Internet of Things – What is it? How does it affect our everyday life ?

Authors: Tomasz Soroka

23.09.2016

The Internet of Things has become a powerful and popular trend in the IT business. What exactly is the Internet of Things and what does it have to offer? Is it really some unclear term deriving from the futurology or quite real phenomenon gradually entering our lives? 

In the beginning was the Internet

In the previous millennium we witnessed a revolution connected with the appearance of the Internet. The next huge step was making all the network of cables redundant making the Internet not only wireless and mobile but also extending its range of possibilities. Since then, the stream of information could easily travel to any device. However, a human is naturally necessary to process such information. Or is he… really? 

Human in the world of things 

We are accustomed to the world in which things surrounding us, meaning devices, appliances and facilities, are constantly on standby in need of our decisions. The TV set expects to be turned on and be set to the proper channel, crossing the street requires pressing a button on the traffic lights, an empty fridge is patiently waiting to be filled up with fresh products. There are countless examples of simple activities which take up our time – the time which could be spent in a very different way. If we take into consideration the fact that according to the statics we spend on average over 4 years driving cars, the prospect of saving such considerable amount of time seems to be definitely tempting. 

The idea that devices are able to communicate with each other freely and independently and are able to make their own decisions or produce certain reactions without human supervision seems to be both unbelievable and unrealistic. However, nothing could be further from the truth.   

According to Gartner’s forecast, by the end of the year 2020 approximately 25 billion of devices available on the market will be connected to the Internet of Things technology.


What exactly is the Internet of Things?

The term Internet of Things relates to advanced communication network established among devices. Precisely – it is the device and everyday objects which create a network of connections which allows them to exchange information previously collected by a system of sensors. 

Such technology is currently quite common as some cars are already equipped with a technology enabling them to detect a potential defect in the braking system of the car making it switch to emergency mode forcing to limit its speed. The next step might be for the system to automatically contact the nearest control station and send exact location details to the emergency road service. 

Devices equipped with sensors (so called smart sensors) and with the ability to communicate with each other in order to make our life easier are nether imagined, nor prototypes still stored in highly protected labs. This is a technology which is already in commercial use! The division seems to be quite obvious – some of them are briefly presented below.

Smart Home

The idea of an intelligent home means turning your house into fully integrated environment where all electrical devices are compatible and able to communicate with each other. Intelligent house enables its owners to fully manage this mechanism and adapt it according to their personal requirements. As well as ensuring safety, smart home also enables to efficiently manage its resources.   

What does it mean in practice? 

Nest Learning Thermostat


Nest Thermostat is a great example of a device which can smartly adjust the temperature in your house to match the needs of its inhabitants.  The device is fully compatible with mobile applications owing to which the temperature of the house can be managed.  What is interesting about Nest is the fact that it teaches itself about the life pattern of the inhabitants of the house and just after a week is able to adjust itself to set proper temperature depending on the time of the day.  What is more, it can also teach the users to save energy by means of a special leaf icon. The longer you have it, the more energy it is able to save! 


Philips Hue-Smart Home Lighting


Smart home lighting set, as the very name suggests, obviously enables to manage the light in your home by means of a smartphone. Interesting, however, not so astounding solution. The users are not only able to decorate their house with the range of 16 million colours – even sampled from your favourite photo from their holidays, but also set a perfect ambiance for various occasions – during a weekend gathering with friends turn the house into a disco where the light will be perfectly synchronized with your favourite music. What is more, Philips Hue-Smart Home Lighting will ensure unforgettable experience for each avid gamer as it can synchronize with almost every TV game – impressive, isn’t it? Now, a treat for sleep lovers – imagine, that every day you’re being woken up by a beautiful light of sunrise regardless the weather. Yes, this can obviously be done owing to this magnificent set. Its possibilities are endless, including also an option to synchronize it with the alarm your smartphone imitating the sound of singing birds making your morning even more pleasant and improving your mood. 

It is also worth noting, that it can be automated with the Nest Thermostat.  


Amazon Echo



In order for your home to be fully smart it needs to use voice to communicate with its inhabitants – just like it was depicted in sci-fi films. Amazon Echo gives you this opportunity being a powerful device closed in an inconspicuously looking small black tube. Seven microphones enable the device to listen to your commands. It is hands free and can be fully controlled with your voice. To activate it you just need to use the name “Alexa” prior to the command and then the device knows that it is not just a random conversation but a command it is instantly eager to process. The device uses wireless connection with a special cloud – serving as its brain – which analyses the questions and commands in real time. 

Therefore, asking Alexa for the current weather forecast, news update or making notes on the shopping list which will be automatically saved on your smartphone is quick and effortless. Of course, Amazon Echo works perfectly with a range of other smart devices – it can be easily connected with aforementioned smart light by Philips or Nest Thermostat – it is just a matter of proper setup.


Smart metering


Smart Metering enables automated, two-way communication between the central system of the energy provider and electricity meter in the house of the recipients enabling to record the consumption of electricity. For exactly such purposes a unique application Tauron eLicznik was created. Having access to individual user account in the central system of the energy provider the application is able to present the data on energy consumption in a given household. The data can be displayed in real time on user’s mobile device like smartphone or tablet. Being compatible with smart meters, the application not only allows to monitor and manage energy consumption using only  your smartphone but it also simplifies the process of connecting and disconnecting new users. 

Smart City

Urban environment needs smart solutions connected with energy consumption redution, transportation or safety management not less than a house. The Internet of Things provides solutions to real problems existing in every urban area. Having Interconnected devices in such an environment seems to be a natural consequence of advancement of technology and civilization. Smart city solutions are already in operation making the life of the inhabitants of the cities easier. Here are some of them. 

Bigbelly



One of the main problems troubling modern cities is obviously the amount of rubbish. Unfortunately, the bigger the city, the more waste it produces. The problem of rubbish is literally immense and visible, for instance the Fresh Kills landfill located in the New York borough has expanded so much in the recent years that it is already visible from the space. 

The solution to this problem are smart garbage containers. Sounds ridiculous? Not so much after all if we take a closer look at the numerous advantages of these smart bins. Apart from the wireless connection, the special container is also equipped with sensors which allow it to measure the level of rubbish inside, a press mechanism to reduce the space rubbish takes, not to mention the ability to inform the management center about the fact that it is full which can significantly reduce the distance and frequency of garbage trucks going around the city to empty half full containers. Last but not least, Bigbelly stations are powered with solar panels making them even more eco-friendly. And do you still think that a rubbish container can’t be smart?


CitySense

Designed by a Dutch company, TviLight lightning control is not a typical motion sensor.  It is an energy-saving solution after being installed on street lamps it smartly adapts the lighting depending on the presence of pedestrians, cyclists or cars creating so called light tunnel on demand.  The network of sensors communicating with one another and collecting the data about traffic is the core of the system. Therefore, while driving a car we will be enthusiastically welcomed by a number of lamps ahead of us, and not just by the ones within car’s range.  What is even more interesting, the system adjusts the brightness of the lights in such a way  that they are only dimmed to predefined level of brightness instead turning them completely off. Moreover, the sensors are programmed in such a way that they are not activated by movements of animals or objects moved by wind – it only reacts to human activity.  Built-in astronomical clock connected to a network of sensors activates the lamps at the right time depending on the season of the year when light it is most necessary.  The benefits are numerous: the device is really cost-effective and can help to save over 80% of electricity, 50% of maintenance costs and, obviously, it significantly reduces the carbon dioxide emission. 

SerFarm

The aim behind the project of IoT implementation called Serfarm created for dairy Factory launched in 2016 was to enhance the process of monitoring the temperature and humidity in the areas where dairy products are stored. The system was based on Raspberry PI 2 and by means of sensors it checks the temperature in each of the rooms and in case of any discrepancies automatically sends alert to predefined users. The project will be further advanced by implementing energy saving solutions for refrigerators as well as incorporating monitoring of the production machines into the system. 




Waspmote Plug&Sense


Another significant problem of developed urban areas is limited number of parking spaces, especially if we think about the very centers of the cities or shopping malls. Finding a free parking spot is often quite a challenge. However, if the drivers were aware if parking spaces are occupied or not, it could save them dozens of minutes of futile rounds around the parking lot. Such a system is already in successful operation in Santander in northern Spain where over 1125 sensors have been installed. The devices monitoring the status of the parking spaces are the size of a small round disc and installing such a disc takes no more than 10 minutes. The device is equipped with a magnetic sensor which detects the presence of the car on the parking space. Collected data are further transmitted via radio to base installed nearby which then transmits the status of each device further to the management central base via wireless connection.  Owing to the nature of communication with the central base, it is possible for such devices to operate freely on one battery for a period from 4 to 6 years.  

Apart from obvious benefits like saving time and money, the system also helps to reduce the carbon dioxide emission and reduce noise. What is more, in the further perspective it may also contribute to the reduction of the number of people suffering from recurrent respiratory infections.


Spectral 360


In 2015 Leaware company was working on a project to optimize parking spaces in the UK. The system of detection of available parking places was bases on the use of already installed and available CCTV cameras. Specially designed algorithm to detect objects in the range of camera vision enabled to determine the status of given parking place. What is more, the application could project the distribution and movement of objects in real time determining if this is a car, a person or an animal. 


Our view

Looking at the presented examples the World of Things is apparently already a real, existing phenomenon and sooner or later we will be experiencing it ourselves. Technology is still a major, yet exciting challenge giving an excellent opportunity for development. The possible ways of applying it are endless and prospects of benefits already obvious. What needs to be noted, however, is the fact that the real challenge connected with the Internet of Things lies in creating a business platform allowing for cooperation among myriad of companies which will be engaged both in the production of software and hardware for such technology. Such type of partnership was already mentioned by T K Kurien during a conference in Davos in 2016:

Partnership approach is really important in such an interconnected environment as when your business partner earns money, you also take profit from it. 

Davos 2016 - The Internet of Things Is Here

T K Kurien