Plain English "Internet of Things" architecture - Part 1

What is the "Internet of Things"?

At its simplest, the "Internet of Things" is the idea that everyday physical objects can connect to the internet and represent themselves digitally. 

This means that we can remotely track physical objects, read data from them, route them, and interact with them in completely new ways via the internet or mobile apps.

Image Attribution: Why “things” matter

Why do we care?

It is a profound change from how we engage with physical products, and offers huge economic opportunities.

With a Trillion Sensors, the Internet of Things Would Be the "Biggest Business in the History of Electronics". IoT could be a $15 trillion market in just six years.

 

How do I...?

Its a two part question really...What will it take for my product to become a connected product from a Technological perspective? And how can my business exploit this? 

Let me take a technologist's point of view and try to answer the "What will it take" question first :-) So, here is my simplified version with IoT's four logical tiers...

  1. Connect the device to the internet
  2. Let device send data to an internet based storage
  3. Refine the relevant information using some business logic
  4. Present it to the user for further action

1. Connected Devices: Its like giving your device a telephone so it can call the internet.

Essentially, the task here is to make the device internet ready so that it can communicate with the world and truly become connected.

Non-technical considerations such as ethical, legal and regulatory concerns, as well as safety, privacy, device performance and operational constraints will need to be evaluated, and are probably more arduous challenges than the technical ones.

This tier usually requires active collaboration between Product Engineering, Manufacturing and IT, among others. Often proprietary technologies, device drivers etc. can also impede machine level integration and limit opportunities to bring in external partners.

In the end though, all these complexity also make for a great entry barrier from the competition, and can serve as the "Secret sauce" for the early adapters.

A number of interesting hardware, device and sensor solutions are accelerating development by bridging the gap, especially for connectivity and other standards based areas.

Electric Imp, Xively, Libelium etc. are some of the Vendors that offer connectable hardware / sensors with built-in connectivity and the Internet protocols to make it easier for the device manufacturer.

Another interesting standard that is enabling IoT is ZigBee which allows devices to operate securely in a local wireless network. These devices can then communicate to a central hub that can send data on to the internet.

Some examples of Connected products

Now that we have a connected device, we need for it to send data back. This is where the second tier comes in, the Machine cloud.

Stay tuned for part 2.