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What is the Internet of Things that we keep hearing about?

Ken Finnegan
#IrelandofThings (Source: IDA Ireland)

What do connected cars, smart cities, automated shipping ports and networked home devices have in common? All of them rely on a technology that’s become known as the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things grew out of a trend towards automating industrial processes. Previously, a person with a clipboard would need to walk around an oil field to checking that valves were working, or to monitor soil temperature on a farm. Now, a connected sensor can send the same information via the internet without human intervention.

Rapid growth

There are now more such devices than there are mobile phones or computers, and the number is growing rapidly. Figures from Statista, a portal which aggregates surveys and statistics, show there were an estimated 17.6bn devices in 2016.

Technical reach

Keith O’Byrne, head of solutions with technology company Asavie, describes IoT as “the grease to make modern life happen".

He adds: “There’s an enormous amount of technology that goes into ensuring that the grapes you might eat for breakfast, which came from Peru, are kept fresh. IoT covers industrial processes that ensure the things get to where they’re supposed to be in the condition they’re supposed to be in.”

The grease to make modern life happen" - Keith O'Bryne

Safety testing

IoT enables gathering of information at massive scale. The Irish company, Druid Software, is providing private 4G mobile networks at a car safety testing track in Gothenburg, Sweden. The network connects telemetry services, actuators, sensors and traffic control systems in a series of test areas that mimic real-world environments, from a country road to a city block.

Security concerns

Dublin-based Asavie specialises in secure communications, which is directly relevant to IoT. A world of connected ‘things’ brings specific challenges, as Keith O’Byrne explains. “Trying to apply a security model to IoT is challenging. An IoT device is potentially constrained in terms of computation and also electricity. So the question is, can manufacturers patch, maintain, control and manage this device for 20 years?”

The security challenge posed by rapid growth in connected devices has led to lawmakers in California presenting a bill to the California Senate, aimed at mandating privacy by design for IoT devices. The bill aims to encourage equipment manufacturers to include security features in their connected devices.

Microsoft has also called for the development of a cybersecurity policy for the Internet of Things.

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