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A Beginner's Guide to IoT

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Technology proliferates the everyday lives of most people, and the world's vocabulary has adapted as a result. It seems new buzzwords and acronyms pop up all the time. One acronym you may hear frequently is IoT. Here's an explanation of IoT and how it affects you.

What Does IoT Mean?

What is IoT, exactly? The acronym stands for the Internet of Things. It refers to the vast array of physical objects that are connected to the internet. IoT has become one of the most important technologies of the 21st Century, primarily due to the availability of wireless networks, mobile technology and inexpensive computer chips. An IoT object is capable of providing information about activities, environmental conditions or its own operation.

 

It is now conceivable to turn anything into a part of the IoT. Objects of all sizes, shapes and purposes connect through the internet. A child's toy, a driverless car, an airplane, a smart light bulb — these devices all communicate information online. Their connectivity can serve one person's purposes, a jet filled with passengers, a household, a business or an entire city.

 

The term generally applies, though, to devices that are capable of communicating through the network separately from human interaction. Smartphones, laptops and desktop computers are not considered IoT devices because people enter information directly into them.

Who Uses IoT?

IoT has a vast amount of applications, and companies from many sectors harness its capacity to improve or simplify functions.

 

Hospitals use IoT in devices a patient wears. Sensors and monitors provide metrics in real time, giving healthcare providers information on vital signs and alerts. Real-time monitoring improves and expedites patient care and assists in lifesaving measures.

 

Farmers use IoT devices to monitor soil quality. Sensors provide information about moisture levels, temperature, acidity and chemical balance. This information allows ag professionals to monitor crop health and make informed decisions about when to plant and sow.

 

Cities can use IoT data to monitor traffic patterns and flow, helping drivers use the collected information to advise them of their route choices and estimated arrival times. Similarly, fleet management industries can connect to their vehicles and employees, informing each other about vehicle status, maintenance needs and driver location.

 

Individuals who use GPS devices, fitness trackers and virtual glasses harness the power of IoT. These small devices are equipped with hardware that monitors information like location, movement and heartbeat, giving users feedback they can use in their daily lives.

How Is IoT Made Possible?

The concept of IoT has been around since about the 1980s, but only recently has technology caught up with it. Once the components were widely available, IoT was ready to escalate. Some of the advances are:

  • Low-cost, power-economical processors: More manufacturers have the ability to produce inexpensive and reliable chips.

  • Broadband internet and wireless and cellular networking: Many networks are available to connect IoT and transfer data smoothly.

  • Cloud computing: Cloud platforms are increasingly available to individuals and businesses, allowing them to use the infrastructure without owning or administering it.

  • Artificial intelligence: Natural-language AI devices have brought an increase in popularity of digital personal assistants.

  • Machine learning: Advances in machine learning combined with the availability of cloud computing have driven the capabilities of IoT, along with its accessibility.

 

The price of implementing these systems continues to fall, making IoT possibilities less expensive and more accessible.

How Do IoT Systems Protect Privacy?

Not surprisingly, one of the main complications of IoT is implementing and maintaining privacy and security for its users. Connected accessories collect large amounts of sensitive and private data. It has been a challenge so far for manufacturers of IoT devices to keep up with the need to protect privacy.

 

There are steps you can take to protect your data and secure your information:

  • Set up two-factor authentication for your smart devices.

  • Disable any features you don't use or need.

  • Check your privacy settings — manufacturers may set the default to share your information with them.

  • Avoid common, easy-to-guess passwords and use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Password managers can help you keep up with multiple strong passwords.

  • Keep software up to date. Device manufacturers send out updates that fix bugs or improve user experience, but they may also include security patches.

  • Rename your router with a name that doesn't associate it with your personal information, or the make and model of the router.

  • Set up a guest network for visitors to your home who need to connect their devices.

  • If you have an older IoT accessory, it may be time for an upgrade with more secure features.

 

IoT technology has already changed the way people interact with their devices and each other, and it will continue to expand as more companies harness its power. Both manufacturers and consumers have the responsibility to use smart products wisely and secure private data.

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