Internet of Things in five words: sensor, monkey, radio, Cloud, Paris

Government use of sensors may be a portal for connected devices

If you want to build your own Internet of Things, try the toy monkey hack.

Digi International, a company that makes software and hardware systems for the Internet of Things (IoT) has a step-by-step guide to create an alert device using its postage stamp-size XBee wireless radio.

You will need a few other parts, and a little soldering to attach a battery-powered cymbal playing monkey to a wireless network and Internet. But once it's connected, the fun begins. In this case (see instructions and video), the cymbal banging toy monkey can be integrated into an alert system to notify, an IT department , for instance, that "the call center is down."

The cymbal monkey hints at the creativity involved with the IoT.

There are a wide array of sensors that have, in total, more capability than humans in sensing the environment. Sensors can capture motion and direction, magnetic fields, sound and light, and many other things. In the environment, sensors can be used to detect chemicals and pollutants. Biosensors to detect the presence of bacteria in food supplies may become a major growth area.

You can mix and match sensors, connect them to a wireless network, and send the data to clouds and applications for analysis. A major connecting point to the IoT won't be via cymbal-banging monkeys but, more likely than not, government deployments.

Although IT budgets for towns and cities are increasing at about 1.5 per cent a year, worldwide spending on IoT will reach, $US265 billion this year and will grow by 11 per cent each year for the next five year, said Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, the Smart Cities Strategies director at IDC. This figure includes spending by military and national governments.

IoT adoption is helped by vendors that often sell sensing devices with a cloud platform for data delivery. The vendors install and maintain the systems, Clark said. "A cloud supported system is really spurring adoption," she said.

The ability to combine sensors in IoT deployments has many possibilities. Streetline, a company that installs sensors in pavement that help drivers find parking spots via an app, said this month that it is adding sound sensors to provide real-time data on noise levels, as well as road temperature sensing, which can help determine, for instance, when salting should be deployed.

Some IoT deployments are using technologies already in smartphones. Boston, for instance, uses a smartphone's accelerometer to record road conditions.

What Clarke expects to see ahead is more coordination between disparate systems. An acoustic monitoring system, for instance, would get linked to video surveillance and street lighting systems, all of which come into play when gunfire is detected.

Silver Spring Networks, a company that develops networks for utilities, is working to reduce the cost of streetlights in Paris, the "City of Lights," by about 30% over the next decade. This week the company announced a sensor network for broad use.

The intent of its new network, the SilverLink Sensor Network, is to provide common networking architecture and security provisioning to readily enable the addition of new sensors and applications, said Eric Dresselhuys, executive vice president of global development at Silver Spring, and one of its founders.

Dresselhuys said governments everywhere "are increasingly worried about the livability of cities." Communities want to improve traffic management and better use their resources.

Creating connected devices is getting traction in the Maker Movement community, but the IoT components that Digi sells also appeal to IT shops in industries and governments that are "trying to build quick solutions and rapid prototypes to show what's possible," said Joel Young, Digi's CTO and SVP of research and development.

Digi, which has been building machine-to-machine connected systems since 1985, makes systems used in a wide range industries. It also offers cloud services that connect devices to applications and enable, for instance, a traffic light to call for its own repair.

When he looks at the changes coming via the IoT, Young said people may not even notice. "It's the kind of thing that sneaks up on you," he said.

This article, The Internet of Things in five words: sensor, monkey, radio, cloud, Paris, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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