5 Key Facts About Rugged Servers and the Internet of Things

If you pay attention to tech news, you may have noticed the recent buzzword, the “internet of things.” While this is a pretty silly moniker, it refers to a situation in which objects, people, or even animals are given unique identifiers, enabling them to transmit data over a network without any interaction with another human or a computer. Through the use of wireless technology and rugged servers, the Internet of Things (IoT) has evolved into a complex network with limitless possibilities.

1. The Internet of Things is All Inclusive

When you talk about the internet of things, there are almost no limits to what types of ‘things’ can be considered. A ‘thing’ can be a human with a wireless heart monitor, livestock with biochip transponders, or even an automobile that can alert its driver when the tire pressure is low. In short, a ‘thing’ can be anything that can be measured with a sensor, given a unique IP address, and transmitted via wire or wirelessly.

2. Machine-to-Machine Transmissions Most Common

Most of the internet of things at this point today is comprised of machines speaking with other machines. Often this is referred to as M2M for short. For instance, many machines used in the manufacturing, power production, and oil and gas utilities already transmit data between each other in order to provide time-sensitive information that is central to their operation. For instance a rugged server atop a weather station might record and wirelessly transmit data to a meteorological team on the ground.

3. Advancements in IP Address Technology

In order to access, or be accessed by, the Internet and its users one needs a unique IP address assigned to their computer or website. In the past, this was a simple numerical address. However, IP addresses have advanced so far that theoretically there could be a unique IP address assigned to every atom on the earth, and there would still be plenty of addresses left over for multiple more earths.

4. Traffic Increases Lead to Security Concerns

As a result of the advancements in both IP technology, and the increase in the number of data nodes that are actively capturing data and transmitting it to a server somewhere. As this traffic ramps up and more and more people start recording and transmitting data for their own personal reasons, issues like data privacy and security will become of critical importance as the IoT continues to evolve.

5. The IoT is Not New

Although the term ‘The Internet of Things’ was not coined until around the turn of the century, it has been in effective practice for several decades. In fact, the first Internet equipped appliance was a soda machine at Carnegie Melon University built in the early ’80s. Programmers were able to connect to the machine via a network to check the status of the machine and whether their favorite beverage was stocked in the machine before they made the trip over.

The Internet of Things

Some internet experts are claiming that 2013 will be the year of the Internet of Things (IoT). According to this view, IoT is already here but it is just not yet widely known and evenly distributed, and 2013 will see a major breakthrough that will bring IoT to the wider market.

In most organizations, information – proprietary as well as from third parties – travels along familiar routes. Such information is lodged in databases, analyzed in reports and then rises up the management chain. But the predictable pathways of information are changing: the physical world itself is becoming a type of information system. In what is called the Internet of Things, sensors and actuators embedded in physical object – from roadways to pacemakers – are linked through wired and wireless networks, often using the same Internet Protocol (IP) that connects the Internet. These networks churn out huge volumes of data that flow to computers for analysis. When objects can both sense the environment and communicate, they become tools for understanding complexity and responding to it swiftly.

According to McKinsey, a management consultancy firm, what is revolutionary in all this is that these physical information systems are now beginning to be deployed, and some of them even work largely without human intervention. Pill-shaped micro-cameras already traverse the human digestive tract and send back thousands of images to pinpoint sources of illness. Precision farming equipment with wireless links to data collected from remote satellites and ground sensors can take into account crop conditions and adjust the way each individual part of a field is farmed – for instance, by spreading extra fertilizer on areas that need more nutrients. Billboards in Japan peer back at passersby, assessing how they fit consumer profiles, and instantly change displayed messages based on those assessments.

How did IoT start?

The term, Internet of Things, was first used in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer then working as Assistant Brand Manager at Proctor & Gamble. He became interested in using RFID to help manage P & G’s supply chain, and this work subsequently led him to MIT and further research. RFID (Radio-frequency Identification) uses radio frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data from an object for the purposes of automatic identification and tracking. Unlike a bar code, the tag does not need to be within line of sight of the reader and may be embedded in the object.

The definition of IoT has evolved from the time it was first used and connectivity has also expanded beyond the use of RFID. Today, IoT connotes a world where physical objects are seamlessly integrated into the information network, and where the physical objects can become active participants in everyday life, healthcare, business processes etc. IoT advocates see a future of an IoT society where the real physical world, the digital world and the virtual Cyberworld will be integrated.

Where are we today in the IoT process?

SRI Consulting Business Intelligence sees the development of IoT in waves (see diagram). The first wave started with the use of RFID tags to facilitate routing, inventorying and loss prevention – all as supply chain helpers. In the second wave, we are looking at Vertical-Market applications e.g. surveillance, security, healthcare, transport, food supply and document management. The third wave, towards which we are moving, is about ubiquitous positioning e.g. locating people and everyday objects. The next wave, which is expected to mature in about a decade, will be the creation of a physical-world web e.g. tele-operation and tele-presence, ability to monitor and control distant objects.

Conclusion

Regardless of what we think and prefer for our future, everyday more objects are being put on the Internet of Things. Like it or not, this is going to be our “brave new world” so we had better get used to it.

The Internet of Things – The Inevitable Future?

Technology never fails to bring us exciting developments and always promises to make our lives better. In recent years, there has been an explosion of technological creativity and innovation, with bold projects being undertaken in all corners of the Earth: from wireless power, 3D printing, gamification, autonomous vehicles and Automatic Content Recognition, to mobile robots and – the topic of this post – The Internet of Things, or, as some call it, The Internet of Everything. Sounds grand? Well, it’s probably because it is. The promise of this enterprise is nothing short of game-changing, with the ultimate goal of bringing all inanimate objects to life, in a truly Frankenstein-esque fashion.

What is Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a scenario in which every thing – device, human, network etc. – has a unique identifier and the ability to communicate over the Internet. The idea is to create a situation where we don’t have to control each piece of equipment separately, but instead have a top level control over a complex chain of integrated events, over an ‘army’ of interconnected devices that can communicate with each other as well as with us.

Internet of Everything combines several trends, including cloud computing, the growth of connected devices, Big Data, the increasing use of video, and the increasing importance of mobile apps compared to traditional computing applications. The Internet of Things is an evolutionary outcome of the trend towards ubiquitous computing, a trend that assumed the need of embedding processors in everyday objects.

Kevin Ashton, cofounder and executive director of the Auto-ID Center at MIT explains the potential of the Internet of Things:

“Today computers-and, therefore, the Internet-are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information. Nearly all of the roughly 50 petabytes (a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes) of data available on the Internet were first captured and created by human beings-by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture or scanning a bar code…

“The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy-all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world… If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things-using data they gathered without any help from us-we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best.”

‘Run your world on a smartphone’

Although it still sounds like a futuristic fantasy, the IoT is already happening, with many technologies in very advanced stages of development. The potential of this technology has inspired developers to produce solutions geared both towards the consumer and the B2B market.

The battle for hearts and minds of consumers is centred around home automation, with companies such as SmartThings, Nest Labs and Ninja Blocks leading the way. Another important consumer-facing area is quantified self, which is playing a great role in developing consumers’ awareness of the potential of the IoT.

Beyond consumer, B2B vertical applications of the IoT hold considerable promise in a number of areas such as transportation, manufacturing, healthcare and retail.

Projects in development

SmartThings started as a Kickstarter project and has evolved into a slick company offering a range of nifty products, including physical gadgets for home automation as well as apps to control them. It is built on a cloud-based software platform that allows users to install apps into their lives that make the world more reactive and more enjoyable. More excitingly, SmartThings is building an open platform and is explicitly embracing the developer communities, paving the way to a more open and diverse environment, perfect for unrestricted creativity. The apps in development cover such areas as: Convenience, Family, Fun & Social, Green Living, Health and Fitness, and Safety and Security.

Another promising project, built to encourage open digital systems, is Xively Cloud Services™ (formerly Cosm and before that Pachube). It hails itself the ‘world’s first Public Cloud for the Internet of Things’ and aspires to provide a common ground through which any device connected to the Internet could actually communicate with any other device.

Like Cosm before it, Xively will offer a way for different devices to connect with each other, though now with commercial terms of service for commercial users and freely available services for projects in development. The existence of platforms such as Xively seems to be pivotal to building a true Internet of Things instead of what we actually have now.

Internet or Intranet?

So far, despite all the exciting developments, the Internet of Things is still in its infancy, with most devices connecting to the Internet but still unable to communicate with each other, creating de facto a plethora of Intranets of Things rather than one, unified Internet of Things. What is needed now for this technology to really take off is a common platform on which unrelated devices could connect, ideally an open source one to maximise the potential for future innovations and developer engagement. Devices on offer today are also still very pricey and their scope for inter-device communication is still quite limited.

In the future, the development of the IoT market will inevitably bring more compatible and affordable consumer products that will be available to more people. But, for all that talk about the benefits of the IoT, there seems that no one raising any real concerns, such as: what if the machines, able to communicate and relate to each other, will no longer need us and run away, or else, unite and turn against us? There must be a sci fi film about this scenario somewhere. Either way, epic times lie ahead.