Coming to Terms with IoT in 2020 - A brief foray into the language of IoT
Written by Mary Brickenstein-Hofschen
Published: March 23, 2020
Awareness of the Internet of Things, IoT for short, has increased rapidly over the last few years. From smart cars and Apple watches to Amazon Echo smart speakers, IoT is progressively becoming an essential part of everyday life.
Gartner research predicts that 25 billion devices will be connected on the Internet of Things by 2021. Based on the official United Nations population prospects, that’s 3 times more connected devices on the planet than people. Putting those numbers in financial terms, Forbes estimates that the burgeoning connected-device market will top $520 billion by the end of 2021.
If you sometimes find yourself struggling to keep up with the new vocabulary this upsurge in IoT generates, you’re not alone. To make matters worse, finding consensus on the meaning of terms and phrases in such an actively growing field of technology is tricky business. Word usage varies wildly and although it’s easy to agree that consistent terminology is a good idea, achieving that goal is complicated.
Recycling pre-existing words to describe new situations is a natural part of any living language. In English, an estimated 40% of all words have more than one meaning. Adding to the ambiguity that multiple meanings introduce, some words simply gain traction in new contexts. The word ubiquitous is a good case in point. From staunchly theological roots, the word ubiquitous has gradually drifted into the field of technology.
Here’s the definition that Merriam Webster provides: “ubiquitous: existing or being everywhere at the same time: constantly encountered, widespread”. That description certainly resonates well in the context of IoT. Looking further, online-search results suggested ubiquitous computing and ubiquitous language:
Mark Weiser coined the term ubiquitous computing in his 1991 Scientific American article The Computer for the 21st Century. Although ubiquitous computing and IoT are not identical, a well-known quote from the article predicts the rise of the Internet of Things beautifully:
"The most profound technologies are those that disappear.
They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it."
- Mark Weiser
The second phrase, ubiquitous language (UL), is also interesting. More than a decade after Mark Weiser’s article, Eric Evans introduced the concept of ubiquitous language in his book, Domain-Driven Design. Essentially, UL builds a rigorous, shared vocabulary that everyone in a specific business domain uses. Domain-experts, designers, developers, product owners, and users all rely on the same words (with the same meaning) to discuss matters within the domain.
"The indirectness of communication conceals the formation of schisms—different team members use terms differently but don’t realize it."
- Eric Evans
Most of us don’t require rigorously consistent terminology in our day to day conversations and the complex IoT ecosphere is certainly not a single business domain. However, as IoT becomes an increasingly pervasive presence in our lives, building up a common vocabulary can help us all grasp concepts quickly and keep new trends sorted.
We’ve compiled a short list of IoT-related terms that you’re likely to bump into this year. While this is definitely not an exhaustive list, it covers a nice mix of concepts in an easy-to-understand way and provides a basis for further discussion:
IoT: Internet of Things. The growing network of Internet-connected devices around the world that can send and receive data over a wireless network with little or no human assistance. These devices include everyday objects such as thermostats, coffee pots, or locks.
M2M: Machine to Machine. The direct exchange of information from one machine to another over any communication network without the need for manual human assistance.
AI: Artificial Intelligence. The overall science and engineering of making computers behave in ways that currently require human intelligence.
ML: Machine Learning. The scientific study of algorithms and statistical models that allows computer programs to automatically improve through experience. ML is a branch of artificial intelligence. The development of predictive capabilities in devices is particularly interesting for many industrial applications.
IIoT: Industrial Internet of Things. A subset of IoT that enhances manufacturing and industrial processes. IIoT brings together smart devices, machine learning, advanced analytics, computers, and people to create intelligent industrial operations.
Digital Twin: A precise virtual model of a process, or product, or service that exists in the physical world. The digital replica can be integrated with smart sensors, ML, and big-data analytics to efficiently monitor, analyze, and maximize performance.
TCP/IP: Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. A combination of protocols that provide standardized rules to define how devices can communicate over a network such as the Internet. TCP/IP is also known as the Internet Protocol Suite.
HTTP: Hypertext Transfer Protocol. The standard set of rules and procedures that defines how data and messages are transferred over the Internet and how Web servers and browsers request and respond to various commands.
MQTT: The standard protocol for transferring data on the Internet of Things. MQTT is a set of rules that defines how IoT devices can publish and subscribe to data over the Internet. (Learn more)
QoS: Quality of Service. Provides a certain guarantee of data delivery. MQTT offers three QoS levels for the transfer of IoT data. (Learn more)
Device: IoT extends internet connectivity beyond desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets to devices and everyday objects that are not traditionally internet enabled. Embedded technology allows the device or object to communicate and interact over the Internet.
Sensor: Devices that detect or measure changes in their environment such as heat, pressure, sound, or motion and provide a corresponding output. Sensors can be standalone devices or embedded in ordinary objects and machines. Sensors are the eyes and ears of an IoT system.
Actuator: Devices that transform electrical input into a physical action. Actuators are used to manipulate their physical environment, such as the valves and switches that turn things on and off in a smart home. Actuators and sensors are central building blocks of an IoT system.
Smart Object: An IoT device that can connect to a network, gather information about its environment then adapt behaviors accordingly, and perform tasks autonomously without the direct command of the user. A smart object can cooperate and exchange information with other devices or humans.
Wearables: Smart electronic devices that can be worn as accessories, embedded in clothing, or even implanted in a human body. Wearables have many applications. Smartwatches and fitness trackers are a popular example.
Cloud: A global network of servers that are accessed over the Internet. Cloud computing refers to using the resources that these remote servers offer instead of the hard drive on your local machine.
Edge: Edge computing is done in a geographical location that is as close as possible to the source of the data. Edge computing processes a lot of data directly on the IoT device that generates the data. Reduced reliance on data centers in the cloud can give companies the ability to process and store data faster, improve response times, and save bandwidth costs.
Fog: Fog computing acts as a bridge that reaches from where the data is created to where the data is stored. Both fog and edge involve computing data closer to where the data originates. A key difference is that fog computing processes data on the local area network (LAN) of the network. The processing can be in a local data center or the cloud.
Gateway: An IoT gateway is a physical device or software program that connects sensors/devices to the cloud so that data can be exchanged. The gateway can provide various benefits to an IoT network such as additional security or the ability to pre-process and filter data.
5G: The newest generation of wireless technology for digital cellular networks. 5G can transmit data much more efficiently than the previous 4G standard and promises far greater speed with significantly shorter lag times. These performance improvements of the new 5G standard are expected to have a big impact on IoT, IIoT, and the move to edge computing.
We hope this short glossary serves as a good starting point for a more detailed exploration of IoT. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments. Your ideas and feedback are always welcome!