“In the future, radio will be transformed into a ‘big brain,’ all things will become part of a single whole, and the tools that make it possible will fit easily in your pocket.”
Nikola Tesla. In an interview for Collier’s magazine. 1926г.
Someday any thing that cannot be contacted online will seem as obsolete as a wooden wheel with an iron rim compared to the wheel of a modern car. Of course, both are round, but the functionality and complexity are qualitatively different. The new generation of things (smart things) will not only be “smart,” but also networked – the Internet of Things (IoT). No one can say for sure how the world will look in 15-20 years because of the upcoming metamorphosis of the things that surround us, but we can say with certainty that the upheaval will be no less than that caused by the current Internet or cellular communications. Therefore, now, in advance, the IoT is becoming the subject of broad, including speculative, discussion.
Having coined the term Internet of Things in 1999, Kevin Ashton, founder of the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, clearly did not anticipate the current turn of events. Over the years, the idea of the IoT has broadened and deepened noticeably – thirteen years ago, the scale of the coming changes seemed much more modest.
What is the Internet of Things
In English, “Internet of Things” sounds like the Internet of Things, or simply IoT. Remember this acronym, it will appear more and more often in the media and on the world wide web.
In simple terms, the Internet of Things is a network that connects all the objects around you. A network of computers, tablets, smart phones and even television sets is something everyone is used to. But what if this network included toasters, coffee machines, refrigerators, toothbrushes, water pipes, electrical grids, blood pressure monitors? Imagine how different the world would be if you could control every thing wirelessly!
For example, you are stuck in a stuffy traffic jam after a hard day at the office and you are looking forward to getting home, feeling cool, taking a warm bath, and drinking a cup of fresh coffee. All you need to do is tell the smartphone all your wishes. And then it will send the commands to the air-conditioning equipment, plumbing and coffee-machine. When you will arrive, the breezer will make the air fresh, the air conditioner will make it cool, the bathtub will be filled with water of a comfortable temperature, and a fresh Americano will be waiting on the table. Sound good?
But before we fantasize about the future, let’s take a look back at the Internet of Things.
How the Internet of Things came to be
Back in 1926, the famous physicist Nikola Tesla predicted that radio would grow into a “big brain” that would unite things into one big whole. And all this would be possible thanks to instruments so compact that they would fit in a pocket.
Another person who expressed similar ideas was the Soviet military commander Nikolai Vasilievich Ogarkov. He was the author of the so-called network-centric approach to combat operations. The essence of the principle: all resources for a particular task should be in one information network and should constantly exchange data. Is this not the Internet of things?
But these are all general words. The specifics came a little later. In 1990, MIT graduate John Romkey connected his toaster to the Internet. It was the first officially registered object from the Internet of Things.
By the way, John Romkey is one of the fathers of the TCP/IP protocol, the one that lies at the heart of the Internet itself. Nine years after the Internet toaster, another MIT graduate, Kevin Ashton, figured out how to control industrial objects via the internet. Ashton coined the term “Internet of Things.”
That same year, 1999, and at MIT, the Auto-ID Center appeared. In it, the researchers developed two main areas: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and sensor technology. We will talk about these technologies next time. For now we will only note that it is thanks to the efforts of the Auto-ID Center the concept of Internet of Things has become known around the world.
Internet of Things Now
A key event in the development of the Internet of Things occurred not so long ago, in 2008-2009. That’s when the official transition from the Internet of People to the Internet of Things took place. How was this defined? Very simply: in 2008-2009, there were more items on the Internet than people.
And from then on, the number of devices connected to the Internet has only grown. And at a crazy pace. Already today, 20 billion devices of all kinds are connected to the Internet: from industrial machines to smartphones.
Some examples of real internet things in our world:
– Radio tags on animals’ bodies
– A wi-fi dog bowl that gives a dog tasks and rewards food for correct answers.
– A solar-powered trash can that compacts the trash itself and signals the janitors when it’s full
– Smart sensors and water meters in infrastructure in São Paulo, Beijing and Doha cut leaks and costs by 50%
– Automated systems to collect fines and alerts for accidents and traffic jams
It’s no surprise that smart things have emerged. After all, we know that progress is often driven by laziness. The invention of the wheel, the lever, the replacement of levers with buttons, the appearance of remote controls – all this man invented to make mechanisms and devices work instead of him.
And now many devices from the Internet of Things world, in fact, perform the same function as a remote control. Whereas a light bulb used to turn on only after a person pressed a switch, now a programmed computer turns the lights on and off. And the person controls the computer with a smartphone.
The lights have become energy-efficient, they are not switched on manually, but through a mobile app. But the approach itself has remained the same: A person still controls the light bulb. Like most other modern Internet devices.
In the future, the Internet of Things will move further and further away from commands like
“do this” type commands to “should be that” type commands.
Prospects and Challenges of the Internet of Things
Experts promise that by 2020 there will be more than 50 billion different devices connected to the Internet. In the past, there simply would not have been enough IP addresses for all of them. But now the new Internet protocol IPv6 actually gives an infinite number of IP-addresses. So, Internet devices will have no problem with “registration”.
Another serious problem of Internet of things is uninterrupted power supply for devices; without it, they will fall out of the network, and all communication between them will be broken. Constantly changing the billions of batteries in billions of devices is wasteful, it takes too much time, attention and resources to create and dispose of batteries.
Conclusion: Internet things should get their own energy – from sunlight, vibrations, air currents. Recently there has been a significant breakthrough in this field. In 2011 scientists presented a flexible chip, a nanogenerator for creating energy from any human movements. So in the future we can expect the appearance of completely autonomous Internet things, which do not need batteries.
The third obstacle to the Internet of Things is the connection of devices to the Internet itself. Not every device can be equipped with a Wi-Fi module, at least because of the small size of the device. But even here, the achievements of scientists are encouraging. They have created a microchip, only 1 mm2 in size, with very low power consumption. Any device of any size will be able to connect to the network.
Finally, the main problem of today’s Internet of Things is the lack of a single standard. Now one company’s system controls the heating, another company controls the lighting, and a third company controls the microclimate. Eventually, all of these networks will merge into one. There are even special organizations that seek to fit the disparate networks of Internet things under one template.
What to expect next?
There will be a full-fledged Internet of Things with complex man-machine and machine-machine connections. All these problems will be solved sooner or later, it is only a matter of time.
Today 99% of various objects and devices remain off the Internet. So there is a lot of work ahead. This includes the developers of Tion. We also plan to expand our microclimate management network. We are now working on an additional module, MagicAir, which will enable us to control not only Tion O2 breezers, but also third-party climate devices.
How will this merger of devices from different companies end? It’s hard to say yet. Rob Van Kranenburg, an Internet of Things researcher with 15 years of experience, predicts that eventually the line between the real and virtual worlds will be erased. The Internet of Things will make the physical world look like an open-browser display.
And at the end of a conversation that began by looking at the problem “in general,” let’s turn, as the canons of “top-down programming” dictate, to the technical details. To the magic formula that makes all of the above possible. It’s called “IPv6 transition”. The fact is that the network addresses for the old IPv4 were exhausted back in 2011 when the Internet of Things was just born. And hundreds of billions of sensors and tens of billions of autonomous devices will require a new, larger address space. IPv6 makes it possible to have at least 300 million unique IP addresses per person, which will enable the most intelligent environment.
Finally, the Internet of Things is a new stage in the evolutionary development of the Internet. Since human society’s progress relies heavily on turning raw data into useful information, knowledge and wisdom, the Internet of Things can bring many new and positive benefits to our lives. How quickly depends on you and me.