Many of the topics we cover here at Design News have different meaning to different people. I often use the phrase, "Ask 10 different people about XYZ, and you'll get 10 different answers." Oddly, the topic here, the Internet of Things, a.k.a. IoT, would appear to be a somewhat vague term. However, I've found that most people in the industry are very aware of the term and offer a similar response as to what it actually is. People often refer to the cloud when thinking of IoT, and that's not necessarily wrong. But the cloud is just one component of the IoT, albeit an integral component.
So we are clear, the Internet of Things is a machine-to-machine (M2M) connection. It lets two (or many) devices communicate over the Internet. Some people even use the terms M2M and IoT synonymously, although M2M has been around longer.
IoT technology has become so prevalent that there's now a consortium based on the topic. Aptly named the Internet of Things Consortium (IoTC), the group is dedicated to accelerating the development of the IoT ecosystem with a focus on interoperability and usability, data openness and security, and market development. The IoTC is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco. According to its website, IoTC membership is open to "enablers of the IoT ecosystem via hardware, software, data, or services."
The services that an IoT connection could enable include:
- machine-to-machine communication;
- machine-to-infrastructure communication;
- remote tele-health, including patient monitoring;
- continuous monitoring of firmware upgrades;
- asset tracking;
- remote security;
- home and industrial building automation.
While attending a conference of embedded developers recently, one software guy told me: "IoT is only a hot topic because silicon vendors are pushing it, so they can sell more 32-bit SoCs."
Another response was: "The IoT devices available today have very limited functionality. But from a consumer perspective, the possibilities are endless. The same could also be true from a commercial perspective, if it's done right."
In a recent study conducted by VDC Research, the top two (by a wide margin) inhibitors to broader adoption of the IoT are end customer demand and maturity of available products. Clearly, these are obstacles that are easily overcome as more IoT products infiltrate the market.
Before true commercial success can be achieved, the security aspect must be addressed. In most systems, a breach can occur at any point in the chain. So it's imperative to have no weak links. The breach may either be inadvertent or intentional, but that really doesn't matter. In that same VDC study, 73 percent of the respondents said that its devices are either somewhat, very, or extremely vulnerable to a security attack.
We're getting there, and it's just a matter a time.