What is IoT?
Internet of Things are considered to be embedded devices that have internet connectivity capabilities (directly or indirectly). While many IoT devices have sensors to collect data, this is not a defining characteristic.
These devices overlap several areas in engineering. Product design is also a critical aspect to the success of any device.
Table of Contents
Boundary of IoT Definition
The boundary of what is considered IoT is up to interpretation. It can be argued that even smartphones are IoT devices.
Broad List of IoT Devices
Below, are non-exhaustive lists of IoT Devices:
- Smart Home Devices: thermostats, automated lighting, smart locks, security cameras…
- Wearable Technology: smartwatches, fitness trackers, smart clothing…
- Entertainment: smart TVs, streaming devices…
- Personal Appliances: smart kitchen appliances, gardening systems, cleaning robots…
- Retail: smart shelves, RFID inventory tracking…
- Healthcare: wearable health monitors and other patient monitoring devices…
- Smart Buildings: building environment monitors, security systems (closed-circuit is safer)…
- Connected Vehicles: cars, trucks, motorcycles with onboard sensors and navigation…
- Manufacturing: sensors and other systems that optimize production processes and their maintenance…
- Agriculture: farming devices that monitor soil conditions, crop health…
- Energy: smart grids, utility monitoring devices…
- Urban Infrastructure: lighting management devices, waste collection…
- Public Safety: surveillance systems, emergency response tools…
- 1982: A modified Coke machine that could report its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold was installed at Carnegie Mellon University.
- Early 2000s: RFID and sensor technology become internet-connected.
- 2007: The release of the iPhone and subsequent smartphones created a platform for more IoT devices.
- 2010s: The adoption of IPv6 increased the total possible number of IP addresses, addressing a scalability concern of IoT.
- Present: IoT has expanded into many aspects of our lives.
- Security: Given the physical size constraints and smaller budgets, IoT devices often do not have robust update mechanisms.
- Interoperability: Proprietary software is common in IoT. This means that different IoT devices run completely different software with different interfaces, and ensuring devices can communicate effectively with other devices can be a challenge.
- Power Management: IoT devices often run on battery and this poses a challenge given the size constraints that often exist.
- Scalability: When IoT devices are cheap, they can become very plentiful. This puts pressure on the server to handle all of these producers.
- Prioritize Security from the Start: Implement strong security measures, including secure boot, data encryption, and regular firmware updates to protect against vulnerabilities. Consider security at every layer of the IoT stack, from the device to the cloud.
- Design for Interoperability Where Possible: Standardized systems can be more predictable and documented, opening the door to security vulnerabilities. This is doubly true for open-source software (that can be used as an attack vector). Approach increased interoperability with care, and implement when safe to do so.
- Optimize Power Consumption: The selection of both hardware and software affects power consumption. Make each decision with this in mind.
- Plan for Scalability: Choose cloud services for the Back-End that scales easily to an increased number of devices producing data.
- Address Data Privacy Upfront: The location of sales affects the compliance that is necessary in both the device and the server.
- Simplify Integration if Necessary: Unnecessary integrations can create an unnecessarily larger attack surface. These should be approached with care and provided alongside documentation and a clean API.
- Focus on User Experience: User experience should always be the first priority. From the user interface to the physical design, to any other interface.
- Test Thoroughly: Given the physical nature of these products (not just software), they need to be tested physically in an array of environments they could experience.
- Build for Reliability: These are physical devices that should last years. Edge cases can arise over long spans of time that do not appear in the short term.
IoT is a fast-growing industry, and it will continue to integrate into our lives at an even greater pace in the future.
Sam Malayek works in Vancouver, using this space to fill in a few gaps. Opinions are his own.