What is the Internet of Things?
The “Internet of Things” is a phrase of convenience describing how everything in the world could be connected via the internet, with a view to each and every “thing” interacting somehow with the rest. Clearly it’s a “catch-all” phrase that lacks clarity, but it’s become a useful brand label for what many people think of as “the future.”
In reality, the Internet of Things can mean anything to anybody. For example, in the domestic context, it can involve connecting household appliances – even vehicles - to a home hub and having some kind of central intelligence control how the house operates. For example, if a stove senses that a car is on its way back to the house, it can turn itself on to start cooking a meal. Or the alarm system can be turned off, or the heating turned up and the garage doors opened just as we arrive. And if some of these systems can be connected centrally to fire or police authorities, then further benefits can arise too.
Home automation was an early example of IoT hype in action. It is faltering now because of an issue that we automation users have known since the dawn of digitalization – a lack of standards leading to market fragmentation.
A better example is health, where you and I may become “things” on the network. If our health records can be monitored centrally, and our doctors can access our personal data live while talking to us over the internet, then both the health and the economic benefits could be massive.
Railways, street lamps and similar applications have been quoted as other examples of IoT in action. In manufacturing automation the examples are few at the moment but, ironically, automation is where “Industrial IoT” may well catch on quickest. That’s because we’re perfectly at ease with monitoring our equipment and systems already.
Data flies around our networks continually, all of it available for a variety of uses beyond automation control. We’ve been doing it for decades and concepts like remote machine diagnostics and predictive maintenance are widely practiced today. If we extend these benefits and add more, then the outcome could indeed be world-changing.
In effect, Industrial IoT represents the integration of (OT) Operating Technologies and (IT) Information Technologies. In automation, the benefits could include higher efficiencies, greater up times, faster repairs, and higher quality. More significant benefits could arise however if IoT can deliver fresh insights into how our plants work and enable us to operate them in better ways.
New business models become possible, opening up new opportunities for vendors and customers. For example, it may be possible for devices and systems to be marketed under leasing or pay-per-use concepts, or for vendors to reach new target groups.