Since the advent of the Internet and the world wide web, people have realized the immense advantage of being interconnected: easy transfer of information, the ability to access remote equipment, communicate and work with people on the other side of the globe, just to list few advantages.
The benefits of this digital interconnection have led to the birth of new technologies and new fields of application for existing technologies: industrial (eg SCADA architecture, protocols such as Modbus, Profibus), energy/utilities (DNP3 protocols), machine to machine (M2M), BMS (building management system with BACnet, KNX, X10 protocols) or the Industry 4.0 concept.
Of course, not only in industry, this current trend of digitization and interconnection has found its applicability. People, aware of the advantage of the basic TV remote control, searched for the ability to access the smart elements of their house through the internet. Why not adjust the home heating system before leaving the office? Why not control a forgotten consumer while plugged remotely, during Holiday?
This need to interconnect the things around us has generated the concept of IoT, the Internet of Things: millions of smart devices, interconnected in the great internet network, transmitting information, receiving messages, and performing actions.
not just a smart home.
Many people associate the concept of IoT with the concept of a smart home or attached to consumer goods. The reality is that this concept of the interconnection of things is implemented in all industries, appearing specific acronyms: IIoT (industrial internet of things), IoMT (internet of medical things), V2X (vehicle to everything), even NFC tags and codes QR on the products led to the appearance of the term Internet of Packaging.
The concept of IoT sums up a multitude of technologies, coming from standalone embedded devices that start to be interconnected, physical interfaces, and the communication protocols used up to the server and secure data stored in the cloud.
What devices are generally interconnected?
Any device we can imagine, which can bring an improvement or facilitate the day-to-day life of a modern human. Either if we speak about the quality of the living environment, efficiency in work productivity, or an increase in comfort. We can speak about:
- an intelligent electrical outlet (which can be turned on and off from thousands of kilometers away)
- a video camera installed in an operating room that allows resident doctors in another country to observe the operation (facilitating the formation of new specialist)
- a gas meter that periodically transmits instantaneous consumption and total consumption
- an environmental sensor that transmits the level of pollution and ambient temperature
- a robot in a factory that transmits the current position, status, number of operations performed, enabling analytics
The fact that the range of devices that can be included in the IoT concept is so diversified differentiates them in implementation by:
- Power source: the device is not connected to the national power grid - does it need to be powered by a battery/accumulator?
- Data to be transmitted and periodicity: will rarely transmit a small data packet (example: a smart switch) or transmit a continuous stream of data (example: a webcam);
- Working environment and external factors: is it a beacon at sea that transmits data? Is it a gateway in an automation panel in a factory? Is it a smart audio system in a student room?
All these requirements have a major role in conditioning the transmission environment and the protocols used:
- Transmission on the 110Vac / 230Vac network, benefiting from the already created infrastructure, using special KNX, X10 protocols. These are more specific to BMS systems, but not only.
- Twisted cable transmission: either serial transmission (RS232, RS485, CAN), using Modbus, Profibus protocols, specific to the industrial area; or the ethernet cable transmission where we have the TCP / IP suite with the main mentions: MQTT, HTTP, UDP, ONVIF (protocols located in the category of IoT for home users), but also Profinet, Modbus over TCP / IP (protocols specific to the industrial area and automation)
- Radio transmission, 433MHz, 868MHz band (NSRD band, free in most of the EU) is used mainly for IoT devices specific to home consumers with various internally developed or public protocols (eg SimpliciTi - Texas Instruments). All this non-licensed environment is used through the LoRaWAN protocol, LoRa modulation, obtaining long transmission distances (~ 10km) with low energy consumption. Another protocol worth mentioning is Z-Wave, also dedicated to home users.
- Radio transmission, 2.4GHz, 5GHz band, where protocols such as Bluetooth, Bluetooth Mesh (2.4GHz), WiFi, Thread, ZigBee, KNXnet / IP have been implemented. These allow higher transfer rates, some benefit from existing infrastructure (eg WiFi)
- Transmission through the GSM / GPRS network and its subsequent evolutions allow the coverage of the global distances that allow the use of the TCP / IP suite, but also specific applications: SMS or NB-IoT.
We listed quite a few, but as can be seen the number of these transmission media and protocols is very diverse. It enables diversity, but there are still several issues that are not fully resolved: compatibility, standardization, security of transmitted data, etc.
However, there are some means of communication/protocols that have passed the test of time and some that are in the incipient phase but are experiencing a special development/acceptance. Worth mentioning: RS485, CAN, LoRa, Bluetooth, Wifi and Modbus, Profibus / Profinet, MQTT, LoRaWAN, OPC UA, TCP / IP suite.
where does the transmitted information converge?
The two elements presented above (the device and the transmission medium) do not fully define the concept of IoT. The element that answers the question remains to be defined: where does the information convey converge?
To answer this question, usually, IoT concepts contain a central element, a server. Whether we are talking about a local server, our own, or we are talking about using a commercial platform, in 99% of cases, such a server is necessary (to use a generic name of "information concentrator").
Currently, there are large commercial platforms on the market that provide services (server processing & cloud storage) specifically designed to serve the IoT industry.
There are also "open source" platforms that target the home user with technical knowledge. Everyone can implement their server, can make or integrate their own devices.
The main communication protocols (MQTT, ONVIF, ZigBee, Z-Wave) are integrated, but also devices of well-known manufacturers can be integrated.
Further custom hardware modules can be integrated, APIs, and frameworks that can be easily used to develop complete devices and solutions in the shortest possible time.
Reading the first part of the article, one may consider that the explosion of the IoT concept was mainly determined by the need for this interconnection. However, there is another important factor: information storage, the ability to have a digital history.
For the usual user, who looks at the definition of IoT only from the perspective of the smart home concept, the important thing is that he can turn on the air conditioning before getting home. Our goal as AUSY is to support the community, support our partners, facilitate access to IoT knowledge, learn together and shape our future.
The concept of IoT opens new opportunities (for example in the field of artificial intelligence), new concepts are developed, such as direct communication between smart devices with a high degree of autonomy, development of prediction models in various fields: climate, pollution, local fauna and migration, seismic activity prediction, prediction in the utility sector (water, energy, garbage) or public transport.
For several decades we have witnessed this trend of digital interconnection, both from the perspective of a human2human, human2machine, and human2environment.
And, perhaps we must not forget that in addition to this technological development that leads to the spread of this concept, we have to develop other elements - very important from a social point of view:
- educate and inform the users about these concepts, what it implies, what advantages it brings, responsibilities which come along
- standardization of the field, standardization that will ensure compatibility
- legislative framework, just slightly noticed, but which is also necessary for the protection of the users, the consumer of IoT devices, and information.
This article was written by Petru Muraru, AUSY's practice lead IoT and Dan Pasare, senior SW developer.