to alert emergency services and medical practitioners.
What is IoT security?
IoT security can help prevent you from handing over your personal information to the wrong people (who pretend to be legitimate companies).
It’s no secret that fraudsters have upped the ante on committing online fraud. Given the amount of devices that are connected to the internet, and the sheer amount of data flying around the place, the opportunities for deception and malice are obvious.
This is why, when you buy a new internet-connected product, you need to be fully aware of its capabilities and the measures its manufacturer has taken to keep any private information safe.
There is no fully-agreed-upon security framework on the Internet of Things: it’s a competitive market that isn’t regulated by one body. Manufacturers are competing to get to their innovative products to market first. (Sometimes that product’s safeguarding features can suffer as a result.)
If a smart product that you own requires a ‘patch’ (or software update) then you should make sure you update it as soon as possible. We also suggest buying your smart, internet-connected products from a verified supplier who takes security seriously. If you’re buying smart, be smart.
The main issue with IoT security involves passwords. Often, devices come with hardcoded, easy-to-remember default passwords that someone can hack if you don’t change them when you get them home. Or, you could buy several products and change the passwords to something very guessable.
In an ideal world, you should change every password for every internet-connected device in your home when you buy them, alter them at regular intervals afterwards and record them confidentially. It’s a bit of a drag, sure, but the subsequent peace of mind is definitely worth it.
With 5G just around the corner, the opportunities for the Internet of Things to impact our lives in positive ways is both endless and exciting. And the better we are connected in our homes, the more of it we’ll be able to enjoy with the least amount of hassle.