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Understanding IoT (Internet of Things)

Written by Ana Tavares

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an interconnected network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings, and other objects embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies that enable them to collect and exchange data over the Internet. IoT allows these objects to be sensed and controlled remotely, creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy, and economic benefits.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into what IoT is, how it works, and its applications in both consumer and industrial settings. We’ll also explore why IoT has gained popularity and the critical role databases play in leveraging IoT effectively.

A Short History of IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) has its origins in the 1980s with Mark Weiser's concept of ubiquitous computing, which envisioned a future where computing was seamlessly integrated into everyday life. This foundational idea set the stage for the development of IoT. In 1990, John Romkey created the first internet-connected device—a toaster that could be controlled via the internet—highlighting the potential of connecting everyday objects to the internet.

The term "Internet of Things" was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton while working at Procter & Gamble. Ashton used it to describe a network of interconnected devices, particularly focusing on using RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to track products within a supply chain. This helped to define the scope and potential applications of IoT.

The early 2000s saw significant advancements in wireless technology, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, enabling more devices to connect to the internet. This period marked the emergence of smart home devices, wearables, and other consumer electronics that leveraged IoT concepts. Between 2008 and 2009, the number of connected devices began to surpass the global population, indicating growing interest and investment in IoT from both the tech industry and academia.

In the 2010s, IoT reached mainstream adoption driven by the widespread use of smartphones, the advent of cloud computing, and advanced data analytics. IoT applications expanded across various sectors, including healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation, significantly transforming how industries operate and make decisions.

Today, IoT continues to evolve with advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and edge computing. The integration of these technologies enhances the capabilities of IoT devices, enabling more sophisticated data processing and real-time decision-making. Let’s see how this works.

How Does IoT Work?

IoT connects physical devices to the internet, enabling them to collect and exchange data. These devices, embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies, communicate with each other and central systems over networks. The process typically involves four key IoT components:

  • Devices/Sensors: These are the "things" in IoT, equipped with sensors and actuators that gather and transmit data.

  • Connectivity: The devices connect to the internet through various communication protocols (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, etc.).

  • Data processing: Collected data is processed either locally (edge computing) or sent to centralized servers (cloud computing) for analysis.

  • User interface: Users interact with the IoT system through user interfaces such as mobile apps or web dashboards.

A low-code IoT platform data pipeline.

The data pipeline of Datacake, a low-code IoT platform

Examples of IoT devices

IoT devices are prevalent in many aspects of everyday life—just think of your smartphone. In homes, you can find smart thermostats, security cameras, lighting systems, and voice-activated assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. These devices help automate and control various household functions, enhancing convenience and energy efficiency.

The range of IoT devices is extensive, reflecting its broad applicability. Some examples include:

  • Smart thermostats: Devices like Nest learn user preferences and adjust home temperatures accordingly.

  • Fitness trackers: Wearables such as Fitbit track physical activity, heart rate, and sleep patterns.

  • Smart security systems: Systems like Ring offer video surveillance and remote access via mobile apps.

  • Connected appliances: Smart refrigerators and washing machines offer remote control and status updates.

  • Industrial sensors: Vibration, temperature, and pressure sensors monitor machinery conditions and predict failures.

To derive insights, these devices collect huge amounts of sensor data with a timestamp associated with it—time-series data. Let’s see how businesses can use this data to their advantage.

Example of an IIoT app by Hopara (powered by Timescale)

Example of a Hopara IIoT app (powered by Timescale)

How Can Businesses Leverage IoT?

Businesses can harness IoT to gain a competitive edge by analyzing data collected by IoT sensors. Then, they can use these insights to:

  • Optimize operations: IoT enables real-time monitoring and automation, reducing operational costs and improving efficiency.

  • Enhance customer experience: Personalized services and proactive support becomes possible through data insights.

  • Drive innovation: New products and services can be developed based on data-driven insights.

  • Improve safety: IoT devices can monitor and manage workplace safety, ensuring compliance and reducing risks.

These and other practical benefits for both companies and consumers have driven massive growth in the IoT industry, leading to an increasing market volume, which is expected to scale to more than 2,200 billion US dollars by 2028.

With tremendous market growth also comes a surge in the popularity of IoT. Besides its potential to transform everyday life and business operations, several key factors contribute to this widespread appeal. First, IoT automates routine tasks, significantly saving time and resources. Second, the access to real-time data provided by IoT devices enhances the accuracy of decision-making. 

Additionally, IoT fosters interconnected ecosystems, allowing devices to work harmoniously and deliver (mostly) seamless experiences. Finally—and closing the popularity circle—continuous advancements in IoT technology create opportunities for the development of new products and services, fueling ongoing innovation.

What Is IIoT (Industrial IoT)?

For the above reasons and perhaps unsurprisingly, the manufacturing industry is one of the sectors where the application of IoT has made significant progress. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) refers to IoT’s application in industrial sectors. IIoT focuses on optimizing industrial processes through advanced data collection and analysis. It is integral in manufacturing, logistics, and energy management, driving innovations like smart factories and predictive maintenance.

To get a better understanding of common use cases in the IIoT space, check out these articles:

Why Do You Need a Database for IoT?

As mentioned, sensor data collected by IoT devices accumulates fast. Databases are fundamental to managing the vast amounts of data generated by IoT devices. They serve several critical functions:

  • Data storage: Securely stores the large volume of data collected from devices.

  • Data integration: Combines data from various sources for comprehensive analysis.

  • Real-time processing: Enables immediate data processing for timely insights and actions.

  • Scalability: Accommodates growing data volumes and evolving use cases without compromising performance.

Summing it up, IoT represents a significant leap in how technology interacts with our physical world, offering unprecedented connectivity and intelligence. Its applications range from enhancing personal convenience to driving industrial efficiencies.

As IoT continues to evolve, understanding its workings and leveraging its capabilities will be crucial for developers and businesses alike. Integrating a robust database system is essential to maximize the benefits of IoT, ensuring efficient data management and real-time processing capabilities.

But not just any IoT database

Here at Timescale, we are well aware of the challenges posed by IoT data. Our founders, Ajay and Mike, decided to start the company when they were solving some hard sensor data problems for IoT customers. Like many developers, they were struggling to keep up with the deluge of sensor data, storing it in multiple databases: metadata (the machine settings at that time, the line information, the shift information, etc.) in a relational database and time-series data (measurement and timestamp, for example) in a time-series database.

Two side-by-side tables describing the IoT challenges and how Timescale solves them.

There had to be a better way to do this. So they created Timescale. This means you can now use Postgres for Everything and simplify your tech stack, while also deriving business insights from having your relational and time-series data in one place. Read why you should use PostgreSQL + Timescale (our supercharged PostgreSQL) for IoT data. And if you don’t want to take our word for it, there are numerous customers in the IoT space vouching for us. 

Create a free Timescale account to simplify your IoT stack today. Self-hosting is also an option.

Get started with a PostgreSQL—but faster—database optimized for time series, events, and analytics.

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