The term “Internet of Things” (IoT) is used to describe embedded devices (things) with Internet connectivity, allowing them to interact with each other, services, and people on a global scale. This level of connectivity can increase reliability, sustainability, and efficiency by improved access to information. Environmental monitoring, home and building automation, and smart grids could be interconnected, allowing information to be shared between systems that affect each other. This article explores the challenges and opportunities of developing the IoT.
The use of the internet is increasing steadily over the years. As per the statistics1, the number of internet users at the end of 2011 exceeded 2.2 billion. The internet can be used to transmit data collected from widely distributed regions, such as measurements of environmental parameters.
In recent times, an enormous amount of research and development works has been carried out in different parts of the world to make the Internet of Things feasible.
Though the term Internet of Things was proposed by Kevin Ashton2, in 1999, the Internet of Things is a concept originally coined and introduced by MIT. In a nutshell, the IoT is about physical items talking to each other. Machine-to-machine communication and person-to-computer communication will be extended to things. Technologies that will drive the future Internet of Things include: sensor technologies including Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID), smart things, nanotechnology, and miniaturization.
The importance of IoT in the future can be perfectly visualized with the help of Fig. 13. It shows that there are already many more connected devices than people, and they will increase exponentially over the coming years. In the future, the billions of connected devices will use the internet as a scaffold to support and transmit their sensations. These may consist of millions of embedded electronic measuring devices: thermostats, pressure gauges, pollution detectors, cameras, microphones, glucose sensors, ECGs, electroencephalographs. These will probe and monitor cities and endangered species, the atmosphere, our ships, highways and fleets of trucks, our conversations, our bodies, and even our dreams.[ms-protect-content id=”9932″]
A significant amount of research papers regarding IoT have been published in the last few years. The IEEE Sensors Journal recently published a special issue in which 35 papers reported different works on IoT architecture, protocols, services and different applications4.
A report entitled “The Internet of Things Business Index: A quiet revolution gathers pace,”5 also found that 30% of business leaders feel that the IoT will unlock new revenue opportunities, while 29% believe it will inspire new working practices, and 23% believe it will eventually change the model of how they operate. The study found that European businesses are ahead of their global counterparts in the research and planning phases of implementing IoT6. Meanwhile, manufacturing is the leading sector when it comes to research and implementation of IoT technologies, driven in part by the need for real-time information to optimize productivity6.
According to the report, the top five concerns that companies have around the IoT are: a lack of employee skills/knowledge; a lack of senior management knowledge and commitment; products or services that don’t have an obvious IoT element to them; immaturity of industry standards around IoT; and high costs of required investment in IoT infrastructure. The report suggests that data silos need to be removed and common standards need to be established in order to allow the IoT to scale to a size that will allow it to operate across all markets successfully.
One of the biggest obstacles of using the IoT is the perception that certain products or services do not have any obvious IoT application. The full potential of the IoT will be unlocked when small networks of connected things, from cars to employee IDs, become one big network of connected things extending across industries and organizations5. Since many of the business models to emerge from the IoT will involve the sale of data, an important element of this will be the free flow of information across the network5.
Challenges and Opportunities of IoT
Alhough many IoT based systems are developing, there are many design challenges faced by the developers and engineers.
One such challenge is that the success of IoT is entirely dependent on the availability of the internet, everywhere. However, over 50% of the world’s population still do not have access to the internet.
In order to make the internet available to every part of the world there is a need for huge investment in infrastructure and resources. Investment from private companies is unlikely unless there is a clear indication of profit, so it must fall to the government to act. In our current economic situation, it will not be an easy decision for any government to invest in IoT.
A few countries such as Taiwan and China7 are planning to have countrywide internet availability within a few years’ time. It is expected that these actions will inspire other countries to follow. However, with the widespread availability of the internet come security issues. There may be malicious uses of wireless sensor networks, for example, planting them in computers to extract private information. Thus, appropriate countermeasures must be developed.
Another important challenge will be to develop and fabricate sensor nodes at a very low cost, as IoT will have trillions of sensor nodes around us and in the environment. At the moment it is not possible to fabricate everything in one chip but it offers a huge opportunity that designers can aim to achieve.
It may be beneficial to have the environment surrounded by millions of sensors, but we must face the reality that the life spans of electronic devices are too short. They must be replaced at regular intervals in order for the complete system to stay active all the time. But where can we dump the old electronic devices?
This problem is severe: As per one UN report8, a few statistical figures in US alone are:
• Between 1997 and 2007, over 500 million personal computers have become obsolete.
• 15,000,000 PCs become obsolete every year.
• 7,000,000 computers will end up stockpiled for at least 3 years.
• 750,000 computers will end up in landfills this year alone.
The report predicts that by 2020, e-waste in South Africa and China from old computers will have jumped by 200–400% from 2007 levels and by 500% in India.
Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) contain hazardous and toxic materials that pose environmental risks if they are land filled or incinerated. Printed circuit boards contain primarily plastic and copper, and have small amounts of chromium, lead solder, nickel, and zinc.
The UN report proposes some guidelines to tackle these problems:
• Re-use is the environmentally preferable option for managing older electronic equipment. Extending the life of old products minimizes the pollution and resource consumption associated with making new products.
• Re-use also gives people who cannot afford new products access to electronic equipment at reduced or no cost.
• Electronic equipment that is too old and commercially and practically not viable for re-use or is broken beyond repair may be sent for disassembly i.e. salvaging parts, and selling reclaimed materials.
Many electronic devices, such as computers, monitors, printers, and scanners, contain materials suitable for reclamation and use in new products. These may include plastic, glass, steel, aluminum, copper, gold, silver, and other metals. But reusing old equipment will not solve the problem; it just delays the process for a few years. We think that there is an opportunity here for people to design biodegradable and non-hazardous sensor nodes. In the future we need to explore materials which will not have any negative environmental impact and are suitable for fabricating sensor nodes.
More IoT-specific skills are needed for the next stage of development. A lack of IoT skills and knowledge among employees and management is viewed as the biggest obstacle to using the IoT more extensively5. To address these gaps, organisations are training staff and recruiting IoT talent, raising the potential for IoT talent wars. Others are hiring consultants and third-party experts, seeking to build knowledge and identify successful IoT business models. Moving executives and employees up the IoT learning curve should also help to ease the difficulty many firms experience in identifying IoT applications for existing products and services. Fitting sensors to a potentially infinite number of “things” will generate untold amounts of new information5. For now, however, most business leaders are confident that their organizations will be able to manage and analyze the data flowing from the predicted rapid expansion in IoT networks.
This article has briefly described different issues surrounding the practical realization of the Internet of Things. There is much research on the technical implementation of the IoT and the positive impact it will have on the society. At the same time, many issues are arising which need proper and appropriate attention. The IoT should not be considered as a local development; rather, it is a global phenomenon and needs to be treated with sincerity and priority.
This is an edited extract from Internet of Things: Challenges and Opportunities, by Nagender Kumar Suryadevara and Subhas Chandra Mukhopadhyay (Springer 2014)
About the Authors
Nagender Kumar Suryadevara received his M.Eng. degree from Madurai Kamaraj University in 1998. At present, he is working toward the Ph.D. degree at the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, Massey University, New Zealand. He is currently involved with the development of software systems for home monitoring project using WSNs. His current research interests include domains of wireless sensor networks, the Internet of Things, and real-time data mining.
Subhas Chandra Mukhopadhyay is currently a Professor of sensing technology with the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, Massey University, New Zealand. He has more than 25 years of teaching and research experience. He has authored/co-authored over 300 papers in different international journals and conference proceedings, and as book chapters. Prof. Mukhopadhyay has been the recipient of numerous awards and has attracted over NZ $3.6 M on different research projects. He is a Fellow of IEEE and IET.
1. http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm. Accessed 10 Nov 2013
2. Kevin, A.: That ‘Internet of Things’ thing, in the real world things matter more than ideas. RFID J. (22 June 2009). Accessed 10 Nov 2013
3. Evans, D.: The Internet of Things: How the next evolution of the internet is chang ing everything, Cisco White paper. http://www.cisco.com/web/about/ac79/docs/innov/IoT_IBSG_0411FINAL.pdf (2011). Accessed 10 Nov 2013
4. Guest editorial on special issue on internet of things (IoT): architecture, protocols and services. IEEE Sens. J. 13(10), 3505–3510 (2013)
5. http://www.arm.com/files/pdf/EIU_Internet_Business_Index_WEB.PDF. Accessed 10 Nov 2013
6. http://news.techworld.com/networking/3476043/arm-report-businesses-look-make-money-through-internet-of-things-revolution/. Accessed 10 Nov 2013
7. http://en.wuxi.gov.cn/web111/Events/InternetofThings/AboutInternetofThings/index.shtml. Accessed 10 Nov 2013
8. http://www.thegreenitreview.com/2010/02/un-reports-on-rocketing-e-waste-problem.html. Accessed 10 Nov 2013