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How IoT Works: A SIMPLE Explanation

Are you curious about how IoT works? (IoT = “Internet of Things”) or intimidated by the complex terms technologists use to describe it?

What is the IoT?

To sum it all, IoT works by thinking of devices as people who gather information about their environment. This information is exchanged between devices using protocols (like language), and they store and/or save their shared data (like memories). These data are processed and then returned to you in a useful manner.

Sometimes, the information is automatically acted upon (e.g. fight-or flight response). Sometimes, more direct input from the user is needed (e.g. reasoning).

1) How IoT devices/sensors function

The Internet of Things starts with sensors and devices collecting information about their environment.

Just as you and me are continually ingesting stimuli (sound, vibrations, temperature, humidity etc.) Smart devices/sensors can do the same.

This is the core of IoT: data input/collection. It’s a lot.

Although we can collect a lot of data as humans, smart devices/sensors tend to only collect a small amount of data.

Contact sensors, for example, collect data about whether an object is closed or open.

These sensors can also collect data about temperature and vibration intensity.

The more capabilities you have in your smart devices, generally speaking, the fewer of them you will need to accomplish complex tasks.

2) IoT device communication: How does it work?

Smart devices/sensors can collect data once they are done. They need to be able to share that data with other smart devices.

This is communication in everyday life. It is connected with the Internet of Things.

While we humans use language for communication, smart devices/sensors use protocol.

Consider the following simple example:

The home is shared by an English-speaking person and a French-speaking person.

The English speaker is sitting in the living room, where it is 85 degrees. He shouts to the French speaker about how hot it is.

The French speaker is still in the kitchen, where the radio is turned up loudly. He is yelling at the English speaker about how loud it is.

They both collect data from their environment and attempt to communicate that information to one another, but they speak different languages.

This is the biggest challenge with IoT today: there is no single protocol (language that smart devices can speak). Many smart products don’t work together because of this.

You can’t make sense of the data that comes in if you don’t get it.

There is a way around it.

SmartHubs = Translators

A translator can also be used to translate French into English or English to French. A smart Hub (sometimes called a Gateway or Bridge) can serve as a translator for smart devices that use different protocols.

Smart hubs gather data from these smart devices, centralise it, and then transform it into one, readable language.
What does the smart hub do with all of this data?

It transmits it to the cloud.

3) How IoT cloud processing functions

Another term that makes everyone feel uneasy is “secretly”.

The cloud, in its simplest form, allows us to access information and services remotely via the internet (think Google Docs).

That’s it. That’s it.

local access is when you have access to your information or service only from your computer. (Think Microsoft Word).

Each has its pros and cons, but the cloud offers a lot more flexibility than local access. As long as you have an internet connection you can access your data/service.

Example: To access a Google Doc I don’t have to take my laptop. I can use the laptop of a friend and continue where I left off.

Instead, I would have to use my actual computer to continue work on the Word Document I had saved to my desktop.

  1. The downside to the cloud is that you are out of luck without the internet.
    There are obvious security flaws. Because the cloud can be accessed via the internet, it is more vulnerable than local services.
    But I digress.

Once all data has been collected and properly communicated to the smart hub, it is sent to the cloud. Services that reside in the cloud (software), begin to process it. This is similar to how our minds process a multitude of information.

4) How IoT automation works
This is where magic happens, and the Internet of Things has become a rapidly growing field.
Once the data has been collected, processed, translated and sent to the cloud, it is now ready to be presented to others and possibly acted upon.

This can happen in two ways:

  1. Automatically
  2. Direct user input is required
  1. Automatic
    Data is automatically acted upon without any direct human intervention.
    This is similar to the fight/flight response of your body – your body receives information, processes it quickly and then responds to it. This happens with very little or no input from you
    Humans do not always want the desired outcome. This is where the comparison begins to fail – the Internet of Things allows for tight control over the outcome.

Automation with the IoT is an example:

  1. The smart sensor detects dust levels in the bedroom and measures them with an air quality monitor
  2. The smart air quality sensor communicates once the dust level reaches a predetermined level with your smart vacuum cleaner and turns it on
  3. The vacuum cleaner starts vacuuming the room and brings down the dust to an acceptable level.
  1. This example shows how data are constantly monitored and dust levels managed without your input.

Direct user input required
Sometimes action is not taken automatically.
The majority of the time, the information is processed before being presented to the user.
The user takes appropriate action based on the information. This is similar in nature to the way humans use reason to make everyday decisions based upon the information they have processed.

Here’s an example of user input via the IoT

  1. Smart temperature sensors collect temperature readings from your basement
  2. A text message alerts you if the basement temperature drops below 55 degrees
  3. Then you decide to heat your basement.

In this case, the action was taken by IoT to notify the user that a temperature threshold had been exceeded.

The user used this information to turn the heat up.
Both of these examples show how the IoT allowed us to see real-time data at a scale we have never seen before. Remote monitoring of our homes and lives is possible.
5) IoT and Industry
I have focused the discussion of IoT up to this point on the consumer and the individual. As you can see, the Internet of Things also has enormous implications for industry.

Surprisingly, this is where IoT started to grow its roots: right on the manufacturing floor.
Manufacturers can analyse and collect mountains of data using sensors and devices. This is done to increase safety, efficiency, and productivity.
Sensors can detect the problem and order replacement parts or service if a machine is not working. This reduces downtime and increases efficiency.
These sensors enable companies to continuously improve their analysis and, now, with Artificial Intelligence, take that example one step further.
They can now predict when a computer is likely to cease working and prevent it does so.

IoT and Artificial Intelligence
It is impossible to talk about IoT without mentioning Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (ML).

It is crucial to understand the differences.Although they can be used interchangeably, they do not necessarily mean the same thing.

Artificial intelligence is the idea that machines can perform tasks in ways we would consider intelligent.

Machine Learning is an AI application that is based on the belief we should be able “feed” computers data and let them learn.

What does Artificial Intelligence have to do with IoT?

There are only a few “smart” products and homes available right now. To work properly and effectively, they require a lot of guidance and input from us.

What if homes could anticipate our needs and learn from us? Imagine if our homes could anticipate what we might want and when it will be available.

Artificial intelligence promises this promise.

We will be discussing the dust level automation example.

Earlier, you (the user) had to set up the automation first.

It would then run “automatically” from there.

AIoT Automation

This automation could be achieved using the Internet of Things + Artificial Intelligence, or AIoT.

An intelligent wearable device can detect if you are allergic.

This will be communicated to your smart air quality sensor.

Based on your level of sensitivity, this sensor will measure dust levels.

Your smart vacuum will start cleaning your home if the dust levels are too high.

The ability to reduce dust levels in the air.
The automation will create by itself.
That’s it. This is how IoT works.
My industry, the technology industry, loves buzzwords.
These terms can be confusing and may not help lay people understand why they are important.
I hope this explanation helps to clarify it for you. It also gives you hope for the future of the Internet of Things.


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