What is IoT (Internet of Things)?
The new daily and productive reality of the objects connected to the Net
By Niccolò Maria Menozzi
There is a buzzword that you can hear more and more often: IoT. It is particularly interesting for companies with a keen sense for innovation and which are future-oriented. After mobile devices, which are now an essential part of our daily lives, we are entering into an era in which other everyday objects are becoming increasingly connected.
IoT, or Internet of Things is a system of various kinds of devices that can autonomously collect and communicate data about themselves, or which refer to the environment they are in, sending it to a network in real time.
Every device has a UID that guarantees a unique identity, therefore you can recognise it both as a physical object and a digital entity connected to the Net.
In other words: an object that is predisposed for IoT is connected to the Internet and sends information which is filed in a digital database which can be used to manage particular interactions with the object or to perform statistical analyses of various natures.
This data can be collected on a private server - for example belonging to a company - or in a cloud archive managed by a third-party supplier (such as Amazon Web Services). The nature of this data can vary greatly from case to case, based on the characteristics of the sensors that the connected device has.
What do we mean by “things”?
Internet of things is a term that is now commonly used, but we mustn’t think that the “things” it refers to are limited just to objects, first of all because the word is rather generic.
If we look beyond the literal meaning of the new term, we can grasp the real and essential meaning of IoT and understand its infinite practical applications.
We are talking about small independent electronic components that are physically integrated - “connected” or “attached” if you prefer - into or onto “something else”.
It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a sensor integrated in an industrial installation, in a car, in a household appliance or even assigned to a living being such as a person, a plant or an animal.
The sensors on the device allow you to record the data as long as the “symbiosis” between the two “bodies” exists.
The sensors can be installed as upgrades both in already consolidated contexts and in those designed from scratch to receive them. For example, a new industrial installation can integrate them organically because they were foreseen in the design phase, but in some cases the sensors can be added to existing installations that are already operating.
How do “things” work on the Net?
The information collected by the sensor can be of a physical nature (temperature, pressure, movement, brightness, position etc.) or chemical (monitoring of blood parameters of a person or levels of minerals absorbed by a plant) and the component can transform this data into a digital format suitable for the Net.
There are very simple sensors that simply communicate “who they are” as well as their position. These are useful for quickly finding an object remotely, such as a digital label for finding a package in an untidy warehouse or an implanted chip to find our lost dog.
Other sensors can allow us to activate mechanical actions remotely and get information in real time regarding particular events.
If we are late for a business meeting, we can open the automatic gate to allow the client to park before we arrive or receive a notification on our smartphone every time someone passes the threshold of our office when we’re not there.
In all of these cases the important point to focus on is the possibility to use and manage all the information and interaction via internet.
What is IoT for?
First of all, with a computer, smartphone or tablet connected to the Net we can overcome the inconvenient physical constrictions that sometimes limit our management and administration of our work and personal spaces, allowing us to save time and making us more aware of what is going on.
The fields of application are infinite: from logistics, medicine and agriculture to the development of urban infrastructures.
Whether it is little domotics simplifications in a small office to large installations, there is room to experiment.
The great quantity of data that can be collected can help with the analysis of specific phenomena or environments, such as the number of cars in an industrial installation, a logistics fleet, automatic fork-lifts in a warehouse or the climate conditions of a plant or group of offices.
The analysis itself allows us to find aspects or issues in production or management that were unknown up until that point, but can help us save if they are managed accordingly. Have you heard about the analysis of Big Data? Well, here it is.
The classic example is that of energy optimisation and production plant process, based on the data collected by the machines. Another case is that of identifying useless machine downtimes and solving the problem starting from the data collected.
The advantages of IoT
As mentioned above, the main advantages have to do with energy saving and improved management of time and resources.
These benefits can be summarised in seven practical points:
- remote monitoring in real time, production and logistics aspects;
- activity optimisation, collecting a lot of data that can be correlated;
- developing functions for real needs, analysing the way in which “things” are used;
- implementing preventive maintenance plans by analysing the data;
- Creating new consumption business models (for example offering a production machine in leasing based on the production numbers for a particular month);
- identifying the identity and the position of objects that are integrated in an IoT system with certainty and precision;
- interacting remotely, in real time with environments and objects in a specific location.
If you are thinking of looking into this world, you are doing the right thing, Industry 4.0 is very much about IoT integration and there are strong incentives for companies to invest in these fields. If you want to know more about it contact us: Kevin, as well as being our expert on the topic, has over five years of experience in PLC and SCADA programming for industrial automation, which makes him the right person to update a production installation.