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Internet of Things: The Future is Coming

internet-of-thingsFrom comics to cartoons, from science fiction to fantasy we have been shown a future where our cars drive themselves, our coffee makers start themselves, and our houses adjust their temperature settings at our remote command. Getting information or entertainment will be as simple as asking for it aloud.  Planning your daily commute will be a breeze because your car will already know where there is congestion on your route.

That future may be coming sooner than you think as the Internet of Things (IoT) strives to make almost everything we use able to connect to the internet. After all, the IoT is a giant network of connected “things”, which can also include people.  Through the use of applications and APIs we will be able to start appliances in our homes, set the thermostat and even remotely tap into our security systems to check on the house. IoT relationships will be between people-people, people-things, and things-things.

The Internet of Things was originally conceived to enable increased machine-to-machine communication. Being built on cloud computing and networks of data-gathering sensors allows it to be mobile, virtual, and to have instantaneous connection. With the IoT, everything in our lives from streetlights to industrial machinery can be made “smart.” Gathering all the data from these sensors and storing it for review requires the use of cloud computing and new applications written to gain insights that can be gleaned from the information. However, smaller and more targeted IoT applications may not require the cloud for their day-to-day tasks. Interconnected “smart” washers and dryers may simply pass information back and forth, letting the washing machine tell the dryer what settings were used to wash clothes so the dryer can adjust its settings to match.

Industrial machines such as oil drilling rigs and jet engines can also be made “smart”, letting operators know when operating temperatures are starting to spike or other ‘unseeable’ problems are starting to develop. This will allow time for graceful shutdown or for emergency procedures to begin to help avoid a catastrophic failure. Buildings can be made “smart”, using motion sensors to detect when areas are empty and no longer need climate control or full illumination allowing us to decrease our carbon footprint and fight global warming.

IoT will bring its challenges along with its benefits. We already understand the need for robust applications and hardened security in our day-to-day online lives. How will adding IoT change this?

  • Sending sensitive information over the Internet requires layers of security including data encryption and website verification. When the amount of information being transmitted suddenly spikes due to IoT devices sending information, we will still have to be sure that the information goes only where intended and that it is held securely once it gets there.
  • When IoT-connected devices can be controlled remotely, there has to be security in place to ensure that only those people or applications that are allowed to control the device have access to it. The idea of someone hacking your coffee maker may sound ridiculous, but if they can get from your coffee maker to your PC or phone they may be able to get to your home or business security system to defeat it.
  • New protocols and APIs will have to be developed to enable the functionality that is called for by the IoT. These protocols and APIs will have to be rigorously tested using tools designed to not only test functionality (making sure everything works as specified) but to test the anomalies and corner-cases where problems or latent security holes are uncovered.

For the individual consumer, these things are unseen but not unfelt when APIs don’t work right or security holes are found that require software updates or other workarounds  Adoption of the IoT is in progress right now because the benefits appear to outweigh the risks. However, loss of confidence in IoT due to security problems or performance issues can slow IoT acceptance tremendously, which would be a shame. For those companies adding IoT functionality to their devices, a key requirement will be to test it thoroughly to ensure the security and full functionality of their offerings to the general public.

 

Internet of Things: The Future is Coming

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