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Internet of Things: What needs to become reality

Posted: 15 Nov 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Internet of Things  microcontroller  Remote Tracking 

Resource Allocation and Optimisation: The smart energy market provides an ideal example of this use case. The term smart energy has been used in many ways, but it basically refers to accessing information about energy consumption and reacting to the information to optimise the allocation of resources (energy use). In the case of a household, for example, once the residents know they've been using their washing machine during peak hours when the grid is most constrained and the cost of electricity is at premium, they could adjust their behaviour and wash their laundry during non-peak hours, saving money and helping the utility company cope with peak demand.

Context-aware Automation and Decision Optimisation: This category is the most fascinating, as it refers to monitoring unknown factors (environmental, interaction between machines and infrastructures, etc.) and having machines make decisions that are as "human-like" as possible ... only better!

Here's a personal example from Kaivan's past that can help illustrate this: "When I was a young engineer, I worked on a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS). In that system, when two airplanes were approaching each other on a collision path, the 'machines' in the two airplanes would take over. The system first would send an audible warning to the pilots about the danger ahead, while at the same time communicating between the two planes and deciding how each plane should move to avoid a collision. The assumption was that if the two pilots were warned and were in control to make quick decisions, they could both decide to make turns that would still cause a crash."

There are a whole host of new technologies available today and in development that could allow vehicles to communicate with each other as well as with a central control unit. These smart vehicles also could sense the road, traffic signs and lane markers and, using GPS and a communication link, avoid incoming traffic, avoid accidents around a curve or, in conjunction with the central control unit, avoid going over a distressed bridge on the verge of collapse.

Remote patient monitoring is another example relevant to this use case. For instance, imagine an implantable sensing node that tracks biometrics and sends a signal regarding an abnormal readout for an elderly patient. If the patient doesn't respond by taking a medication, the node could place an emergency call to a contact from a list, and if there's no answer, call a second contact, and finally, if no answer, contact a monitoring clinic or quickly provide other emergency assistance. Another example is continuous monitoring of chronic diseases to help doctors determine best treatments, with minimal human intervention.

Requirements common to all of the use cases above include:

 • Sensing and data collection capability (sensing nodes)
 • Layers of local embedded processing capability (local embedded processing nodes)
 • Wired and/or wireless communication capability (connectivity node)
 • Software to automate tasks, and enable new class of services
 • Remote network/cloud-based embedded processing capability (remote embedded processing node )
 • Full security across the signal path
In the factory automation example mentioned above (applying labels to boxes), a camera detects information using a charge-coupled device (CCD) sensor (sensing node), the collected data is then communicated to an embedded processor/controller (embedded processing node) using wired or wireless communication technology (connectivity node), a decision is made by the remote server (remote embedded processing node) and communicated (connectivity node), which causes a mechanical action to take place that corrects the situation.

For a Context-aware Automation and Decision Optimisation example, we can use the example of a smart car, using its active safety radar system (sensing node), in conjunction with image processing cameras (sensing nodes), it communicates with an embedded processor (embedded processing node) in the centre stack of the car to make an appropriate decision regarding danger ahead. Or, the vehicle could leverage its built-in GPS and wide-area-network (WAN) wireless communication capability (connectivity node) to pass along information to a central processing server on the network (in the cloud) (remote embedded processing node) that could then make the car aware of the information it had just received, from the sensors of an unstable bridge (sensing node) on the road ahead, that was being pounded by rain flood and loosing its structural integrity, and hence guide the car to a different route to avoid danger.

IoT building blocks
Sensing Nodes: The types of sensing nodes needed for the Internet of Things vary widely, depending on the applications involved. Sensing nodes could include a camera system for image monitoring; water or gas flow meters for smart energy; radar vision when active safety is needed; RFID readers sensing the presence of an object or person; doors and locks with open/close circuits that indicate an intrusion at a building; or a simple thermometer measuring temperature. Bottom line, there are many different types of sensing nodes, depending on the applications. Who can forget the heat-seeking mechanical bugs that kept track of the population of a building in the movie Minority Report? Those mechanical bugs represent potential sensing nodes of the future.

These nodes all will carry a unique ID and can be controlled separately via a remote command and control topology. Use cases exist today in which a smartphone with RFID and/or NFC and GPS functionality can approach individual RFID/NFC-enabled "things" in a building, communicate with them and register their physical locations on the network. Hence, RFID and NFC will have a place in remote registration, and, ultimately, command and control of the IoT.

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