An introduction to the Internet of Things by Kaivan Karimi
Kaivan Karimi is the executive director – Global Strategy and Business Development for the Microcontroller group at Freescale Semiconductor. In this role, he is responsible for defining and driving the technology, product and business strategies related to the Internet of Things. With over 19 years of experience in the semiconductor industry, and ample experience in wireless and networking technologies, he is best poised to introduce us to the Internet of Things (IoT). Janani Gopalakrishnan Vikram caught up with him to ask some questions that might be on your mind too…
JGV: How do you think the definition of the Internet of Things has evolved in the past decade? At one time, it was just RFID, but now with the Cloud catching up and a range of mobile applications, 7it seems to have taken on a whole new evolved face. What do you think?
KK: I absolutely agree. It used to be more about asset tracking and basic remote command and control functionality, and now it has morphed to an elaborate connected “neural network in the sky” that will compass many aspects of life, from connected homes and cities to connected cars and roads (yes, roads) to devices that track an individual’s behavior and use the data collected for “push” services. Some industry analysts and pundits have mentioned one trillion Internet-connected devices by 2025 and define mobile phones as the “eyes and ears” of the applications connecting all of those connected “things.”
Fig 1 gives a basic picture of how we have moved from simple RFID to a variety of other protocols, for a whole host of “smart” services:
JGV: Apart from smart tags and smart phone apps, are there any special products cropping up especially for the IoT? If so, what are the features of such electronics?
KK: There are lots of products and product platforms that are being developed in the home automation and smart energy categories. NEST Thermostat & ThinkEco Modlet products are great examples of the new wave of IoT focused products. What is common between almost all of these products is that they have embedded processing, sensors and integrated wireless communications in them. In fact, when you look at the building blocks of IoT from the edge of the network, all the way to the core of the network (Cloud Processing), you will find the common building blocks shown in Fig 2.
If you do an IOT-related Web search, you’ll quickly notice the overuse of the term “smart”. So, what does it really mean when something is smart, and what makes an object smart? For example, how would a refrigerator or a toaster oven that hasn’t been considered smart become a “smart appliance”? Today, we are seeing the electrification of the world around us. Almost any manufactured good now includes an embedded processor (typically a microcontroller, or MCU), along with user interfaces, that can add programmability and deterministic “command and control” functionality. The electrification of the world and the pervasiveness of embedded processing are the keys to making objects “smart”. Hence, your old toaster that mechanically controlled the colour of your toast now has an MCU in it, and the MCU controls the colour of your toast. The toaster completes its task more consistently and reliably, and because it is now a “smart” toaster, it has the ability to communicate with you electronically using its touchpad or switches. After a device becomes smart through the integration of embedded processing, the next logical step is remote communication with the smart device for remote command and control purposes.
These are the basic features of any “thing” that is targeted as an IoT capable device. Once these devices can communicate with the Internet, then smart phone apps can be written for that device/service, and it can remotely be commanded and controlled.
JGV: What are the various protocols used as building blocks for the IoT?
KK: There are lots of them, and IoT will be forcing protocol co-existence and harmonisation. A lot of these protocols have to do with the communications technologies that will be used for short and long range communications, and the security blocks that need to go along with them. Although this list is not complete, the following are some of the main protocols:
- IEEE 802.3 – Ethernet
- Various Power Line Communications (PLC) Standards such as Prime, G3, IEEE 1901 (HomePlug AV), CENELEC, etc.
Wireless Communications (BAN, PAN, LAN):
- IEEE 802.15.4, and its associated upper layer networking protocols such as ZigBee,ISA100.11a, WirelessHART, and MiWi, and specifically 6LoWPAN which works with standard Internet protocols
- NFC – ISO/IEC 18092
- IEEE 802.11 (WiFi)
- ANT & ANT+
- Bluetooth & BTLE
Wireless Communications (WAN):
- IEEE 802.16 (WiMax)
- Cellular: GPRS/2G/3G/4G
JGV: What are the organisations involved in building the IoT?
KK: Again, though not exhaustive, the following are some of the main organisations involved:
- One M2M
- OSGI Alliance
- EPC Global
- IoT-GSI (Global Standards Initiative on Internet of Things)
- ISA International Society of Automation
- CoRE (Constrained RESTful Environments, former 6LoWApp (Low Power Applications) BoF)
- HIPRG (Host Identity Protocol Research Group)