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The Internet of Things

Oct 06, 2017

Do you access your thermostat through your phone? Does your refrigerator send you reminders of items that are about to expire? Do you secure your home security system with your phone? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are using to the Internet of Things (IoT). If you’ve never heard of IoT, one definition states: 

"The Internet of Things is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction."- Simona Marchaj, Growly

But what does that mean?

Each item that is connected to the internet, like your smart phone or smart watch, has an IP address which is a unique number that is used in transferring data over a network. In other words, assigning a thing an IP address enables another device to communicate with it. Each device that has internet connection has an IP address. You can think of the IP address like our social security number - everyone has their own. It's the same with all devices that are connected online. For example, a computer's IP address can be 

GettyImages-499004164An IP address is how you're able to send a command to your lights at home. Maybe you left them on and you want to turn them off remotely. Many of us use a cell phone to connect with others online on social media, but there are many apps available to control devices at such as light switches, garage doors, thermostats, fans, pots and many more. Each device has the ability to connect to the internet via Wi-Fi or with a direct connection using an Ethernet cord. Those devices then connect to your router at home. Your router receives a public IP address from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as Comcast, RCN or AT&T, depending on your area. Cell phones connect to the internet via a cellular connection, which means the phone has its own IP address.
For example, when I send a command to turn my lights off at home, the IP address from my phone is sent to my router at home. The router then sends the command to the light switch’s IP address to turn the lights off. The router assigns a unique IP address to each device that connects online. 

Why do we need IoT?

A better question may be: how did we ever live without it? The Internet of Things is not limited to consumer products, although consumers can greatly benefit from it. In logistics and fleet management for example, the IoT platform can continuously monitor the location and conditions of cargo and assets via wireless sensors, and send specific alerts when management exceptions occur (delays, damages, thefts, etc.). All of this is automated by using the application software.

What the New York Waterways has to do with it 

Another example of an IoT benefit is a project completed by New York Waterways (NYWW) in New York City to connect all the city's vessels and be able to monitor them live 24/7. The NYWW network is currently providing coverage on the Hudson River, East River, and Upper New York Bay. With the wireless network in place, NYWW is able to take control of its fleet and passengers in a way that was not previously possible. New applications can include security, energy and fleet management, digital signage, public Wi-Fi, paperless ticketing and others.

IoT is only at the beginning stage, and it's growing fast 

Obviously, growing proportions of IoT devices are created for consumer use. These include: connected cars, residences and smart homes, wearable technology, and smart retail. Smart retail refers to a set of smart technologies that are designed to give the consumer a greater, faster, safer and smarter experience when shopping. A smart phone is what enables this system to work. 

The benefits outweigh the risks

Of course just like with any electronic devices, there are some risks. One big risk lies in the fact that by exposing your device to the world, you are allowing other people or machines to gain access to it. A car for example, wasn’t originally intended to be able to connect to the internet, but because car manufacturers’ level of expertise in data security falls short of that in making cars, if you become vulnerable, you become a potential target.

However, as the IoT becomes more useful, practical and beneficial, it will force the industry to create standard protocols for security. Think of your first computer and compare it to what you use today. Technology is always evolving and although there will always be risks, the benefit of this interconnectedness outweighs them all.

In the next edition of eFYI, we will look at the Internet of Things and healthcare device connectivity.

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