The Internet of Things: Architecture, Edge Computing, Use Cases, and the Future

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is not, by itself, a technology. The IoT is the “concept” of connecting electrical devices to the internet. This includes smartphones, washing machines, coffee makers, lamps, and wearable devices. The IoT also applies to the components of machines, such as jet engines or the drills of oil rigs, and is used by smart cities and manufacturing plants. The use of the IoT is also changing how Big Data is managed and stored. As a new technology trend, the Internet of Things offers tremendous opportunities, ranging from predicting problems with equipment to monitoring customer shopping patterns.

The value of information collected from IoT devices is shown when it improves an organization, making more efficient, and dismisses inaccurate or faulty assumptions, by way of Big Data. The IoT allows the majority of smart devices to be monitored, and collects data from small, sensitive sensors in cities and industrial complexes. These sensors and smart devices are generating massive amounts of data, which needs to be stored. As the IoT becomes interconnected with almost everything, screening for useful information becomes important. As a result, more and more organizations are shifting to public clouds, to access their flexibility and scalability.

The IoT and Retail

Modern shopping technology allows retailers to offer a streamlined shopping experience. Some businesses, such as Brickwork, offer tools that engage shoppers while on the internet, and then guides them to the physical store. Smart scheduling, offered by Workforce Software, allows retailers to send the right salesperson to the floor at just the right time. Additionally, technology applications like Myagi and Tulip Retail can train salespeople on popular products with just the click of a button. (As all store owners know, a trained salesperson can engage shoppers more effectively, and engagement promotes sales.)

RetailNext’s Aurora sensor is a new IoT combination sensor, which integrates HD video, stereo, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi into a single device. This allows retailers to install fewer devices, while collecting more information. Some retailers have begun using robots made by technology companies, such as Simbe Robotics, to inventory shelves, or identify misplaced and mispriced products.

Smart Cities and the IoT

The Internet of Things offers opportunities for cities to use data in managing traffic, cutting pollution, and keeping citizens safe. Smart cities typically offer their citizens a high quality of life, with minimized consumption of energy resources. This is accomplished by way of intelligent interconnections within the infrastructure (electricity, heat, transportation, communications, and Smart Buildings) sharing Big Data.

Technological advances such as low-cost cloud storage and IoT, combined with inexpensive sensors, have allowed smart cities to track huge amounts of information ranging from gunshots to air pollution to traffic. Also, smartphone apps allow both citizens and city workers to monitor problems, and send feedback to city hall. A smart city should have some of these features:

  • Smart Parking: Combines GPS data from drivers’ smartphones (or road-surface sensors) to determine which parking spaces are available.
  • Utilities: Smart metering supports accurate billing for electricity, water, and gas. Utility companies monitor demand in real time and redirect resources as needed (or ask consumers to use less during shortages). Mobile phones can be used to turn off home heating, remotely.
  • Street Lighting: Streetlights come with sensors and are connected via a Cloud management solution that helps adapt lighting schedules. When pedestrians cross the streets, lights for crossings become brighter.
  • Public Safety: More than 90 cities in the U.S. use a gunshot detection system. Multiple microphones throughout a city analyze sounds and detect gunshots. Using three or four microphones to triangulate, the system estimates the location of the gunshot, and Cloud software notifies the police.

Nokia has created IoT for Smart Cities. This system is a fully integrated scalable and modular framework designed to efficiently deliver smart city services. It unifies a smart city’s management consoles and scales up services. Sensing-as-a-Service offers data and analytics services for the IoT networks. Sensing-as-a-Service can monitor everything from environmental changes to illegal construction.

The IoT and Manufacturing

In the world of auto manufacturing, a single hour of unplanned downtime can cost $1.3 million in production losses. If unexpected downtime becomes a chronic problem, there can be additional, even bigger costs — especially in the era of just-in-time manufacturing. For instance, a company that makes mufflers might lose an automaker’s contract if frequent downtime means the assembly line grinds to a halt on a regular basis.

To avoid those costs, manufacturers have always invested heavily in processes and tools to maximize equipment uptime. The IoT provides new processes and tools — ones that can also minimize planned downtime. Typically, IoT sensors are installed on equipment to monitor temperature, voltage fluctuations, vibrations, and other variables. This data feeds into a platform used for real-time analytics and monitoring. The IoT can also maximize uptime by detecting hidden problems before a breakdown. Even the most intensive human visual inspections cannot peer into a motor to identify sparking brushes or a failing bearing.

However, “the IoT” can track fluctuating power consumption and excessive heat (possibly due to arcing). Monnit offers a variety of wireless sensors including thermosensors, moisture sensors, and motion detectors. In addition to providing alerts in real-time, the IoT can also build a historical database. With these insights, a company will know which models of motors, pumps, and other equipment are the most reliable, and which are prone to breaking down. This information allows for informed decisions when buying new equipment.

The Industrial Internet of Things

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connects machines and devices in industries such as the manufacturing industry, agriculture, and energy production. In these areas, optimization and improvement are continuous goals. To achieve these goals, organizations use data to maximize their knowledge at each point of the different processes. Using the IIoT, managers can detect inefficiencies, excessive resource consumption, and bottlenecks. The IIoT supports collecting reliable data, in real-time, and translating it into useful information.

Spiroflow offers IIoT technology in the form of SAM, which allows its users to monitor their equipment with a variety of sensors providing real-time data. Spyglass Visual Inspection offers AI software that allows for more accurate and faster detection of defects. It installs easily and can be used with already existing imagery data and hardware. 

Edge Computing

Some application developers and manufacturers working with the Internet of Things have discovered doing more computing and analytics “within the sensors” can have significant benefits. Edge Computing, the use of computing within the sensor, is gaining in popularity. This computing sensor approach lowers dependence on the cloud and responds more quickly.

The indoor Nest Cam IQ security camera offers an example of this process. Their camera uses “on-device vision processing,” which watches for motion, identifies family members, and will send alerts if a person isn’t recognized. By processing computer vision tasks inside the camera, the amount of cloud processing, cloud storage, and bandwidth is significantly less than the version of sending streaming video over the internet. On-device processing increases the speed of alerts and reduces the chances of false alarms.

The Future of IoT

A number of changes can be expected in the Internet of Things. The changes will improve security and make the system easier to use. Many of the changes have already begun. Some things to expect are:

  • Biometric authentication technology, which has the potential to improve security significantly. Expect eye scans and fingerprints to become a standard in security identification. 
  • Controlling home utilities will become easy. Refrigerators, thermostats, coffee makers, air conditioners, and sprinklers, etc. will be controlled from mobile phones and web platforms.
  • The workplace will become more efficient. For example, a printer in the future will never run out of ink, because the printer itself will order more before that happens. Hand-held text scanners will instantly transfer hardcopy text to your computer’s doc file.
  • As the amount of data steadily increases, Artificial Intelligence will be added to handle the IoT workload. AI software will assist in providing real-time data streaming from IoT devices, and will help businesses gain meaningful insights and realize profitable outcomes.
  • Voice control over digital personal assistants will expand from home use to business use. They are relatively easy to use and have great potential for adoption in the world of business. These personal assistants will perform research, and perform simplistic communications, such as confirming appointments. Voice control may also be used to improve security. 
  • Smart cities will thrive by using Internet of Things technologies. Use of the IoT increases the quality of life for its citizens and helps cities operate more efficiently. A smart city should attract investments, promote a healthy living environment, and make life easier for its citizens.

IoT Architecture

All IoT solutions require a well-thought-out architecture in order to maximize their efficiency. It includes a variety of components, including sensors, protocols, actuators, cloud services, and layers.

The layers of IoT architecture are organized to track a system’s consistency. There are three architectural layers that are crucial to the development of IoT architecture:

  • The client side (IoT Device Layer)
  • Operators on the server side (IoT Gateway Layer)
  • A pathway for connecting clients and operators (IoT Platform Layer)

IoT architecture supports systems that autonomously sense and respond to the real world. The IoT architecture must include availability, scalability, functionality, and maintainability. Because sensors convert the information from its environment into data for analysis, it is important to begin with the sensors to get data that can be processed.

The process is taken further for actuators, as  these can be used to change the physical reality. For example, they can turn on lights and adjust the thermostat. The final stage of IoT architecture involves connecting it to the data center (or cloud) so data can be processed, and recorded for historical and research purposes.

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

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