Being direct part of the worldwide development community for IoT and connected device and working day by day on architectural topics and talking to many experts in this area, I've mentioned that indeed the technologies behind IoT are well known but a common IoT definition is not existent. And There is definitely non where real internet of things examples are part of. My key experience was while I was participating the Security of Things conference in Berlin this year. The discussions what is IoT and what is IoT not started already during the icebreaking session, the evening before the first official day, and continues in the same manner during the next two days. I've heard definitions like "Every PC is an IoT device" over "Any internet connectivity must be disabled (to guarantee security)" up to "We log the values of a digital thermometer by hand and enter them in a specific AWS-based Back-End to run analytics on it ... therefore we converted our thermometer to an IoT device". This experience gave me the impulse to find a proper IoT definition for myself, and to be honest, it was very hard.
An IoT Definition? But there are a lot of them!
Yes, right! But all of them are extremely diverse, therefore there is no common view. Here you have a nice collection.
IoT a buzzword you see on any fair or congress nowadays, especially if industry or consumer devices are promoted. You can buy an IoT cloud, security products especially for IoT, AI for IoT or IoT is AI... protocols making IoT smart and especially IoT devices. But what is behind Internet of Things? Let's go for an IoT definition using some examples.
IoT is, as you know, an abbreviation for Internet of Things. Very simple, one can say, so we can stop here! Unfortunately, it is not that simple, and this is also the reason why also if two IoT experts talk to each other they often don't talk about the same.
This article is my attempt to sort my thoughts about this topic and initiate a controversial discussion between you, me and the community - simply create an IoT definition, and strengthen it with real world internet of things examples.
My personal opinion is that IoT is a great term for a technology like this. It is short, people can easily remember the abbreviation and it can be combined easily with additions for a deeper specification, e.g. IIot-Industrial IoT, Sot - Security of things. But due to the way of current usage of the term it converts more and more to a buzz word with a bad taste because of the lack uniformity and also usage to promote bullshit without any reference to real IoT world. This is the way how great ideas and technologies can be blighted. And it definitely starts already with the IoT definition.
How is the term IoT defined and accepted widely? A great overview about the public view on the IoT definition can be found in ExpertenDerIT, unfortunately only in German. Following is the translated essence
"[...]objects in the real world, which are connected to the internet."
" (IoT) [...] is a technical vision to integrate any object in a universal digital network."
"[...] interconnection of things over the internet to enable autonomous communication [...] "
"[...] communication between devices [...]. This Devices collect information about itself and its surrounding and transmit it to other objects [...]"
As I've already mentioned there is no common view on that. In the next sections, you can find the main characteristics of an IoT device, together with internet of things examples to make it better understandable what I mean.
One short statement regarding the question "whether it is that important to properly define internet of things" or in general specific terms you work with every day. I've faced such discussions multiple times in different places. The best argument is
"It is not important how it is defined, it's important how the customer accept and use it"
My professional roots are in the area of software engineering and system architecture, in general in computer science, there the essence of each and every task is to get a common view on the terms. Every terms which is not defined properly leads by guarantee to waste of time and efficiency. This is the first point.
The second one is, yes the customer is definitely in the foreground but we create the customers view and understanding of technical things we design. If we call a router from one day to an other IoT device, the customer will be irritated at the beginning and will take over the wording after a learning phase. That makes our wording not more "right" or "wrong" it is just adapted.
Book Recommendations for IoT
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What should be considered for good IoT definition
"Are there maybe some specific ingredients which shall be part of each IoT device?"
I would say "YES", you can see them in the simple visualization below.
To find out whether something is IoT or not I ask myself the following questions.
- Is it really a "thing"? Is the original task of the device transmit data to the internet, or was it adapted? Does the "thing" sense, process or collect any digital data?
EXAMPLE: the original task of a router is to transmit data, the original task of a watch is to show the time and a connected watch has an additional function of data transmission.
- Does the thing provide any common communication interfaces? Often we talk about an RF interface but wired interfaces are also not a KO criteria.
EXAMPLE: As soon as one wants to transfer data from a digital device to a receiver or allow any remote control functionality, common communication interfaces are required.
- Is the "thing" connected directly to the internet or use a gateway to transmit its data continuously?
EXAMPLE: A Fitbit wristband is not connected directly but uses the mobile phone as a gateway, but it transmits data to a platform on the internet.
The following sections will show some real life internet of things examples. I have chosen products from Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions (BCDS) on purpose because I know the products very well due to the fact that I'm working there as a system architect. And as nice side effect, I hope I will also generate some discussions which give me some alternative views on this topics which leads to improvements in the products. And no I do not get any payment for that. This blog is totally independent from my work.
IoT Definition, do we talk about "things"?
Talking about internet of things definition, most of the "experts" focus on the connectivity aspect to define a device as IoT device or not. I think the most important question is "Is the main task of the device to process digital data or not?". If task is not to process digital data but this functionality was added to be able to collect this data then I would talk about a real thing. Some examples and anti-examples:
- the principal task of a thermometer is to measure the temperature - a digital thermometer is a thing
- the principal task of a thermostat is to control the heater depending on the temperature - a digital thermostat is a thing
- the principal task of a personal computer is to collect, process, transfer, visualize digital data - a personal computer is not a thing
- the principal task of a USB-hub is to route digital data from one port to another - a USB-hub is not a thing
For sure, there are also a lot of devices outside where one can discuss a lot whether we talk about a thing or not. For example, what is the main purpose of a smartphone? If the principal task is to telephone then I will classify it as a thing, but nowadays smartphones are mainly used for the task which is very similar to the one of a personal computer, therefore not a thing .... not that simple.
Examples for Connected Devices?
Below you can see a more general view on the topic of connected devices. As connected devices, all electronic devices are seen which are somehow connected to a local control unit but not to the internet. For connectivity, all types of technologies can be used, wireless as well as wired.
Another important aspect is, devices generate and collect a lot of data but for the evaluation and decision making, there are still humans behind the system at least to formulate the decision rules.
The following subsections contain some connected device examples. Together with the question how do they fit to the IoT Definition.
Real Life Example: Transport Data Logger (TDL)
Connected devices are "Grandfathers" of the IoT devices. The use case is to allow monitoring of the vital parameters of something and for control and remote configuration. Both, monitoring and configuration, was done by personnel or very specific proprietary systems which were used for process automation. Even if the devices allow a connection to the Ethernet, they were never build to be used widely in the WAN, in the best case widely in the LAN.
An example for such devices is the "Transport Data Logger" - TDL from Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions. It is a great example for a connected device, means a mixture of a thing together with connectivity features but without an internet connection. TDLs main task is to measure vital data of transferred goods wireless and autonomous from a power sources, powered by a battery for a long period (Here you can find some technical insights about battery powered devices). It is done by collecting sensor data from different sensors and provides this data to a mobile phone application as soon as a user is connected via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The data is, at least in the first version, never send to an internet service where an additional processing or visualization can be implemented.
Because an automated, transfer to the internet is missing I would never bring the TDL as an internet of things example, "only" as an example for a connected device, a good one by the way.
Real Life Example: Retrofit eCall
One excellent example of a thing where the definition, IoT or not, is tricky is the retrofit eCall system, also from BCDS. The device is a plug for the cigarette lighter in the car which monitors the movement of the car and reports an alert to the connected mobile phone if the movement is rated as critical. The mobile phone app sends the alert to a call center together with some positioning data using the Internet connection of the mobile phone. The call center evaluates the data and triggers a set of subprocesses one of them is typically a call to the emergency services if no "false alarm" is confirmed by the device owner.
Therefore we are talking about a device where already the classification as a "thing" is difficult, due to the fact that reporting of irregular changes in movement is the main task of the retrofit eCall. Next topic, the connectivity, is easier.The device use Bluetooth Low Energy to communicate with the mobile phone. The mobile phone acts as a "gateway" to forward the data to an internet based service where the data is pushed to an eCall system. The internet connection is not steady but is established if necessary and the user does not have any access to the data in the back-end.
To summarize, we have an electronic device using BLE to provide some data to an app where the data is enriched and send to the internet. If no mobile phone is available, no data transfer occurs at all.
Internet of Things on Examples
Below I've tried to summarize and visualize the relationship between IoT devices and the infrastructures, in the subsections, you can find some examples together with an explanation why I classify the products as IoT devices
Best Internet of Things Example: Dash Button
In my opinion, one of the best internet of things examples of an IoT device is a "dash button" or in my case a "Heineken button", really ... why shall I buy dash? I personally use mostly this device if I need to define IoT. Let's do the check.
- Is it a thing? - Yes because the main task of a button is to be pushed, nothing else. In the case of a "Heineken button", every button press triggers an order of some Heineken on Amazon
- Does it provide connectivity? - Yes, the button has a Wifi module inside and allows the user to connect it to the home wireless internet connection.
- Is it connected to the internet? - Yes, using the connectivity functionality the button doesn't stay in the home WLAN but establish a direct connection with Amazon and set an order directly there.
Internet of Things Example: Philips Hue
Another great internet of things example is Philips hue. Simple idea connects light bulbs to the internet to allow the owner, unfortunately not only him, to control light intensity and atmosphere chilling on the sofa. Again the check
- Is it a thing? - Yes, the main task is to light up the area or room
- Does it provide connectivity? - Yes, the bulb is connected via ZigBee to a central hub the hub itself is connected to the local home network and allow local connections as well as internet connections.
- Is it connected to the internet? - Yes, the central hub is connected to the internet and act as a gateway forwarding the message in both directions.
'IoT Ready' ... Seriously?
Being critical, by nature, I still try to understand the drive behind something before criticize. In the case of "IoT-ready", I was already biased just from the chosen wording. I think you can also see some parallels to the "HD ready" stickers being available on the TVs. I hope you can also remember the confusion of most users about the informative value of such stickers. There were general stickers with "HD ready" others with "Full HD", "Full HD TV", "Full HD 1080", "HD ready 720", "HD ready 720p", "HD ready 1080p" and many, many more. And there we talk only about 2 different resolutions.
But I've still tried to get more information and to catch the idea. Below is, everything, what the initiators have on their webpage
IoT-Ready™ is an alliance of leading lighting, building management, and Internet of Things (IoT) companies and organizations that are creating a common standard for IoT-enabled lighting fixtures. This standard will ensure all new LED lighting fixtures can be shipped with a standard socket to easily add intelligent IoT sensors to the fixture after the fixture has been installed.
Are you serious? Philips Hue, or other smart bulb manufacturers, shows you how a fixing looks like. It's in the most cases an E14 or E27 fixing and your bulb itself has the logic and RF interface inside. The communication is done via RF or just by switching the power lines off. But this is only one aspect.
The other is the variety of the underlying technologies in IoT, a large amount of RF Interfaces and protocols just to pick out two of them. And they will definitely stay because there are reasons for the existence of this protocols and RF interfaces. I'm very curious how the sticker will look like for them :-) here some ideas
- "IoT-ready, ZigBee Version 3.0, no encryption, 10dB gain, MQTT ready" or
- "IoT-ready, WLAN (ad only) (Wifi with WPA2 PSK) + BLE 5.0 no mash, LWM2M"
For my opinion the next money machine for the initiators without a substance.
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