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Internet of Things(IoT) - The Cool New World

Shwetha Bhandari, Technical lead, Cisco Systems

The article was published in Dataquest


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We have witnessed how social-networks connecting people around the world has revolutionized the way we live by enabling instant access to knowledge from and to millions of people, leading to new business and governance models. Now imagine the possibilities if we connect and create network of "things" in our houses, cars, factories and cities - intelligent things all around us that capture data about how we live and what we do when they begin to talk to one another and our ability to choreograph them to respond to our needs, solve our problems, even save our lives. As more things, people, and data become connected, the power of the Internet grows exponentially and that can be harnessed to solve extraordinary challenges faced by individuals, businesses, and countries. For instance in a country like India we constantly debate on improving efficiencies - better traffic management, garbage management, health care, water conservation, energy utilization, travel safety all of which currently rely on people( manual intervention ). Solutions that Internet of Things promises may prove to be the panacea.

Lets take a look at some of the IoT solutions that are being created:


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IoT solutions for home automation

Lights, Cameras, Air conditioning systems, Digital audio and media systems, Energy meters, special sensors to detect motions, intrusion and actuators can all be connected to the Internet via wireless communication technologies such as Wi-Fi & Bluetooth (low power). These devices are capable of sharing the data they sense with applications that make intelligent decisions to take actions on our behalf. This provides home security, monitoring from anywhere, automatically taking actions such as turning on/off of lights, air-conditioners, heaters based on usage. In the near future, high energy consuming devices such as washing machines and water heaters will be capable of integrating with the electricity grids and will automatically tune themselves to load balance the energy consumption of cities.

IoT solution to make the Cities smarter

The need for new, sustainable cities is rising as the world's population continues to grow. IoT is transforming Education, Transportation, Energy management, Water conservation, Living and leisure, Work and Business redefining urban-living and creating sustainable cities. A connected city will have greater intelligence to manage transportation demand, charge intelligent fees for road use, and communicate transportation related information in real time. IoT solutions will regulate electricity and water use in all the city's buildings, curbing waste and cutting operating costs. The system will give residents the power to control their own energy use. All this is made possible with sensors on everything interlinked with information systems all connected to the Internet making it easy to share and harness knowledge for anyone from anywhere. A coordinated response can be rolled out in the event of a crisis, such as collapsing building or upon occurrence of natural disaster. Transport systems can be shut down, emergency services mobilised and gas supplies can be cut off, while citizens can be informed of alternative routes. The Indian government is already on its way to setting up 100 smart cities by allocating INR.7060 crore in 2014-15 budget. Smart city project will offer:

  • Intelligent transport - integrated network of public transport with real time transport displays, digital parking meters that will send phone alerts when parking space becomes available.
  • Better energy management with automation of systems that consume energy, emphasis on use of renewable energy.
  • Intelligent communication tools to facilitate better administration and more.

Paving way to the Smart cities project is Asia's first end-to-end Internet of Things innovation hub at Electronic City in Bangalore is set to be thrown open to private companies for the creation of smart parking, surveillance, traffic management solutions, streetlights and water management solutions.

IoT in agriculture and livestock management

Food security will be a major concern in India in the coming decades due to degradation of agriculture lands, loss of cultivable land to urbanization, population pressure and poor efficiency of resource usage. Judicious resource management in conjunction with enhanced input use efficiency is one area that calls for immediate attention. Precision farming and agricultural automation is the need of the hour. There are several projects underway at Indian Institute of Science to make this a reality.
Temperature, humidity, light intensity, and soil moisture can be monitored through various sensors. These can then be linked to systems to trigger alerts or automate processes such as water and air control. They can also be set up to look for early signs of pests or disease.
Food safety: The entire supply chain - from t he farm, logistics and retail - is set to become even more connected with information. Food products and ingredients can be tagged via RFID for tracking and tracing, and help raise the level of transparency and consumer confidence.
Crop monitoring: There are research projects underway to develop robots armed with sensors and can potentially monitor every single stalk in a field. These robots can be configured to communicate to one another over a network. The data can be collectively used to build information sets such as crop yield maps, and further linked to information such as current crop prices.
Livestock farming: The health of livestock such as cattle or chicken can be monitored to detect potential signs of disease. This can be linked to a central system which can trigger relevant advice to be sent to farmers, and contribute towards analytics that can be used to identify any outbreaks or trends.
There are solutions deployed in Karnataka for end-to-end Dairy Farm Services with focus on clean milk production protocols, productivity improvement, cost optimization and convenient, real-time data access.

IoT in health care

IoT solutions are offering better access to care, improving the quality of care and most importantly reduce the cost of care. The IoT plays a significant role in a broad range of healthcare applications, from managing chronic diseases at one end of the spectrum to preventing disease at the other. Hospitalized patients whose physiological status requires close attention can be constantly monitored using IoT-driven, noninvasive monitoring.
There are people all over the world whose health may suffer because they don't have ready access to effective health monitoring. But small, powerful wireless solutions connected through the IoT are now making it possible for monitoring to come to them. Infant mortality in India is about 10x higher than that in the developed world. The statistics are even worse in rural and semi-urban areas with poor access to high quality healthcare. With IoT there are solutions being developed at the Indian Institute of Science for Remote Neonatal Monitoring and Intervention.
Healthy, active people can also benefit from IoT-driven monitoring of their daily activities and well-being. A senior living alone, for example, may want to have a monitoring device that can detect a fall or other interruption in everyday activity and report it to emergency responders or family members. These are just a few examples of IoT-based healthcare solutions, and many more are emerging.

Challenges
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  • Battery life and Low power operation - It is estimated that there will be 24 billion connected devices by the year 2020. Given current energy availability, powering these devices will be impossible. Prolonged battery life that sources energy from unconventional power sources is a must for future development for the Internet of Things.
  • Distributed computing performance - With large number of sensor nodes, gateways collecting and sending data towards servers that can process the data and applications trying to access the data it places a huge demand on the network and computation power. There are new software architecture being designed to analyze and summarize data and take action closer to where data is produced which is known as Fog computing to optimize data handling and take real time action.
  • Address per device - Today's Internet mostly runs on Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) that has limited address space and will not be capable of offering unique address to all the connected devices. The next generation of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) is defined and being deployed to overcome this is set to overcome deployment and early adoption challenges.
  • Standards and protocols - With large number of devices, applications and companies building these are involved standardizing communication among the devices and data they communicate is critical to the success of enabling IoT solutions. While there are new standards industry consortiums and bodies being setup such as ETSI OneM2M to address this, the market is heavily fragmented and existing deployment and solutions in place are challenging adoption.
  • Security and Privacy - Computers and mobile devices are already facing an onslaught of security breaches, but the situation could get a whole lot worse with IoT. IoT dramatically increases the points of access, hence vulnerabilities, to computer networks. For example there may be million new access points from sensors to devices to myriad operating systems and the platforms controlling everything. Each point must be secured. Consequently, everything with a connected computer chip could be disrupted, including cardiac pacemakers, auto steering and braking systems, and industrial manufacturing controls. With ubiquitous access to data from everything there are concerns that it may lead to the "Big Brother" society - where every action is monitored, maintaining privacy in such a society is a raising concern for adoption of IoT.

Conclusion

The idea of devices connecting directly with each other is, as the man who coined the term Internet of Things puts it, "a big deal." As Kevin Ashton explained a decade after first using the phrase at a business presentation in 1999, "Today computers-and therefore, the Internet-are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information. The problem is, people have limited, time, attention and accuracy-all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world." The solution, he has always believed, is empowering devices to gather information on their own, without human intervention.
Technological limitations to making all this possible are receding exponentially. When billions of things are connected, talking and learning, the only limitation left will be our own imagination. As aptly put forward by China's then premier Wen Jiabao the following equation: "Internet + Internet of Things = Wisdom of the Earth".

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