Wednesday, February 18, 2015

IOT and your boat

Written By Tim Mathews and Bill Bishop.

The Internet of Things is a grand concept more than a thing. It describes interconnection through the Internet of computing devices both large and small, wearable and fixed. Devices like your home's thermostat reminding you to set it to away when you leave the house, the smart phone you left in the coffee shop letting you know where it is so you can go back and rescue it; the machine humming on the factory floor notifying the production manager because humming isn't a sound it's supposed to make; and the locomotive reporting it's position and remaining fuel to the dispatcher so that trains can be scheduled more efficiently. Not all of these are new ideas, but all of them fall under the umbrella of the Internet of Things or IOT.

There's another aspect to this grand scheme. Myriads of small embedded computers with smaller CPUs and capabilities can be linked to larger computers through the ether to coordinate and optimize their more limited capabilities. What we now take for granted is the Internet of Things at work. This is all pretty amazing when you think about it. 

That locomotive's computers may also be reporting on the well being of every axle of every car behind it, so that when it rolls in to the switching yard crews know exactly which cars need attention and which can be sent back out. It's able to do this because of tiny embedded computers in each wheel truck which constantly updates with the only thing they know: "Am I OK or not?"

This isn't limited to just machines. The athlete training for a triathlon wear a watch. The watch wirelessly collects information from sensors being worn. Their heart rate, body temperature, cadence, the amount of time their feet are in contact with the ground, blood oxygen levels are all being gathered by that watch. The watch may have an accelerometer capturing the athlete's motion. But the watch doesn't store this information for long. It connects to the Internet and uploads the data into a more powerful computer where it can be monitored by coaches and trainers or analyzed later for sophisticated feedback about their performance. 

This data can also be shared via social networks with other athletes for comparison or to show off to fans or just to maintain a public record. Most of these scenarios deal with telemetry or one-way data monitoring. Conjure up an image of any NASA mission's ground control; a room full of men in white short sleeved shirts, black ties and horn-rimmed glasses staring at computer screens. That's telemetry.

In essence, this what IOT is about. Telemetry for everyone, hopefully without the need for rocket scientists to interpret it. But it also takes it a step further, because it gives you the ability to not only view the data, but to control the devices sending the data. A thermostat which sent you a message reminding you to set it to away mode after you've left the house wouldn't be all that useful if that's all it could do. However if you could  respond with a curt "enable away mode", that might be pretty useful. Smaller devices talking to larger devices, talking to even larger and smarter devices and then returning optimized information and new instructions back downstream.