For some time, a new acronym has entered the lexicon of information technology: IoT, an acronym for Internet of Things – or the Internet of Things. The origins of this new term (and of the technology behind it) are essentially two: the speed and ubiquity of mobile networks on the one hand and the ever-increasing miniaturization of electronics on the other – and we’re not just talking about calculation devices but above all sensors. A concise definition: if a device is intelligent and connected, then we are talking about IoT.
In other words, we refer to a small system equipped with a microprocessor, memory, and network adapter, capable of managing sensors and actuators (as well as any displays) to connect a computer network to the real world and people. This phenomenon began with (and thanks to) everything that led to today’s telephony infrastructures, enhanced to support the data traffic applications usable with (and through) smartphones required to offer their services.
A Series Of Enabling Technologies
The concept of using a computer to manage information and processes is by no means new. From automatic digital pilots of ships and airplanes to industrial plants, there have been unique mechanisms capable of transforming physical parameters for some time. In numerical data, such as temperature, velocity, position in space, forces, humidity, pressure, etc., control valves, servo motors, switches, etc., in order to control valves, servo motors, switches, etc.
So let’s talk about cybernetics (something that has a certain kinship with robotics but is not the same thing): a technology that applies the intelligence and flexibility of software to the control of a process on board a vehicle or inside a plant. Initially, these were highly specialized niche applications – as in the case of numerical control machines capable of performing mechanical machining (without a directly dedicated operator) thanks to a program – or the automation and control of petrochemical plants.
Today the areas of use have become much broader thanks to two fundamental enabling factors: the miniaturization of sensors (accelerometers, gyroscopes, etc.) and the possibility of exploiting telephone and Wi-Fi networks for data connection – in addition to the increased autonomy of the power supply of remote devices thanks also to the progress brought about by telephony in the field of accumulators.
IoT: A Revolution Born With Smartphones
The technology of mobile phones underwent an epochal turning point with the announcement of the iPhone by Apple in (distant) 2007: the new phones incorporated a computer and made it possible to browse the web, use email, and take pictures and share them. , produce and view multimedia documents, listen to music and even orient yourself thanks to the built-in GPS satellite sensor (Apple has filed more than 300 patents related to these devices). From that moment on, it was a continuous race towards enhancing and spreading mobile phone networks.
People (especially the youngest) discovered that the PC was not the only (and not even the most comfortable) system to use. The Internet and the new applications soon saw the light – starting with modern social networks. Today, via non-wired networks, we can receive and transmit data at an impressive speed (we are talking about tens of megabits per second), compatible with the live streaming of entire films or television broadcasts. In practice, the full convergence between telephone and TV has taken shape. , computer and telematic network.
From Chat And Selfie To Wearable Devices And Autonomous Driving
Today technology is like a torrent in a flood: absolutely unstoppable and partly unpredictable, so there is something new every day. IT has broken into the real world and is changing it (or at least it is changing the way people relate to their surroundings ): information is collected directly “in the field” at the field they return to enrich the context with new meanings and provide new services. Some examples? Augmented reality and “mixed reality “; let’s see what it is. Suppose I have a smartphone and I have activated geolocation.
In that case, I can use an app that – taking into account my position in the real world – offers me a series of additional information on a variety of things: from nearby shops to the history and architectural features of a period building or a monument (even just framing it in the display), or the real-time translation of a sign. Mixed reality does more or less the same things, but in a more “immersive” way: to the extreme, we could use, instead of the display, a particular viewer that projects texts and diagrams directly into our field of vision- while to control the phone we can do without the touch screen and use voice commands.
Let’s think about the possible “professional” applications of this technology: warehouse workers who “see” the description of a product, the number of stocks, and much more simply by “looking at it” or allowing their device to read the relative barcode; or a maintenance technician who, in front of a panel, immediately accesses the diagram and the instructions on how to carry out a diagnosis or repair. We have said that a device can “observe”; very accurate! Special optical sensors detect salient features of shapes and details of the objects surrounding us, perhaps combining them with data on their position.
Autonomous driving of vehicles is based on this type of technology (and much more): another novelty in the name of massive use of the IoT on cars – where we find all kinds of sensors connected to an intelligent control unit, capable of connecting to the cloud via the mobile network; the car knows where it is, recognizes obstacles around it (and avoids them), reads road signs, diagnoses any faults and calls for help (or goes to the nearest service center), knows in advance where to pass so as not to end up in congested traffic, find where there is free parking, etc.
IoT, Robotics, Business, And The Urban Landscape
A numerically controlled machine is to a robot as a disposable tool is to a Swiss army knife; in practice, a robot “knows how to do” many things, plus it can manipulate objects and (also) uses “sight” to orient itself (perhaps not to interfere with human beings). Naturally, in a robot (as in an autonomous car), there are countless sensors and actuators, a powerful processor, and an equally powerful network connection with a series of complementary services to which it provides (and from which it receives) much information in real-time.
So IoT applications go beyond the wrist heart rate monitor or the accelerometer and gyroscope on the mobile phone that rotate the display or allow you to fly a drone – and go beyond the connected car and autonomous driving. Today the areas in which to use the IoT range from the automated factory to fast prototyping using 3D printers, from logistics to the warehouse, from construction machinery to home automation, from energy management and distribution to road traffic control through adaptive signage – not to mention the remote reading of gas meters, electricity, etc.
The intelligent sensors can turn on the light and regulate the heating when we are at home, warn us in case of intrusion by unwanted visitors, understand if a sick person or an elderly person requires immediate medical assistance, and even remind us to do the shopping if in the refrigerator something is missing – all powered by artificial intelligence mechanisms capable of “understanding” the situation and adapting to our needs, tastes and habits “learning” from experience.
The IoT, from virtual reality to parking sensors, from burglar alarms to medical diagnostics, from the automation of production plants to electronic labeling of goods and semi-finished products, from signage to surveillance cameras, brings the power of processing tools directly between things ( including everyday objects).
Having become sensors and made capable of carrying out actions, several devices (wearable and not) produce and consume data and increase our situational awareness, offer us suggestions, save us time and energy, amplify our senses and show us the reality on a new level; they help us at work, they assist us in our free time and can even save our lives. But the revolution is only just beginning: more and more students, researchers, experimenters, consolidated companies, and start-ups are rushing to develop new applications to seize unprecedented opportunities.