Cloud Services are the Future of the IoT

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

The Internet of Things (IoT) is composed of an assortment of connected devices, but without cloud computing services, these devices wouldn’t have much more functionality than the standard household device. This is because the cloud allows devices to outsource the analysis and storage of any data that is collected through their connected sensors. The cloud’s internet-based computing methods act as the brain for IoT devices, removing the boundaries of inter-device, memory and space constrictions.

The IoT is growing at an exponential rate, making cloud services more important than they have ever been before. In order for the cloud infrastructure to accommodate for the mass amount of data being stored and transferred within the cloud, it will need to be developed at a rate similar to IoT technology. The cloud was designed on the very basis of being able to store information remotely, making it the optimum environment for the interconnectivity of internet-enabled devices. If the IoT industry plans to succeed, it is critical that the significance of cloud services is recognized.

There are many benefits offered by the cloud that would enhance the world of smart technology. The ingenious decision to move the serious data processing functionality of these devices to the cloud has opened the door for further technological advancements. Using the cloud for big data storage and analytics has done two main things that have helped enable the accelerated development of IoT technology. The first thing it does is enable devices to be smaller and use less power, making them much easier to integrate within any home environment. The second is that it makes it possible to continuously update the firmware as needed, which removes the burden from consumers and allows devices to be used for longer periods of time.

The overall accessibility and user-friendliness of IoT devices can be accredited to the power of the cloud. Having devices that every consumer can deploy within their smart homes is definitely a positive for the IoT. That being said, the cloud is able to do so much more for smart technology than simply make it easier for consumers to use devices. Creating a network of devices is entirely dependent upon having a reliable method of communication. The implementation of cloud infrastructure in IoT devices enables the ability to utilize multiple devices in a single network, while communicating simultaneously. Once multiple devices are communicating within the same cloud, the information and data that is collected can be accessed by all devices, thus establishing a more synchronized system.

This always available, web-based service is a perfect vehicle for helping the IoT thrive. Current cloud infrastructure isn’t quite large enough to support the expected rise in IoT devices over the next couple of years. That being said, more advanced cloud infrastructures are being developed to help compensate for the influx of connected technology. As the network of devices continue to grow, it will be crucial that the capabilities of the cloud are maintained as it is truly the only technology available that is equipped for storing and analyzing all the data created by the IoT.

The Future of Music and Technology

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

Many believed that the integration of technology and musical instruments reached its peak with the creation of instruments such as the electric guitar and keyboard, but the music world is continuing to embrace the power of technological innovation. Learning how to play an instrument has always been considered something that requires a lot of time to learn and perfect. The goal of infusing technology and musical instruments is to turn music into something that is much more accessible for users, making learning to play an instrument easier.

Technological advancements have increased the functionality of individual instruments. The ability to play multiple instruments with one device has created what is now called a multi-instrument. The Artiphon INSTRUMENT 1 is a great example of a multi-instrument, as it allows musicians to tap the keys of a piano, strum a guitar, loop a beat, and more, all from a single instrument. This technology-based smart instrument can be connected to a smartphone, tablet, or computer to access different music apps. It is designed to optimize the experience of playing music by letting users create whatever they want with a powerful, portable, and simple device.

Even though this device is not the only electronic instrument on the market, it captures some of the benefits of having smart, connected instruments. The INSTRUMENT 1 comes with the Artiphon app to help customize the way music is played, making it possible to do something like play a piano by strumming it. This removes a lot of the boundaries placed on specific instruments due to their design. The sounds associated with traditional instruments can be altered and utilized in ways that have never been heard before. There are also digital strings that never break and allow for the instrument to be strummed as seamlessly as the real instrument.

This device is among the many that have begun to revolutionize the way music is played. Devices are not only becoming more powerful and customizable; they are becoming more user-friendly. Instruments are now very flexible in terms of the sound they can produce, making it easier for musicians to create the music they want. Technological instruments are easier to learn and are more connected with the ability to access a variety of different apps and social platforms. All of these new instruments are assisting in the democratization of music by making it accessible for everyone to develop their own unique sound.

Smart Cities Are No Longer Optional

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

The invasion of connectivity has influenced large cities around the globe to embrace the Internet of Things (IoT) as the all-purpose solution for improving the quality of life. As the population of people living in cities continues to grow, the multitude of wasted resources will increase from an already large amount. In order to support the changing infrastructure of city life, smart technology needs to be further implemented in the form of devices and vehicles in order to reduce the consumption of valuable resources such as energy, gas, and water.

Smart technology has barely reached its threshold of possibilities at this point in time. There has only been a handful of European and American cities that have begun to implement new technology. That being said, the success of combining IoT technology with the physical city infrastructure in the few existing smart cities has provided cities stuck in the past with overwhelming evidence of how the lives of citizens can be vastly improved with smart technology. The issue is not in cities not being able to access the technology; there are several industry leading companies such as Cisco, Intel, Siemens, and many more, that are creating smart solutions with innovative technological advancements. It is a matter of cities being willing to take a leap of faith towards a future full of efficient and cost-effective solutions.

The municipalities that have already embraced the IoT have drastically enhanced the quality of city life while reducing spending and easing the pain of city congestion. There are a couple of great examples of how cities in the United States have implemented this technology. San Francisco has begun to integrate sensors into their streets and parking spots to help drivers avoid traffic and find open parking spaces quickly. San Antonio has smart LED streetlights, which can alter their brightness levels in instances of fog or rain to improve the road visibility for drivers. These are among the many innovations that are making cities easier to navigate and live in while improving existing safety standards.

As more cities begin to adopt the features of what has been deemed an IoT revolution, it will be important that there are standards in place. These standards will make the most innovative tech much more synonymous solutions in cities around the globe, which will assist in distinguishing solutions that work from solutions that don’t. Ken Briodagh, writer for the IoT Evolution, describes the need for standards:

“As each city seeks to address its most pressing needs, or move toward the implementation that has the most potential for success, the leaders need to start working together with each other to share knowledge and intelligence about these projects so the successful ones can be replicated and the failures won’t be” (Read more: iotevolutionworld.com).

As IoT technology starts to become a more central part of city infrastructure, standards will begin to develop at a much more successful rate. Converting a city into a smart city will not happen overnight. It is unrealistic to expect the immediate integration of smart technology around the world, but what can be expected is cities seeking solutions in IoT for their specific and pressing needs. As time goes on there will be a global peak in the production of IoT devices; if cities continue to have success in improving the quality of life with smart technology, then the widespread adoption of the smart city is an inevitable, but necessary step in creating a more resource-efficient society.

ConnectSense Introduces Power Monitoring to Smart Outlet

Smart Outlet Price Dropped to $59.95

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — (October 20, 2016) — ConnectSense, a developer and manufacturer of home automation products, announced the addition of power monitoring to its ConnectSense Smart Outlet and the ConnectSense app.

With the ConnectSense app, users can easily create integrated scenes and rules for the Smart Outlet and other home automation devices regardless of manufacturer, with just a few simple steps. Users can control their smart devices with the touch of a button or using Siri voice control.

With detailed power monitoring, users have insight into the power consumption of devices plugged into the Smart Outlet, as well as how long devices have been turned on. This allows users to adopt more energy efficient habits or to replace energy-hogging devices or appliances with more efficient choices.

Unique to the ConnectSense app is the ability to create rules based on power usage. For example, a homeowner can set a rule that says if the television has been on for three hours, turn it off. Also, for safety, rules can be set to turn off hot or potentially dangerous devices, such as flat irons, if they have been left on for an extended period of time.

More complex scenarios also can be set up to automate environments. For example, in a home theater, a homeowner can set a rule that says when the projector turns on, the room lights dim.

“We are happy to provide our customers a way to monitor their energy usage, and give them more control over their devices,” said Adam Justice, founder of ConnectSense. “Among the reasons to automate a home is to make it more energy efficient and to save money, and power monitoring will be an important tool in this effort.”

The ConnectSense power monitoring feature is available via firmware update free to existing customers in the current ConnectSense app.

ConnectSense also announced it is dropping the price of its ConnectSense Smart Outlet to $59.95. The Smart Outlet features two Internet-connected electrical sockets that enable users to control devices plugged into them using Siri via their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Apple Watch.

About ConnectSense
ConnectSense develops and manufactures home automation products, including the ConnectsSense Smart Outlet and a line of wireless sensors that monitor changes in your environment then notifies you by email or text when something goes awry. ConnectSense can be found at www.connectsense.com and on Twitter at @ConnectSense.

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For information contact:

Linda Muskin, 847-432-7300
lmuskin@teamclarus.com

Mara Conklin, 847-816-9411
mconklin@teamclarus.com

What Interoperability Means for the Internet of Things

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

The Internet of Things (IoT) is reliant upon connection, making communication one of the most rudimentary functions of internet-enabled technology. Interoperability opens up endless opportunities for IoT devices as it ensures that devices will be able to communicate with each other and store data in a central location. The IoT will be able to fulfil its promises of convenience and functionality if multiple devices can be controlled simultaneously while being able to communicate and transfer data with each other.

A majority of the companies that are manufacturing IoT technology are trying to create platforms and devices that will be accepted as the “industry leading solution.” However, this culture within the IoT industry has led to a large assortment of devices that have to be controlled as separate entities and from different apps. The fact of the matter is that consumers simply don’t want to have 50 different devices, each with their own app, that operate independently of each other. The growth of the industry will be limited until manufacturers begin to collaborate in developing devices that will work together within the same network.

Manufacturers clearly understand that interoperability is a necessity for the IoT to continue to grow. So why hasn’t a standardized control system been created? The answer is simple: money and brand recognition. Each company wants to be the one that develops the ultimate “hub” for controlling IoT technology as it will come with a major payout. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just means it will take more time to reach seamless interoperability than it would if there were more collaborative efforts. That being said, there are still some open-source initiatives to create interoperability that have shown signs of promise such as Qualcomm’s AllSeen Alliance.

When it comes to the individual corporations that are trying to create hubs for controlling smart technology, it appears that Apple is on the verge of creating total interoperability for HomeKit products. The upgraded Apple operating system, iOS10, has transformed the way HomeKit is used with its addition of the Home app. This app allows for any HomeKit device to be controlled from a central location. This means that instead of going to an app for each manufacturer, all devices can be controlled in the hub Apple has integrated within their new operating system. Companies like Google and Microsoft have also created similar smart home platforms, but they don’t quite offer this level of interoperability and don’t seem to have as much traction in the consumer world. These developments in HomeKit are great strides in achieving interoperability within the IoT.

Even though HomeKit has achieved a previously unseen level of interoperability, it still isn’t quite what consumers want in terms of creating a smart home that is completely connected. This is because HomeKit products are the only products that can communicate and operate within this network, thus limiting the device integration to Apple approved devices. This isn’t a bad thing for Apple because many other tech giants are trying to create this same level of interoperability for their respective smart home platforms. At this point in time, this segregated version of interoperability is the best consumers will get until these large corporations put their differences aside.

The current trends within the IoT industry are unlikely to change anytime soon due to the fact that smart home technology is still in the late stages of its infancy. As technology becomes more advanced and more efficient, consumers will begin to demand networks that are more connected, with devices that are able to communicate and operate in harmony. The interoperability provided in Apple HomeKit is a significant advancement from previous systems and is an innovative solution at this point in time. It will be interesting to see if large IoT businesses will be willing to work together in an effort to create a centralized hub that can control and communicate with any type of smart device.

IPv6 and The Internet of Things

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

A majority of the tech industry has come to accept that the Internet of Things (IoT) will increase in size by the year 2020, enabling around 30 billion internet-connected devices. Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) was the first internet protocol to be released for public use. When it was released, it only allocated enough address spaces to accommodate for just over 4 billion devices, which is clearly not even close to enough space at this point in time. Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), which is the most recent internet protocol, is the perfect solution for the IoT as it extends the number of address spaces to roughly 340 undecillion.

The IPv6 can essentially provide every person on Earth with around 4,000 usable IP addresses, which is more than enough space to sustain the expected IoT growth. Due to the limited size of the IPv4, implementing IPv6 as the new standard for internet connectivity is inevitable. When IPv4 began to run out of address space, Network Address Translation (NAT) was developed to enable different devices to share the same public IP address. At the time, this was a very innovative solution that compensated for the unexpected expansion of the internet. However, many devices that are being developed today utilize an IPv6 address space. Even though converting any IPv4 addresses to IPv6 may be cumbersome, it is only a matter of time before IPv6 is universally accepted, rendering IPv4 infrastructures completely useless.

What does this have to do with the IoT? The most important thing to consider is that upgrading from IPv4 to IPv6 will require end-to-end encryption and a stronger authentication process. This is because using NAT creates a middleman in the device communication, removing the ability to have more secure machine to machine (M2M) communication. IoT devices are heavily reliant upon robust and secure communication as the data collected by device sensors can include sensitive information. IPv6 will enable safe M2M communication and allow for the IoT to continue to expand at its expected, exponential rate. There can still be some security risks with IPv6, but it is a significant advancement in comparison to IPv4.

Security aside, IPv6 could be the solution for multi-protocol interoperability between different devices. This is due to the fact that it includes a very large address space, allowing for the internet to be extended to any device. IPv6 utilizes auto-configuration, which is used to establish a link-local address. It can then use its Neighbor Discovery Protocol (NDP) to check if the address is unused and unique before it saves it. This is a major upgrade for the IoT because IPv6 completes its address conflict detection before actually using the address itself, which IPv4 did not do.

When it comes to things such as mobility and scalability, IPv6 is well equipped to handle the plethora of IoT devices that will soon be creating networks within homes and cities. This upgraded internet protocol brings more functionality and more security than IPv4 could offer, while ensure every device will have a unique IP address. As the IoT world continues to expand at such a rapid pace, its dependency on IPv6 is an unavoidable step in creating seamless device interoperability and communication.

The Internet of Things and Bluetooth

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

Despite its name, the Internet of Things (IoT) is not constricted to purely internet-based connectivity. In fact, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solutions are increasing the functionality of IoT devices more successfully than via the internet, creating a more reliable framework for further connectivity. BLE technology will enhance and optimize the overarching operability of smart home devices by creating faster communication speeds and extending signal range.

Even though using the internet to connect devices works very well, it can have inconsistencies in its connection and shorten the battery life of various devices. These issues can be resolved through the use of BLE technology. Using BLE in IoT technology will allow devices to operate for extended periods of time on small power sources. In a readwrite article, it was stated that the new updates to Bluetooth technology made it possible for a coin-cell battery to last for several months, or even several years. Implementing Bluetooth technology within different IoT devices will help make managing a smart home a very energy efficient process.

The improved functionality of the IoT with the use of BLE goes far beyond simply saving power. BLE has the ability to extend the range of connection between devices by nearly four times that of a Wi-Fi network. This makes it a more reliable method for connecting numerous smart devices throughout a home environment. Not only is there a further range, but the communication speeds are revamped and much more capable to fulfill the demands of the always on and always communicating IoT devices.

Smart devices will be able to take full advantage of increased communication speeds and range due to the fact that BLE utilizes mesh networking. This is a network topology that allows for each device to be fully connected to each other within a network, allowing each node to assist in data distribution. The consumer benefit of mesh networking is explained by NXP; “Applications for Bluetooth mesh networks include those found in most every consumer’s home: door locks, lights, HVAC systems, and white goods (washers, dryers, refrigerators, and so on).” A mesh network is reliable for maintaining a smart home environment because individual devices can still communicate if one device runs out of power or is disconnected.

An increasing amount of manufacturers are beginning to integrate Bluetooth technology within their IoT technology. BLE will improve the overall functionality of the IoT and aid in establishing much more sturdy networks that will sustain the operation of numerous devices. This will help consumers create more efficient and powerful smart home environments.

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.

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.