Everywhere you turn, IoT devices are popping up as they increasingly populate workplaces and homes. The number of active IoT devices is expected to reach 22 billion by 2025, nearly tripling the amount in 2022. IoT systems operate on layers, with the first being sensors embedded in IoT devices. Let's explore what these devices and their applications are.
What IoT devices are capable of performing depends tremendously on the quality of the technology. Small IoT devices usually operate on low power, limiting the amount of data they can process in a specific time frame. IoT devices may also be limited by memory and size constraints.
IoT Device Components
The five components that make up IoT devices are sensors, computing, connectivity, power and housing. Here's a closer look at these five components:
- Sensors, actuators, and indicators - These components define the first layer of any IoT system. Their role is to convert information from the analog world into digital signals. Sensory devices such as meters are included in this initial layer. The term "things" in "internet of things" refers to network endpoints where raw data is collected. Sensors work with actuators such as automated switches in response to conditions that threaten physical objects. They can trigger responses that affect indicators such as an alert light turning red or the sound of an alarm. While sensors are not necessarily specific to applications, they are often designed for specific applications.
- Computing power - In order to process data at the endpoint where it's collected, IoT devices need a certain level of computing power. The choices for high-quality IoT are between microcontrollers and microprocessors. Microcontrollers don't require as much power and are generally cheaper than microprocessors. The main disadvantage to microcontrollers, which are often used in small devices, is they have less memory.
- Connectivity - An IoT device needs to have a way to transmit data to the cloud or a data center so that real-time data is available for access. Traditional connectivity includes ethernet cables, but today Wi-Fi allows for wireless transmission. The factors that affect selection of a connectivity method include how much power is available, transmission range and data volume.
- Power - It helps to know and plan for the power needs of an IoT device to avoid poor performance. You should know the voltage and current requirements of each device, as well as whether it runs on batteries or plugs into AC power. This information will help you plan for potential power interruptions. Ideally, the power source is reliable, such as AC or a long-lasting battery. The power needs of a device are affected by its durability, connection frequency and peak power load capacity.
- Housing - Where the sensors are installed can affect performance as well. It's best to keep sensors protected from extreme temperature, humidity and moisture. Sensors should also be free of contact with chemicals, UV rays and mechanical stress. Exposure to liquids or vapor can be troublesome for the lifespan of a sensor. To establish the right housing of a sensor, it's best to first understand the environment where it will be placed.
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Advanced IoT Devices
Some of the more advanced devices that interact with IoT platforms include autonomous vehicles, robots and drones. Autonomous machines have existed for several decades in the form of industrial assembly line equipment. The advances in IoT in recent years have helped speed up the development of self-driving cars. But the use of autonomous vehicles is mainly still limited to industrial and logistics operations.
Robotics is a field that has rapidly advanced in recent years after many decades of slow development. The combination of artificial intelligence and IoT sensors is now the foundation for modern design of advanced robots. Adding connectivity to a robot makes it much smarter than classic robot models. With the help of machine learning software and an internet connection to hundreds or thousands of IoT sensors, a robot can report a wealth of knowledge. A mobile robot, such as a drone or autonomous vehicle, potentially has even more powerful data collecting capabilities.
Technology that facilitates connectivity for advanced devices includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NB-IoT, along with 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G networks. Key considerations for selecting an IoT platform include whether the communication will be indoor or outdoor and in a private or public place. Another consideration is reliability for connectivity and uptime.
Demand for IoT Devices
Today, half of IoT platform manufacturers have sharpened their focus on producing sensors for manufacturing and industrial use, according to IoT Analytics. As business leaders become increasingly aware of the economic benefits associated with IoT, demand is expected to grow exponentially for the production of sensors in the next few years. The healthcare and retail industries also project high demand for IoT devices. As satellites populate space, it will attract new companies that integrate satellite and IoT technology.
Applications for IoT Devices
IoT devices come in various sizes. Some IoT devices are tiny, such as temperature sensors. Others are large, such as self-driving vehicles. The design of any IoT device is typically based on its application. Here are some of the many applications for IoT devices:
- Enterprise solutions - A multitude of business activities can be monitored by IoT sensors to improve an enterprise. Customer relations can improve significantly by tracking customer responses to store layout and marketing strategies. Cybersecurity uses IoT sensors to collect threat information that can then trigger a solution to prevent or mitigate a disaster. Companies may use IoT devices to track employee location and performance.
- Smart home integration - Homeowners are increasingly adopting smart technology to improve energy efficiency. A smart thermostat can automatically adjust the temperature of a room if it gets out of desired range. Many modern homes across America already have smart meters that monitor energy and water consumption. Homeowners can access this information on their smartphones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's home is set up for voice-activated commands for turning on lights and other functions. His security system uses facial recognition technology.
- Modern agriculture - IoT sensors can monitor several aspects of the environment to assist farmers with harvesting insights. The sensors can monitor soil composition, air and water quality and levels of harmful pollutants. This data can help farmers determine appropriate fertilizer. A farm can have sensors embedded in animals, as well as machinery to protect assets. Farmers use water data for irrigation planning. Agricultural professionals must also be cognizant of climate change, in which IoT sensors monitor weather patterns and trigger alerts for sudden storms and floods. They can get aerial views of their property from drone photography to evaluate harvesting conditions.
- Formation of smart cities - Resource management is a major reason many local governments are adopting smart city infrastructure. Cities can monitor pollution and traffic congestion, as well as resolve parking problems with strategically-placed IoT devices. Infrastructure elements such as street lights can use IoT sensors to report issues such as when lights need replacing. Disaster management is another area that calls for local officials to study IoT data to evaluate damage and help locate victims.
- Supply chain improvements - Effective supply chain management (SCM) is a major concern among manufacturers to ensure inventory gets transported safely from point A to B. Real-time trackers are used to locate products in warehouses and during deliveries. They can help determine smart routing choices and manage fleets remotely in real-time.
- Wearables for healthcare - These electronic items are worn by patients at home so that doctors can monitor them remotely. The real-time aspect of wearables can greatly improve medical research on top of saving lives. Telemedicine became more prominent during the pandemic, as remote meetings with doctors on smartphones helped reduce the strain of crowded hospitals. Wearables include smartwatches and fitness trackers, as well as various devices that track biological activity such as heart rate and blood pressure.
- Smart grids - Utility companies are steadily embracing smart grids and alternative energy to deal with growing power demand. When sensors detect power disruptions, they can trigger the use of alternative energy. IoT devices embedded throughout power plants can send alerts to identify power transmission problems. The sensors monitor energy consumption of the power plant as well as customers. Smart grids are destined to help energy producers go more green as they have sensors that analyze the operation's carbon footprint.
- Connected factories - Manufacturers use industrial IoT (IIoT) to streamline operations and resolve system vulnerabilities as they appear. IoT technology enables a cost-cutting strategy known as cost-based maintenance (CBM), in which maintenance is conducted only if necessary. Managers can use IoT data to prioritize maintenance issues. Factories also use IoT devices for product testing and development.
IoT is about collecting and transmitting real-time data, but in order to be useful, it must accompany competent data analysis, by humans, machines or both. Investing in the right IoT devices and hiring appropriate talent can elevate your business beyond traditional expectations.