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All about Internet of Things (IoT)

1. What is Internet of Things (IoT)?

The vast world of interconnected devices with embedded sensors which are capable of providing data, and which can be controlled in some cases, across the Internet is referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT).

Simple examples are :

  • Home automation devices
    • Smart thermostats
    • Remotely controllable lighting fixtures,
  • Traffic sensors  
  • Water quality meters
  • Smart electric grid components
    • For tracking manufactured goods and
    • vehicle fleets worldwide

Because of the rapid growth in the IoT space, there are a number of

  • Competing standards
  • Tools
  • Projects
  • Policies
  • Frameworks
  • Organizations

All of these define how connected devices should communicate in the modern era. Open source and open standards are to become increasingly important to ensure that these devices are able to connect properly and also for the back-end processing of the enormous volumes of big data that all of these devices will generate.

2. What are the uses IoT devices?

The use of IoT connected devices depends on whether you’re more interested in collecting data or automating actions and at what scale you are utilizing them.

For individuals, there are numerous consumer devices which work out-of-the-box. Many of these devices fall into the broad category of home automation.

Examples include:

  • Indoor and outdoor lighting and electrical outlets controlled
    • Sensors
    • Timers, and
    • Remote applications
  • Thermostats
    • To alter your indoor climate based on
  • Knowing where you are
  • Outside temperature conditions
  • And what your energy savings goals are
  • Advanced security and monitoring systems
    • Motion sensors
    • Cameras,
    • Automatic locks,
    • Other access control devices which can be integrated to create it
  • To protect people and property from accidental harm
    • Water leak sensors
    • Smoke alarms
    • Carbon monoxide sensors
  • Appliances like
    • Washers
    • Dryers
    • Refrigerators
    • And other home appliances which have special functions can alert us of their status remotely.
  • Devices that can intelligently charge at off-peak hours to save money and reduce peak energy demands
    • Electric car chargers
    • Battery banks

Other devices include wearable heart rate sensors to baby monitors to sleep sensors, which are designed to help with daily tasks or help to keep track of vital (or not-so-vital) information. Automobiles are also increasing many ways to connect themselves to a sensor network, tracking dozens of types of information about their performance and safety, as well as providing new features and entertainment options.

For a government, a company or an institution IoT devices can be used in little different manner. They are generally focused more on collecting data which can be processed and visualized, often in real-time.

Some examples include:

  • Utility companies
    • Able to to more accurately forecast energy
    • Water demands
    • Reducing waste.
  • Advanced environmental sensors for
    • Water
    • Noise
    • Air quality monitors
  • Help understand
    • pollution sources
    • Effects before they negatively impact ecosystem and human health.
  • Agencies responsible for  public safety can develop more advanced early warning systems for natural disasters like
    • Earthquakes
    • Floods
    • Have better data with which to provide vital services like fighting fires and
    • Providing humanitarian relief.
  • Companies and governments can keep track of
    • The current location of everything from vehicle fleets to parts and products, to healthcare specimens and medicines.
  • Local governments can track
    • Real-time parking
    • Transit demand
    • Even know when garbage cans are reaching capacity, to better provision services and plan for the future.

The examples are endless here and many more are yet to be considered.

3. Why do open standards matter for the Internet of Things?

Without open standards and common protocols, devices may not be able to communicate with one another. Though many of the IoT devices ultimately connect back to the Internet, the methods they use to communicate with one another and with local control hubs are often proprietary or poorly documented. Without a common foundation for communication, we may be locked into a single vendor for all of our devices, and worse, we may be left stranded with a pile of non-functional hardware if the company which makes the devices goes defunct or decides to no longer support the devices.

AllSeen Alliance, a project of the Linux Foundation, and other organization are working to create common frameworks for devices to be able to communicate with one another regardless of the manufacturer.

4. How does big data fit in?

With billions of Internet-connected devices that are currently in use, and tens of billions more predicted to come online in the next few years, there are enormous numbers of new sensors collecting data about the world around us, and organizations employing sensor networks need a way to process all of the new data points they are receiving and storing.

All of this data requires a different scale of storage and processing and new techniques as well.

New advances in :

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Machine Learning,
  • and Data Mining

are allowing us to find patterns in data that would not be obvious to traditional analytical methods. Open source big data tools make this analysis possible.

5. What about security?

With more devices entering the home which can collect data about every facet of our lives, naturally security and privacy are important concerns. While many privacy issues may be decided on the policy side, the underlying technology itself is an important part of security. This makes open source critical to the Internet of Things.

Every device capable of connecting to a network runs at least a primitive operating system along with the code which makes it function. Having an open source code base allows the device security to be tested, inspected, and easily patched when necessary, to keep intruders out. Secure operating system like the Linux kernel, or other open source operating systems, can be optimized for embedded devices to help keep data and devices safe.

6. How to get started with IoT?

Getting started with creating devices and software for the IoT is surprisingly easy. There are numerous hardware platforms targeted to beginners and hobbyists which have large communities behind them, including many which are partially or fully open hardware.

Arduino is a popular hardware platform, which is ideal for low-power operations and can connect via add-on boards across many common communications protocols and the Raspberry Pi, which include an on-board Ethernet port making network communications a breeze.

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