What is Internet of Things?

What is Internet of Things?

4 min read

Malaika Naidu

Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to a whole network of physical devices around the world that are connected over the internet, capable of collecting and sharing data. These devices are usually called smart devices, as they can process data and use artificial intelligence to perform predetermined functions. These devices include simple machines like coffee makers that can self-start at a predetermined time or complex machines like self-driving cars that can sense obstacles and read road signs.    

Is IoT new technology?

Though not in its current form, the concept of smart devices has been around since the early 1980s. In 1982, a modified Coca Cola vending machine at Carnegie Mellon University became the first internet-connected appliance capable of functioning without human intervention. The machine was able to report its own inventory and identify whether newly loaded drinks were cold or not. This accomplishment paved the way for the next two decades of growth in technology.

How does IoT Work?

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, IoT devices were created by adding basic sensors to everyday appliances. Progress through these two decades was relatively slow simply because the technology wasn’t ready. The only inexpensive and low-power way to connect millions of devices was to use Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags.

These low-power chips can communicate wirelessly; this, along with the increased availability of broadband internet, cellular and wireless networking, led to a boost in the IoT market. The process of adding RFID tags to appliances to help track their location is still one of the most common applications of IoT.

However, IoT initially was developed for business and manufacturing purposes, often referred to as machine-to-machine (M2M). With the turn of the century, the emphasis shifted to fitting our homes and offices with smart devices.

What are the Benefits of IoT?

IoT devices are constantly recording and saving user data and performance data. This data can be used to detect patterns, issues and possible problems, and make recommendations in advance. With increased insight provided by advanced analytical algorithms, comes the power to make the product experience better and increase process efficiency.

Let’s take an example.

Situation A, without IoT: On a regular day, you set your alarm for 7:00 AM to reach office. Due to some strike, the metro isn’t functioning so you must drive to work. Given that road travel takes longer, you are probably going to get late reaching office. Add to this a heavy downpour which is going to further increase your travel time. If only you could have pre-empted these issues and set your alarm earlier!

Situation B, with IoT: Your IoT enabled alarm is constantly analysing the weather, traffic data, and the news. The alarm picks up on the metro strike and weather patterns in advance and sets your alarm for earlier. You might be a little confused that your alarm rang earlier than you expected. But you’ll eventually appreciate this deceptively simple technology! Now even though you’ve to drive to work in the rain, you’ll still reach on time.

That’s the magnificence of IoT.

All our phones are IoT enabled. The moment you use smart devices like Google Assistant, Amazon Echo, and Apple’s Siri, you use IoT! With an increasing dependence on smart phone and home assistant devices, it’s commonplace to use IoT to set alarms, play music, check weather conditions and even traffic patterns before travelling. In our homes, appliances like air conditioners, refrigerators, televisions and even lights can be controlled through voice.

Naturally, such application of artificial intelligence raises the question – what about our safety and security? Are we heading towards a world where machines take over? Let’s explore this a little.

What are the Security Risks of IoT?

In the last decade of growth in IoT, the biggest hurdle has constantly been the question of security. Consider the examples given above, while IoT is making our lives decidedly more convenient, it is constantly collecting intimate data about our lives. These devices track our movements, our searches, our conversations (allegedly), our preferences and even our communication patterns!

Given the quick and cheap adoption and adaptation of IoT, security is a mostly overlooked issue. Hacked webcams, internet routers and home security systems are becoming common news. Through wearable technology, user data is often stolen and sold over the dark net.

Often, hack attacks don’t even require malicious intent or direct damage. Hackers can be hired for just revenge or espionage. If you’ll believe it, sometimes even just as a show of power to big corporations to point out their security flaws!

What’s the Next Step?

Firstly, IoT is here to stay and there’s no point fighting this change. Instead, we need to focus on the security and privacy concerns. Large corporations and service providers that use IoT will have to work diligently on making their networks air-tight and isolated from breaches. Data encryption between sensors, data gateways, the internet and other components of the IoT network is crucial.

Currently, data encryption between devices is a huge security gap because the technology has developed haphazardly. Correcting this will require standardisation and coordination between key players. More importantly, users need to become more aware of the number of devices that they engage with. What data do you make public and what data do you never share?

There is no doubt that IoT bridges the gap between the digital world and the physical world. This brings increased convenience and increased vulnerability, simultaneously. However, with data protection and online security becoming more critical than ever, the industry is working that much harder to ensure safety with their user experience. A fair share of the onus of security rests with the users.

What do you think about IoT?
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Malaika Naidu
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