Tech Talk Live Blog

Internet of Things

Litty Kurian

“Your supply of washing liquid is at 20%, Please reorder now.”

This was a text message a friend received one day while at work. You might be forgiven for thinking this was sent by his spouse or partner, but it turns out the message came from his washing machine.

Welcome to the world of the Internet of Things (IOT). Any device which has some computational power and connectivity to the Internet is a potential IOT device. The network of such devices which can communicate using the Internet or to each other through networks such as WiFi is called the Internet of Things. What was once a concept and a buzzword is becoming reality in a range of consumer devices.

Washing machines that can sense when the detergent supply is low and send you a text message or in fact order the detergent for you directly, dryers that can email you when the overflow is due for drainage, refrigerators that can warn you when your supply of milk is low, automobiles that can request a meeting postponement when it realizes you are stuck in traffic and cannot make it to the office on time, HVAC systems that can order your replacement filter or send a message to your service provider when it detects a component failure, etc., are some examples of already available and potential future uses of this technology in this exciting phase of the Internet revolution.

Several technology research organizations have estimated that there will be 20-30 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things by 2020. While this has many consumer benefits, even beyond what we can possibly think of now, there are also potential roadblocks to the adoption of this technology. Security and privacy, as well as the bandwidth crunch from scaling up, are valid concerns that will have to be addressed. You certainly do not want your refrigerator to order 10,000 tubs of butter or your neighbor to know how often you wash your clothes!

In addition to the consumer uses discussed above, there are plenty of applications of IOT in the industrial, civic, and commercial world. Imagine the turbine letting the power plant ordering system know when a part needs to be replaced. The electric grid will be able to make use of various connected devices throughout its ecosystem to deliver efficiency and reduce cost. Safety and productivity can be improved in manufacturing centers. Smart cities (e.g. Songdo, South Korea) are planned around the world where the transportation, sewer, power grid, homes, offices, and almost everything else is connected to one another and provide huge amounts of data to processing systems which will ensure that the resources are allocated as required.

The huge number of devices which will be connected to the Internet will need to be identified by an IP address, which will require the adoption of IPv6 extensively as opposed to IPv4. The explosion of the number of devices requiring connectivity will also require the development and adoption of technologies such as Low Power WAN’s (LPWAN) which can be used for machine-to-machine communication at a lower cost as it uses less bandwidth and power than traditional networks such as WiFi and Bluetooth.

Offices such as ours can foster greater productivity by having printers which can re-order paper or cartridges or otherwise alert service technicians in charge of maintaining these devices. Smart-thermostats that can control the climate in the office, intelligent planters that can send alerts when they need to be watered, trash cans that can let the janitor service know when they are full are all examples of ways this technology can be used to increase efficiency. Businesses will be able to achieve greater productivity by being able to make decisions based on real-time data. However, with thousands of devices requiring Internet connectivity, companies will have to plan for a future with tremendous increase in bandwidth requirements and will need to optimize their bandwidth allocation to make sure that critical applications receive priority.

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