The Internet of Things and You

  • April 27, 2016

    When you hear of “the Internet of Things” a couple images may come to mind.  Maybe you think of refrigerators that notice you’re out of milk and automatically place an order for you or maybe it’s small cards which look like circuit boards but hold an entire computer, which are supposed to be great for the classroom.  Maybe you think of the thermostats that know the weather outside, the weather inside, and know when you leave and come home and where you are in the house and send it to some secret bunker somewhere for people to analyze.  I’d like to take a moment to demystify some of the stigmas of the Internet of Things (IoT) and seed your imagination with the possibilities that come with IoT.

    What is the Internet of Things, really?

    At its most basic level, IoT refers to physical objects that are connected to a network.  Those physical objects might be humidity sensors, heart rate monitors, dog food dishes, doors, scales… the list is endless.  The network may be public or private, wired or wireless, connected to the cloud or simply to the computer running in your basement.  Most importantly, that physical object is sharing data with an endpoint on the network, which gives insight to the status of the object and its environment.

    The connection between the physical object and the network is what makes IoT truly amazing.  All of your stuff that you use and rely on day to day, can now talk to you, tell you how it’s doing, and tell you if something is wrong.  Consider, for example, how valuable that ability can be for objects that are difficult to access like commuter tunnels. With thousands of people traveling through a tunnel daily, the current practice is to do maintenance at night or disrupt traffic flow. Imagine instead, setting up a sensor that will notify a team immediately if there is any structural shift in the tunnel. Human interaction continues to be necessary, but with the additional information provided by the IoT devices, the interaction can be more focused, timely, and effective. Devices monitoring structural integrity is one example of unlimited possibilities.  Medicine, Health Care, Industry, Agriculture, Commerce… IoT has massive potential in all types of fields.

    So about my data….

    Ah yes, data privacy – a hugely important concern and one that deserves to be discussed on a number of levels.

    Keep in mind that an IoT network does not necessarily mean that the object is talking to the internet at large.  An IoT device, more likely, is sharing information through a private network like your home or work.  This means the data that is being collected and shared is as well protected as the other information on your network.

    Also, keep in mind that you can control what information is being transmitted.  Personally identifiable information (PII) is not a mandatory element in IoT.  Your humidifier may simply be sharing a humidity reading every hour in your greenhouse, which is information that isn’t valuable to anyone but yourself.

    Conversely, you have much less control over third-party devices that have been integrated into your world.  Yes, there are absolutely devices that share data back with external parties.  Ideally, this information is used anonymously, meaning that your PII is not associated with the analytics and outcomes generated by your data.  In this situation, you get all the benefits of an analysis of your data, but the data scientist that assisted in the analysis would never know it was you.  The situation is very similar to sharing an anonymous survey that allows a business to improve their services.

    As with all things, this technology can be used inappropriately; and companies may sell your personal information to others for their personal benefit, or may take control of your personal devices.  This is serious, but nothing new.  We need to be responsible consumers, look out for one another, and police nefarious uses of our data.  Security, encryption, software updates, and common sense all help in this effort. Privacy and security groups make a dedicated effort to keep us educated.

    Okay, then where do I start?

    IoT devices are leveraged by both professionals and hobbyists, at work and at home.  The first step is identifying the cool, exciting way that IoT can improve your life.  Once you know what you’d like, the implementation is a web search (or an email) away.  Below are a few ideas to get the brain turning:

    • A personal friend of mine took her garage opener to the next level by integrating it with her door locks. When she opens her garage, the remote also notifies the garage doors to unlock and allow her in the house.  Once she closes the garage (after a delay so she can get in the house) the doors lock behind her.
    • One of the Partners here at Attunix has water sensors in his lawn that let his sprinkler system know when they should turn on based on both the time of day as well as the condition of the lawn. No wasted water on rainy days.
    • On the next level, Attunix helped build sensors for water and fertilizer pumps for farms. The sensors notify the farmer if a pump isn’t working.  The farmer can address the issue immediately, instead of finding out during the harvest that one of the crops wasn’t getting water.

    More information

    Hopefully, this brief introduction to the Internet of Things was valuable for you and may have sparked some ideas for how you can integrate IoT into your personal or professional life smartly, safely, and securely.  Please check out an overview of IoT Services offered by Attunix, as well as our IoT Proof of Concept In-a-Box offering. We would be thrilled to have a personalized conversation with you as well, feel free to send us a note through our contact page or email us at info@attunix.com.  We can’t wait to hear from you!

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