Humble Beginnings of the IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT), that has been portrayed as an impending revolution, is not a new concept, but is the culmination from many years of connecting objects through computer networks. Kevin Ashton didn’t coin the phrase we use today until 1999 (while referring to RFID tags in supply chains), but the idea that he was employing came about earlier in the 90s when machine-to-machine (M2M) industrial solutions offered closed networks for device communication. Although these types of connections are not new to the tech world, they have only recently gained more ground in potential applicability.

This past October, the Internet Society put out an IoT overview and marked a number of key trends that have sparked the recent interest and excitement regarding connected devices. The pervasiveness of cheap connectivity has dramatically increased over the past few years, which is visible in one way because of the ubiquity of home Wi-Fi networks. In addition, the widespread adoption of IP-based networking creates an avenue for interoperability between devices.

Advances in circuit development and its miniaturization have also drastically changed the way we think about connectivity. The smart phones that many of us have in our pockets possess the processing power which surpasses some of the supercomputers of the 90s. Implementing internet connectivity into a device is drastically more advanced compared to when Kevin Aston first praised the possibilities of RFID and can be accomplished in much more diverse applications.

Finally, the most recent developments in data analytics and cloud computing have boosted the excitement to the point it’s at today: with hundreds of articles postulating the potential use-cases and applicability of the IoT. These movements really allow for the data sharing capabilities that enables a product to be “smart” and establish the support system for powerful third-party developers.

While it is exciting to visualize what the IoT will look like when it finally arrives, it’s helpful to look back a little and see how far we’ve come already. The integration of the internet into our daily lives has been an ongoing process for many years, and a lot of the benefits of these trends are soon to become a reality.

For more information, check out the Internet Societies’ overview: http://bit.ly/1XO2YGf

IoT: Converging IT and OT

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

The continuously expanding network of internet-enabled smart technology is transforming the current framework that constitutes the Internet of Things (IoT). Historically, Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) have been two completely separate and distinct domains. The importance of physical equipment for monitoring and detecting change in industrial processes through OT has never been truly connected with the processes of electronic data exchange found in IT. However, the integration of wireless sensors into IoT technology is altering the infrastructure of traditional industrial processes. The convergence of IT and OT is an inevitable and necessary step in unleashing the true power of large-scale connectivity via the IoT.

The vast assortment of physical objects being connected to the internet provides manufacturers with the ability to collect and analyze data instantaneously. These networks of devices generate a plethora of data, allowing for the creation of intelligent and immediate solutions. This process is where the lines begin to blur regarding the various IT and OT processes. Traditionally OT infrastructure would require those in charge of operating and maintaining a device to physically process its data in the field. The wide-spread acceptance of gathering data via the internet has enabled workers to access any needed operational data, allowing for analysis and monitoring without having to waste more human resources.

The rapid and continuous growth of the IoT is making the integration of IT and OT environments an inevitable repercussion of increased connectivity between internet-enabled devices. The fundamental technology (software, platforms, etc.) behind OT systems are adapting to operate on a similar level to IT systems. The inherent similarities between modern OT and IT will make it easier to manage an integrated system as opposed to two separate entities. Gartner, which is an IT research company, stated “A shared set of standards and platforms across IT and OT will reduce costs in many areas of software management, and reduced risks come from reducing malware intrusion and internal errors” (Gartner). Efficiency within a company will see an exponential increase with the convergence of IT and OT.

Improving efficiency is only one of the many benefits of implementing an integration system between IT and OT systems. The convergence between these two fields will provide businesses with more information to make smarter decisions in terms of business processes. The integration of IT and OT will enable further analysis of products through data, which will lead to performance improvements that can increase the satisfaction of consumers. Being able to coordinate efforts between IT and OT within an organization is a cost-efficient method in reducing missteps in decision-making.

Top suburban entrepreneurs honored at Business Ledger event

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Last night was dedicated to risk taking and overcoming failure as 19 local entrepreneurs were honored during the 17th Annual Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards, hosted by the Business Ledger and its sponsoring partners. Mike Justice, founder, president, and CEO of Grid Connect was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Read more about some of the top entrepreneurs in the Chicago suburbs here: http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20160915/business/160919140/

 

 

 

Simplifying IoT: Connecting, Commissioning, and Controlling with Near Field Communication (NFC)

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

The Internet of Things (IoT) is in the process of transforming the way we live our lives by improving the quality of life with technological advancements in efficiency and safety. Consumers will be among the biggest beneficiaries as the home environment is one of the main platforms for the advancement of smart ecosystems. The habits of individual consumers will be detected by devices within smart home ecosystems and then that information will be used to optimize the environment. The connectivity of the IoT will enable the seamless communication among devices. Near Field Communication (NFC) can be used to help developers utilize internet-enabled devices in an effort to maximize the benefits of the IoT in daily life.

It is evident that NFC will be beneficial for smart home devices as nearly 40 billion connected devices are expected to be in use by 2020. NFC provides a simply solution for connecting IoT devices to a network. Any device that is lacking a quality user interface (UI) can be given user-friendly controls with a single tap via NFC. In addition to its ease of use, other benefits include explicit interaction through close proximity interactions, read and write capabilities, and communication with devices that are powered down. NFC is a low cost and low energy solution that will enhance the IoT experience.

Setting up networks of IoT devices clearly has several benefits, but enabling a connected smart home does pose some challenges. A pressing challenge is the difficulty of adding and removing devices within a network. The ability to manage devices can often be difficult when dealing with headless devices that don’t have a built-in UIs. There isn’t really a single way to setup various devices within a smart home environment as users are typically required to follow manufacturer-specific commissioning methods. NFC can be used to resolve these issues and improve the overall user experience.

There are many other challenges that are facing the IoT. However, NFC can offer solutions to some of the following concerns:

Commissioning Devices: As mentioned before, there isn’t a standard protocol in terms of the commissioning process for IoT devices. Users are confronted with too many different methods for adding devices to a network, especially when there are no UIs available. NFC uses a single tap, or proximity to commission a device, thus creating a standardized mechanism for adding devices to a network.

NFC-Based Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Pairing: Most IoT devices connect to a network via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth within a smart home environment, making it more important than ever that they operate with comparable efficiency. In terms of Bluetooth, the NFC Forum and Bluetooth SIG have collaborated to speed up the Bluetooth pairing process. This means that the very slow and time consuming process of device discovery and paring will be eliminated by using the NFC tap to enable an instant and secure connection. The NFC Forum also has been working with the Wi-Fi Alliance to make it easier to connect to wireless networks. Once the user taps the NFC device to the NFC tag for their Wi-Fi network, the device will configure itself and instantly connect without the user having to find the network name (SSID) or manually enter a password.

Headless Device Commissioning: Devices that don’t have a UI don’t have an easy way to add them to a network. Tapping these headless devices against an NFC tag with the networking key built-in will remove the headache of commissioning these devices. NFC is used to establish a secure and quick connection and then can erase the network key from the tag to protect it from being accessed by an unauthorized person.

Controlling a Device with No User Interface: There are a variety of smart devices such as light bulbs, environmental sensors, in-wall outlets, and more, that don’t include an integrated visual display. Even though Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can provide some IoT interactivity, there are still several issues when setting up and configuring devices. NFC offers a very simple and secure method for controlling IoT devices that don’t include a UI. Input interactions (network provisioning and configuration) and output interactions (reporting information and diagnostics) are enabled via NFC.

Access Control for the Smart Home: Environments such as condominiums and high-end apartments have multiple families living in them, which usually requires a massive amount of mechanical keys in order for everyone to enter their homes. Mechanical keys are expensive, time consuming to distribute, and can easily be copied. NFC offers a solution by giving property managers the ability to give tenants a smart card or mobile application to access their homes. Keys can be sent to friends and family members with no cost, and a record will be kept of who enters and exits the home. NFC technology will provide a secure, cost effective, and flexible rekeying solution for property managers.

Many of the current problems facing the IoT in terms of user-friendliness and accessibility will be resolved with NFC. The implementation of NFC can unlock the true power of a large assortment of IoT devices within a smart home ecosystem. NFC technology can enhance the user experience in a secure and flexible manner at a very affordable price. The potential impact that NFC will have on the IoT is widely recognized within the NFC Forum and the IoT SIG.

How Time-Sensitive Networking Enables the IIoT

The world’s first time-sensitive networking (TSN) testbed is being developed in a collaborative effort to change network infrastructure so that it will enhance the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). As this develops, it is essential that Industry 4.0. Machine designers, builders, and users have reliable and secure access to smart edge devices. This will force the current, standard network technologies to transform in an effort to meet the requirements of the next generation of industrial systems.

The testbed itself was designed to assist in creating a new wave of innovative technologies, products, applications, and services for the industrial internet market. The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), comprised of the corporations developing the testbed, are attempting to create a TSN in an “ecosystem of manufacturing applications,” which is based off of new Ethernet IEEE 802 standards. The goal of the testbed is to provide insight on the security of a TSN as well as highlight its real-time capabilities through the use of standard and converged Ethernet.

In order for TSNs to be taken seriously, it will be crucial that there are sufficient security measures utilized in order to protect the safety of IIoT users. It is essential that the TSN security is integrated as a layered system, meaning security is implemented throughout the network, because simply adding security as an additional feature at the end of development (air-gap security) leaves the network vulnerable as it is only a perimeter-based measure of defense. One beneficial aspect of time-sensitive networking is its ability to determine the exact instance data was sent and when it is supposed to arrive; if anyone intercepts packets of data it will be easy to tell. That being said, TSNs require a central management aspect that have the power to alter entire networks, which could be a challenge in terms of developing security.

The use of deterministic Ethernet will alter the various safety systems for TSNs by allowing messages to be scheduled from safety applications in order to provide high availability for safety systems. The real-time, synchronous mechanisms of the deterministic Ethernet will enable the connection of more devices and more machines, creating a powerful and integrated IIoT. Mike Justice, president of Grid Connect, believes that its use as a control network has the potential to replace other existing networks such as Profibus and DeviceNet.

As the real-time capabilities of deterministic Ethernet continue to develop, there will be several applications that will benefit from the use of a TSN. Machine-to-machine communication would improve as it needs to operate with low latency and high synchronization. Safety-based communications could access data more efficiently as it is currently mostly done through hardwiring. General motion and robot controls would improve as accessing data through standard communication could be done with ease. Essentially any latency-sensitive application would be much improved through the use of a TSN.

Another interesting application of a TSN can be observed through cloud and edge computing as they provide an infrastructure that will improve the functionality IoT technology. The use of deterministic Ethernet through TSNs could theoretically allow for machine control to be executed within a cloud environment, but there isn’t much room for error regarding latency in communication. Even though consumer and industrial applications of cloud-based machine control have different demands in terms of real-time dependency and data consumption, they are still in the foreseeable future if network stability can be established. Private, local clouds have had success in controlling machines, but large public clouds are more concerning with problems such as technical issues, data confidentiality, and security.

Time-sensitive networking is a feasible option for advancing the IIoT as long as it delivers on its promises of speed and security. It will be a major improvement to converge from information technology (IT) to operational technology (OT) in regards to the security and integration of cloud services. Justice states that “The controls industry is conservative and will follow the IT market in a few years after security issues are well-addressed.” The ability of TSNs to connect machines to the cloud and create real-time data messaging and analytics will improve the overall functionality of the IIoT.

 

Read more at: https://www.controldesign.com/articles/2016/how-time-sensitive-networking-enables-the-iiot/?start=4