The author of the handy new reference A Non-Geek’s A-to-Z Guide to the Internet of Things shared several definitions of IoT itself, all somewhat different and all from authoritative sources. The 101 terms defined range from the uber-familiar, like automation, to one that harks back to the days before the Windows operating system, to one that has a particular meaning in the IoT: things.
Authors and speakers owe audiences clear definition of terms, since meanings vary depending on context or individual interpretations. Definitions may differ only in details, but those details are important.
The guide’s definitions have a definite business slant. Explanations, examples and relationships to other IoT terms are helpful, if not strictly Websterian. Although most of these terms are familiar, a few are relatively new to the scene.
Following is an selection of IoT terms from the guide.
Standard Terms in an IoT Context
things: According to the guide, the definition of a thing depends on the person asked; the key requirement is that the thing have an IP address. The thing might be an information-gathering sensor or it might be something attached to a sensor. If a pet dog’s microchip can gather and transmit GPS information, the dog could become a thing.
Automation: The guide does not redefine automation but points out that “the automation of data-driven decisions and actions is an obvious direction for the IoT … the ability to automate decisions and actions … will separate the leaders from the laggards.”
Connectivity: “IoT connectivity boils down to how things connect to each other.” Simple, direct and dependent on what a thing is.
Hacker: The guide skips the original “good guy” definition of a hacker as someone who can program quickly and accurately, or who enjoys the intellectual challenge of programming stuff that might or might not be objectively useful, but which was fun to do. The guide splits hackers into white, grey and black hats, based on where their work falls on an ethical scale. Given the number of unprotected back doors the IoT offers, black hat hackers could well proliferate in the coming years.
Terms Spawned by the IoT
Connected customer, connected factory: Connected means connected to the vast network of things. A connected factory is further distinguished by using data communicated by automated machinery, building systems, security systems - any system to manage operations and make decisions.
Smart (fill in the blank with house, city, grid or any other entity): A smart entity can communicate with another entity through a network – it is connected. The microchipped dog in the things definition would be a smart dog.
Wearables: Clothing or accessories that incorporate things incorporated into them.
Edge computing: Things collect a lot of data - not all of it useful - that is transmitted to cloud storage. For connected factories and other enterprises that rely on real-time data processing, cloud storage is inefficient. In edge computing, things are hardwired to a smart controller; the controller decides whether to send data to the cloud or store it locally.
Fog computing: Fog computing is like edge computing, except that data is stored on a local area network.
Big data: The explosion in the amount of raw data produced by things presents the data owners with substantial challenges, including deciding what to keep, how best to use it and how to make storage and analysis feasible. Big data encompasses this universe of collection, storage, analysis and application. The availability of big data has spawned the science of descriptive and predictive analytics. The term predates the IoT but did not come into its current usage until around 2011.
Legacy: A legacy machine or process or system is not yet connected; it is not yet a thing. The guide points out that for businesses, doing nothing about legacy machines “is not a sustainable option.”
Miscellaneous Interesting Terms
A few of the following terms are either too new or abstruse to be in common use or they are just sort of fun.
Data lake: A storage place for data kept in its original format. Storing raw data like this, without any preliminary processing, is efficient.
Geofencing: Although not a brand-new term, geofencing is still a novel way to establish a boundary around a property. The perimeters are set using GPS technology and an RFID device can trigger the fence when it crosses the virtual boundary. The guide points out that a homeowner could use a geofence to turn house lights on or off when her smartphone crosses the fence. Geofences are already used to protect sensitive areas in factories and to provide child location services.
Quantified self: A person clad in wearables and equipped with sensors that log data about sleep, exercise, nutrition and so forth is quantified.
Yottabyte: A yottabyte is one septillion bytes, or 1024. It is larger than a zettabyte (1021). According to the guide, this quantity is named for Yoda. Wikipedia attributes the name to the prefix yotta, which comes from the Greek word for eight. A yottabyte is the equivalent of 10008.
The First IoT Device?
The guide claims that xCoffee was the first IoT device. Others claim that the Internet Coke Machine deserves this honor. The Internet Coke Machine dates back to 1982 – the internet’s infancy – when Carnegie Mellon computer science graduate students wired up the bins in a coke machine and connected them to the internet. Their motivation? No one wanted to walk one floor down only to discover that the machine was out of his or her choice of beverage, or that the stock was too warm to drink.
CERN’s xCoffee IoT device – a coffee pot with a camera trained on it -- joined the network about ten years after the Coke machine. The camera, not the pot itself, was the IoT device. Both the Coke machine and xCoffee provided information about beverage availability; the Coke machine also had accurate temperature data. Given the amount of brew in the coffee pot (perhaps eight cups when full), drinkers could probably estimate temperature based on coffee level.
Which of these was the first IoT device? We’ll leave that question as an exercise for the reader.