The term Internet of Things (or IoT) was coined in 1999.  Just what does this super generic moniker mean?  Literally, it means that physical devices are beginning to connect to the Internet.  If you think about that for a few seconds, technically that is what the Internet is. Physical devices connected together through a common network. The physical devices or “things” of the internet have been servers, routers, switches and all forms of connected compute devices. From that perspective, IoT, is the redefinition of what an internet thing is. More specifically, IoT is a redefinition of what a connected compute device is. The vast majority of theses new IoT connected computer devices will be sensors. Sensors that read, measure, collect and digitize the world around us.

Creating context

The reason sensors are so important is because they provide context. Today the most important devices to create context are those we carry with us. These include our mobile devices and in some cases wearable devices, that are loaded with sensors local to us.

Soon the most important devices will be those around us. In the near future, thousands of sensors will be fixtures in our environment that emit contextual data messages. These sensors will broadcast their contextual identifiers available that answer the questions of who, where, what, when and why to applications that are personal to you.  Sensors will measure and broadcast information about position, health, energy, radio strength climate, traffic, vibration, stress, noise, light … basically anything that can be measured and has value to mankind will be measured.  That measured information will be broadcast over a short distance to mobile devices that are within range.  For any given moment in time, a detailed digital picture of you and your surroundings can be captured for your private applications to consider.

IoT privacy issues

The personal and private nature of your data and identity require this design, as opposed to your device broadcasting its presence to other devices. This also means that creating informational infrastructure that works hand in hand with applications on personal devices is the future of the IoT, and a massive opportunity. This is not new. Essentially, this is how GPS location works. The GPS satellites broadcast small information messages that include their identity and the time. It is up to the personalized location devices to make those messages usable for a consumer. This design is also appearing in shopping situations, where stores broadcast location-specific RFID (Radio Frequency ID) to tell listening apps where products are in a store, and the application then converts those messages into product location information and related purchase deals for the user.

It is important to understand that there are a variety of ways to maintain security and privacy, even for the broadcasting RFID.  For example, a given ID could actually be an abstracted hash.  To make sense of an abstracted hash, the application would have to pass the hash to a decoder.  This decoder may be in a cloud or fog service.  The decoder may require authentication to decode the hash to the actual information pertaining to the RFID. This authenticated lookup also allows a given RFID, to decode into different information, depending on the authentication level of a given user.  For example, a teenager may get different information from an RFID than a parent or head of household may from the same RFID with the same application.  Most importantly, a given RFID may return completely different information, if decoded by completely different services.  For example, consider RFID 0088776655AB.  This RFID may decode to a value that results in displaying a fire hydrant for an emergency fire fighters Heads Up Display (HUD).  As well, the same RFID may decode to a no parking zone in a traffic application.  It may also decode as an obstruction warning for a person who is sight challenged.  Different apps can process the same IoT surroundings differently, which will enable a massive new wave of value add applications.

The above example, is just one of many of the value propositions of IoT.  With IoT, we are giving a voice to an unprecedented number of things that can measure every aspect of our world.  These things will provide context like we have never known before.  They will answer the questions of who, where, what, when and why.

Jim Hunter,
Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems Inc.,
@theiotguru on Twitter

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