What you need to know about the internet of things

Networked vehicles, virtual assistants, intelligent refrigerators and smart robots: The Internet of Things is having an impact on a wide variety of areas of life. But what does the term actually mean, what are the advantages and challenges of the Internet of Things?

Every morning the shutters open at the set time, the heating in the bathroom comes on automatically and the coffee machine brews the first cup of coffee. When you go to work, the garage door opens, the door locks by itself and the alarm system becomes active. On the way to work, the connected car receives information about a traffic jam and suggests a new route by itself. And in the enterprise, the production plant communicates directly with the ordering system and logistics, so that the goods are made accordingly. All these networked and intelligent devices and machines are part of the Internet of Things.

What you need to know about the internet of things

Definition IoT: What is the Internet of Things??

The Internet of Things (IoT) connects physical objects with the virtual world. Intelligent devices and machines are networked with each other and with the internet. Collect relevant information about their immediate environment, analyze it and link it together. On this basis, the devices perform certain tasks. For example, a sensor measures the outside temperature, whereupon the smart device in which it is installed turns up the heating. All this happens automatically, without any active intervention by the user. If desired, the user can still control the IoT devices remotely, for example via an app on the smartphone.

What you need to know about the internet of things

This is made possible by an interplay of networked components such as microcontrollers, sensors and actuators that convert electrical impulses into pressure, movement, temperature or other mechanical variables. IoT systems are complex: they combine individual devices, databases and so-called gateways, which connect several networks with each other. They are connected to the Internet via a mostly wireless interface and send data or, conversely, receive commands.

Why are sensors so important for the Internet of Things??

Thanks to their senses, humans can sense their surroundings, while machines need sensors for this purpose. They are therefore the most important data suppliers in the Internet of Things. There are different types of sensors: for example to detect temperature, humidity, motion, light, mechanical pressure, CO2 content, ultrasound or air pressure. The respective sensor on an object measures the state of its environment, the microcontroller in the system processes the collected data. These are then transmitted via the network to software. The sensor can be linked via Bluetooth to a smartphone app, through which the user reads the data. Or the information is sent over the Internet to a cloud platform where the data is analyzed. If a sensor in the smart home provides information that it is getting dark, for example, the shutters are lowered. In industry, temperature sensors can be used to precisely control heating or cooling valves, for example. They measure how warm or cold it is in a room or hall, depending on this the valves react.

What you need to know about the internet of things

The evolution to IoT – it started with a toaster

The Internet of Things as a technological infrastructure emerged in the 2000s. But an everyday object that could wirelessly transmit information about its status existed even earlier: in 1982, computer science students in Pittsburgh, USA, monitored the fill level of a beverage vending machine via the precursor of the Internet. The first networked household device followed in 1990, in the early days of the World Wide Web – even before the first website launched in 1991: U.S. software and networking expert John Romkey and Australian computer scientist Simon Hackett connected a toaster to the Internet during a conference. It could be switched on and off online. This toaster is now considered the first IoT device.

The term "Internet of Things" was coined in 1999 by British researcher Kevin Ashton. The expert for sensor and identification technologies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology thus described passive RFID tags. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a technology that allows a reader to read and store data contactlessly from a radio tag. So here, too, physical objects were connected to the virtual world, but only in a limited area. A little later, in 2000, the electronics company LG presented the idea of an Internet-enabled refrigerator: It notifies the owner when the supply of cheese, butter or eggs has run out.

Networking has increased significantly since then: as early as 2008, more devices were connected to the Internet than there were people on earth, as determined by the network specialist Cisco. This meant not only smartphones and computers, but all kinds of objects. In the future, more and more devices will be smart: around 75 billion devices worldwide will be connected to the Internet in 2025.

What you need to know about the internet of things

What you need to know about the internet of things

What you need to know about the internet of things

What you need to know about the internet of things

What you need to know about the internet of things

What you need to know about the internet of things

What you need to know about the internet of things

What you need to know about the internet of things

Benefits and applications of the IoT

Smart devices can now be found in homes, factories, vehicles, healthcare and cities. They will make our everyday lives more comfortable and production processes more efficient, save electricity through greater efficiency while protecting the environment, optimize traffic flow or even simplify life in megacities.

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution: After the steam engine, electrical energy and the computerization of production, now comes the networking of machines, goods and systems. The entire value chain will become digital and thus more efficient. In largely automated processes, for example, products communicate with devices and can independently trigger the next step in production. Machines recognize malfunctions and request maintenance themselves. Manufacturing robots and transport vehicles exchange information independently with warehouse logistics. In addition to efficiency, safety for employees is also increasing: If forklifts or machines are equipped with sensors, they scan their surroundings and stop even before an accident can occur. Thanks to the collection and analysis of data, entirely new services are also being created. In this way, a company can use the Internet of Things to make its portfolio more flexible and offer additional services.

In the near future, we will already share our lives with intelligent machines.
This will be as normal for us as smartphones are today.

In the networked infrastructure of Industry 4.0, processes can be planned more easily and goods produced more quickly. This saves time and storage costs: according to a study by the auditors at PwC, companies expect efficiency increases averaging 19 percent over the next five years. In addition, time-to-market for new products is expected to decrease by an average of 17 percent, and production costs by about 13 percent.

What you need to know about the internet of things

Smart Home

The light switches itself on and off in the evening, intelligent electricity meters record and regulate power consumption: In a smart home, various everyday objects are networked, for example coffee and washing machines, refrigerators, thermostats and light switches. The various devices are linked via a central hub or gateway and connected to the Internet. IoT devices can not only provide greater comfort and energy efficiency in the smart home, but also greater security: networked surveillance cameras and smoke detectors, for example, automatically forward information to users’ smartphones and contact emergency services directly in the event of an emergency. Users can also use voice commands to digital assistants in the smart home to control lights or music, have the weather or news read aloud, or order goods online.


Wearables such as fitness bracelets, smartwatches or fitness trackers are worn on the body and can record health data, for example pulse or blood pressure. This data is clearly analyzed with diagrams or graphics via an app. In addition, there are already smart medical devices such as pacemakers or blood glucose meters. If they detect a problem, they immediately alert the user or the emergency service. E-health devices can thus ensure that elderly or sick people live more safely at home: smart medicine doses determine whether patients have taken their medicine, fall sensors in the carpet report if they have fallen. Networked medical devices are also being used in hospitals: Intelligent beds, for example, provide information on occupancy rates. Results from the lab and readings from different devices are then combined and automatically recorded centrally.

What you need to know about the internet of things

Networked vehicles

The system is equipped with control units and semiconductors, including radar sensors. These measure speed and distance to determine how close another object or person is. Since April 2018, every new car in the EU has also been equipped with the "eCall" emergency call system, which can automatically call for help after an accident thanks to the built-in mobile phone card. Networked vehicles are also connected via WLAN or mobile communications, which provides drivers with information about traffic jams, for example. Via the Internet and with the help of "software updates over the air" ("SOTA"), vehicles can also be serviced more quickly – without having to go to the workshop.

In the future, cars will also drive automatically. Various sensors are also needed for this: Ultrasonic sensors detect obstacles, radar sensors detect other road users and measure their speed and position, video sensors provide additional information. Among other things, the networked vehicles are intended to make road traffic safer. According to a study by Bosch, security systems and cloud-based functions could reach 260 in Germany, the U.S. and China alone by 2025.000 accidents with injuries.

Smart City

By 2050, two out of three people on earth are expected to live in cities, according to the UN. And by 2030, there are expected to be 43 megacities worldwide with more than ten million inhabitants. This poses challenges, for example in terms of infrastructure or air quality. The cities of the future must therefore become more sustainable and safer in order to increase people’s quality of life. The buzzword smart city covers ideas and concepts that use networked technologies to support this process. They come from different areas such as energy, mobility, urban planning, administration or communication. Traffic lights then switch the required lane to green as soon as a fire truck or bus approaches. Street lamps switch on or off as needed and could provide more security with the help of integrated cameras. Digital systems control the infrastructure of public transport, as well as water, wastewater and recycling systems. Citizens can perform administrative services online to save time and paper.

How machines communicate with each other

For processes on the Internet of Things to be automated, devices must be able to communicate with each other without human intervention. A machine-to-machine (M2M) infrastructure enables the exchange of information between vehicles, systems, vending machines, containers, electricity, gas and water meters or robots – and beyond that with a central control center. M2M each requires a data endpoint (DEP), which is the device or machine, a communications network, and a data integration point (DIP), such as a server. An example: a plant produces goods, via WLAN it sends the amount of raw materials to the server. The remotely monitors whether the machine needs maintenance or new raw materials. In addition to the sensors, the devices have a transmitter for communication, which they use to transmit data via the communication network – via mobile communications, WLAN, fixed network, Bluetooth, satellite radio or RFID. The receiver is a control center, just like a server. It collects the information, processes it and triggers an action.

What you need to know about the internet of things

Challenges in the IoT

Numerous examples show: Smart devices in the Internet of Things are helping to simplify our everyday lives. Nevertheless, they also create various challenges that should not be ignored.

Big Data and security in the IoT

The amount of data collected worldwide is exploding: While 16.1 zettabytes were generated annually in 2016, this figure is expected to increase tenfold to 163 zettabytes by 2025, according to market researchers at IDC. Devices on the Internet of Things also play a major role in this process. They collect huge amounts of data. This also creates privacy and data security challenges. While data security focuses on preventing unauthorized access to data, data protection is about protecting our privacy.

The basic principle is that data is the foundation of the Internet of Things. Their evaluation and analysis is what makes everyday life smart. When devices are networked to the Internet, they also become vulnerable to attack. Cyber criminals can take over their control, spy on data or even sabotage industrial plants. Two attackers broke into the infotainment system of a connected car in 2015, just to show that it can be done easily. They turn off the engine and turn on the radio. In the worst case, criminals can even use this method to paralyze the infrastructure of a region or an entire country: This happened in Liberia at the end of 2016 when the Internet failed there. Attackers had reportedly connected millions of IoT devices into a botnet and then carried out "distributed denial of service" (DDoS) attacks. In such "DDoS" attacks, simultaneous requests from numerous devices are sent to a server – until it is overloaded and can no longer respond. Attackers could also control surveillance cameras, spy on users or switch off transmission. IoT devices are often inadequately protected in the smart home, where uniform security standards do not yet exist. Companies are threatened with production downtime if criminals paralyze the smart machines or steal sensitive data.

What you need to know about the internet of things

New challenges are also emerging for data protection: The question is what happens to all that data and where it is stored. The manufacturer of a fitness tracker could use the collected information to create an accurate user profile, for example, and link it to other data. Just as in industrial operations, the information must be effectively protected against access by unauthorized persons. Otherwise, there is a risk not only of the data being stolen: Criminals can also take over the identity of private users or certain employees and access bank accounts or e-mail inboxes, for example.

But how can such attacks be prevented? It is crucial that communication between the devices and servers is secured. Effective protective measures include reliable access management with security authentication and encryption of transmitted data. Smart devices, connected vehicles and Industry 4.0 systems must therefore operate in a protected manner at all costs in order to effectively counteract data theft, fraud, manipulation or other attacks.

Lack of compatibility and ever-increasing performance requirements

A challenge for the manufacturers of IoT devices is also the device- and platform-independent development of applications. Sensors, platforms or operating systems nowadays often only work together with certain systems. The requirements for the individual components of a device therefore vary. Ideally, there is a need for cross-platform hardware and software solutions, and at the same time, for specific software for specific applications. In addition, the demands placed on devices are increasing, which presents manufacturers with further challenges. Sensors and semiconductors are expected to become more powerful and smarter, more secure and with low delays. At the same time they should consume less power and become as small and inconspicuous as possible.

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