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Embedded systems mark future of IoT

Posted: 28 Oct 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IoT  embedded  sensor  microprocessor 

Editor's Note: In this feature, Vidushi Kshatri discusses the future of the Internet of Things and the role analogue and digital components will play in the developing connectivity.

Once the Internet of Things (IoT) was confined to the imagination of sci-fi writers. Yet it's an impending reality that's come to mean a lot of different things to different people.

This is because the possibilities the IoT presents are boundless, covering everything from smart fridges, smart cars and smart grids, to wearable devices that monitor your vital statistics.

Internet of Things

What's more, by 2030 it is projected that 100 trillion devices will be connected to the IoT. In short, pundits believe anything that can be connected will be connected, and this heralds a "new" industrial revolution called the Internet of Things.

But since embedded systems are the key ingredients of an IoT system, wouldn't it be more accurate to call it embedded-Internet of Things or e-IoT?

Firstly, it's only by being fitted out with sensors, processors and communication modules, that everyday objects will become "smart." They record processes in the physical world, connect them to the virtual world of the Internet and so provide the basis for IoT.

Hence, everything belonging to the domain of IoT should possess certain attributes, some of them being: lower power consumption, powerful processing capabilities, and the ability to connect to other smart objects. No single component can perform these myriads of functions by themselves. This means that every 'Thing' is composed of an embedded system consisting of several components, each one fulfilling one of the attribute needs of the 'Things'.

This article will make the case for a closer inspection of IoT and the critical role analogue and digital components will play in the developing connectivity or relationships between people-people, people-things and things-things, and show how multiple components designed into signal chains and embedded systems are the underpinnings that make IoT a reality.

Defining the Internet of Things

IoT is a type of network where information transmitting equipment such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, wireless communications, real-time localisation and sensor networks link any physical objects to the Internet to perform information exchange. These physical objects are designed to have identities and virtual personalities, operating in smart spaces, using intelligent interfaces to connect and communicate within the social, environmental and user context.

The term 'Internet of Things' was originally coined by Kevin Ashton back in 1995. But in the years that followed, the IoT languished. As Jeremy Rifkin explains in his book "The Zero Marginal Cost Society," this could be primarily attributed to two reasons:

  • The cost of sensors and actuators embedded in "things" was still relatively expensive. In an 18-month period between 2012 and 2013, however, the cost of RFID chips used to monitor and track things plummeted by 40 per cent. These tags now cost less than 10 cents. The price of MEMS, including gyroscopes, accelerometers and pressure sensors, has also dropped by 80 to 90 per cent in the past five years.
  • The Internet protocol, IPv4 (uses 32bits for its internet address) allows only 4.3 billion (2^32) unique addresses on the Internet. With most of the IP addresses already gobbled up by the more than 2 billion people now connected to the Internet, few addresses remain available to connect millions and eventually trillions of things to the Internet.

However with the implementation of the new Internet protocol version, IPv6 (using 128bits for its internet address) it will help expand the number of available addresses to 340 trillion trillion trillion (2^128)—more than enough to accommodate the enormous number of emerging "Things."

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