Connected objects have been gaining more traction and popularity as the focus in app development moves toward needing to connect apps to smart devices. According to Statista, the IoT market is worth over 1 billion US dollars annually and Gartner Inc. is predicting that there will be over 20.4 billion IoT connected devices worldwide by 2020, which is a big jump in comparison to 6.4 billion in 2016. So, what exactly is IoT? Well, this type of technology is a part of the family of connected objects which we will be diving into pretty soon.
As we move into chapter 3 in our handbook on app development for the non-tech savvy, we are going to be exploring the different uses of connected objects including IoT, beacon technology and how they function. By now you have read the first two chapters on an introduction to app development terminology and native and hybrid applications so you should be more comfortable with some of the technical jargon. Let’s get to it then shall we?
What are Connected Objects and How do they Work?
As we mentioned in the introduction, connected devices can also be referred to as IoT, or the Internet of Things. The IoT is a giant network of connected things including cell-phones, headphones, coffee makers, washing machines, lamps, heart monitor implants etc… These IoT devices talk to each other by transferring communicable network data which then, in turn, connects physical objects to the internet, like applications.
Using connected objects gives devices the power to tell us what is happening in an environment without physically being there. This involves transferring data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
According to Google, IoT is split up into 3 components: device, gateway and cloud.
- Device: This is the hardware and software used to interact with the world. This means the devices are connected to a network to communicate with each other and with centralized applications.
- Gateway: The IoT gateway device provides a connection and translation between devices and the cloud. It also allows devices that are not directly connected to the internet to use cloud services. The gateway processes data across multiple devices before it is all sent to the cloud.
- Cloud: The cloud is essential for storing, processing and analysing big data. The data from each device is sent to the cloud and processed together with other devices.
Along with these 3 components, IoT systems are made up of actuators and sensors which form the core infrastructure of an IoT framework to ensure its accuracy. They enable interactions and communication between the physical and digital world.
Actuators are devices used to manipulate the physical environment, such as controlling the temperature valves in your smart home, and sensors collect data from the environment or object being monitored, such as your smart home. For example, a sensor might recognize the temperature rising quickly in your house, detecting the heat of a fire. The sensor then sends this data to the control center which is where the actuator comes into play turning on the sprinklers in your house to put out the fire. Below you can see a detailed diagram describing the roles of actuators and sensors using this example.
The Benefits of Using IoT
IoT projects certainly have really interesting concepts for connecting physical objects to the digital world. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits to using this advanced technology.
- Efficiency. IoT facilitates connectivity through M2M (Machine-to-Machine) communication. IoT devices can be used to complete and perform everyday tasks with precision, such as turning off a light through an app. This is controlling everyday tasks without human intervention, making life easier to manage and saving time.
- Saving money. Using this technology you can monitor the utilization of energy in your home, for example, tracking the temperature levels and lowering them whenever you need. Through doing this you can optimize your energy usage and cut on those costs.
- Automation and control. With physical objects being connected and controlled digitally through a wireless infrastructure, there is no need for human intervention. Machines can communicate together quickly, executing the tasks in a more timely fashion.
IoT Connectivity Protocols
Now that you are familiar with the pros and cons of IoT devices and the make-up of IoT systems (actuators and sensors), we will move into how IoT protocols are in charge of sending information and updates from a device to a central location. Below we mention the most common protocols used for IoT projects.
HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol)
- The connection between web-user (client) and web server.
- This is a common protocol for the internet and supports everyday regular web browsing.
- Provides data back and forth between devices.
- A protocol allowing devices to communicate across constrained networks.
- Good for IoT devices that need to publish a lot of data and collect big loads of data from around the world.
MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport)
- M2M (Machine-to-Machine) and IoT connectivity protocol.
- It is a lightweight messaging protocol with high delivery guarantees.
- The goal is to ensure reliability and assurance of delivery in devices.
- Was originally developed by IBM and Eurotech in 1999 with the goal of ensuring bandwidth efficiency and little battery power usage.
- Faster and lighter than HTTP.
- Was designed for low-bandwidth or unreliable networks.
- A popular choice for IoT projects.
CoAP (Constrained Application Protocol)
- It was developed for low power or low bandwidth environments.
- Used for constrained IoT devices.
- It was built for Machine-to-Machine (M2M) applications like smart energy and building automation.
- Provides strong security
- Designed to use minimal resources on the devices and on the network.
IoT Service Providers
Service providers are different platforms and networks for executing IoT projects to enable IoT devices to connect and interact. We have provided you with a list of 3 successful providers along with the descriptions from their websites.
According to Semtech – “LoRa (short for long range) is a spread spectrum modulation technique derived from chirp spread spectrum (CSS) technology. Semtech’s LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology (LoRa Technology) is a long range, low power wireless platform that has become the de facto technology for Internet of Things (IoT) networks worldwide.
LoRa Technology enables smart IoT applications that solve some of the biggest challenges facing our planet: energy management, natural resource reduction, pollution control, infrastructure efficiency, disaster prevention, and more. Semtech’s LoRa Technology has amassed over 600 known uses cases for smart cities, smart homes and buildings, smart agriculture, smart metering, smart supply chain and logistics, and more. With over 50 million devices connected to networks in 95 countries and growing, LoRa Technology is the DNA of IoT, creating a Smarter Planet.”
According to Sigfox: “Billions of objects worldwide will be connected to the Internet; their data will be stored in the cloud and will participate in the digitalization of our environment. Having a global, simple, low-cost and low-power connectivity solution is fundamental. This is the challenge that Sigfox addresses by deploying a low-bandwidth dedicated network, already present in 45 countries.
Created in 2010 the company is a recognized global pioneer and leader in a sector that is already disrupting business models and will revolutionize the whole of society. The ambition of Sigfox, embodied in the slogan “Make Things Come Alive”, is to give a voice to the physical world around us and to allow these billions of objects to play a role in economic and social development.”
According to Zigbee Alliance: The Zigbee Alliance is the standard bearer of the open IoT. Established in 2002, our wide-ranging global membership collaborates to create and evolve universal open standards for the smart networks in our homes, businesses, and neighborhoods”
“Striving to create new opportunities and a larger market for all stakeholders in the IoT. Bringing together the world’s most innovative companies and individuals to create and evolve technologies that enable all IoT devices to connect and interact — regardless of country, brand, market, or network. Delivering on our technologies’ brand promise of performance and interoperability with robust certification programs and tools.
Creating and fostering opportunities for collaboration amongst our members, and all IoT stakeholders to drive consensus in the industry. Solving industry-wide challenges, by partnering with leading organizations, to enable a more unified Internet of Things. Enthusiastically promoting Zigbee Alliance technologies, and members’ achievements and solutions built on our technologies.
Championing the thought leadership of our members to highlight today’s opportunities, inspire tomorrow’s innovation, and influence the future of the Internet of Things. Aiming to be the most trusted IoT consortium by continually working to make it easier for companies to develop and deploy interoperable IoT products quickly, effectively and at a low cost.”
Industries Using IoT Technology
You may have heard of well-known devices that apply IoT such as the Apple watch which can monitor your health and Amazon Alexa which controls your smart home through doing simple tasks like locking doors and controlling the thermostat. A number of industries are using IoT technology to their advantage as it evolves and gains more popularity. Below we have compiled a list of the different ways industries are utilizing IoT.
- Putting sensors in tractors to connect them to the internet so farmers can access data about their crops. Farmers can get an idea as to when would be the best time to plant certain crops.
- Connecting medical equipment, such as an MRI, to the internet can let hospital staff know when it needs to be serviced or repaired through receiving alerts.
- A Fitbit is a device that tracks your personal health such as monitoring sleeping patterns and exercise. This information can then be shared with your doctor to help discover if there are any chronic issues.
- Hooking up transport trucks to monitor temperature to make sure foods and other goods arrive at their destination in optimal condition.
- A smart refrigerator might realize you are low on milk and notify your smartphone.
- Homes with presence sensors can analyse when to turn off high energy appliances to help improve energy reduction.
- Companies are coming up with smart metres to help keep track of a customer’s energy usage.
- Amazon Go grocery store: There are no human cashiers, only cameras, IoT sensors and artificial intelligence to process transactions. These technologies automatically track when a product has been removed or returned to the shelf which is all monitored in a virtual cart. In the foyer, customers scan their smartphones at an electronic gate to be let into the store. They simply pick what they want in the store and exit whenever they please without the hassle of standing in line to check out. Customers are then automatically billed to their Amazon account.
- Sensors are being used to monitor factory equipment to verify the performance of machines and see if they are consuming proper amounts of energy. This can help detect when a piece of machinery needs to be repaired and make the whole system work more efficiently.
What are Beacons?
With all this talk about connected objects and IoT technology, it is important to mention an important member of the family: beacons.
Beacons, or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons are Bluetooth devices that transmit signals. They detect other devices within proximity and broadcast or send them relevant information, messages and notifications. A smartphone with Bluetooth functionality can spot this signal when it’s within range.
For example, You walk by your favourite store and notice they are having a sale on shoes. As you walk by, there is a beacon placed next to the shoe section to alert you of this sale. This allows retail stores to have more engagement with their customers and promote products and new deals.
Other types of beacons include digital magazines broadcasted to your smartphone when you enter a cafe and coupons when you walk into a store. Airlines and train stations are also using this technology to improve connections and communication with customers. Beacons can alert travellers of delays, flight and gate updates, information on baggage collection and duty-free deals.
As you can see the world of IoT has limitless possibilities and its only growing bigger from here.
What is the Difference Between Bluetooth and WiFi
We talked about the use of beacons and Bluetooth to communicate with people, but did you know that Bluetooth and WiFi are two separate technologies? A similarity they share is they both provide wireless communication. The goal with Bluetooth is to connect devices without using cables. It is a wireless technology to exchange data over short distances (less than 30 ft.) between mobile devices. This means smartphones with Bluetooth capabilities are able to easily communicate with other Bluetooth devices like printers or headphones. An example of using Bluetooth would be connecting your iPod or iPhone to a wireless speaker to play music in your house.
WiFi, on the other hand, provides high-speed access to wireless devices to the internet. The range of WiFi stretches much further than Bluetooth, with the signal sometimes being able to reach as far as 300 ft. away. Devices like PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets can connect to a WiFi hotspot, which is an area where the signal can be accessed. This can be a single room or it can stretch throughout a whole building like a shopping mall, airport, university campus or restaurant.
It is impressive to see how far technology has progressed throughout the years. Having smart homes where IoT technology controls your thermostat, light switches, radio, TV and door locks are interesting developments. As we move deeper into the evolution of technology, chapter 4 will focus on virtual reality and how it’s shaping mobile app development and the industries using the technology to their advantage. Keep your eye out for this next chapter coming out soon!