How embedded technologies are enabling the Internet of Things (IOT)

From wearable devices to internet connected devices called NodeBots, embedded technologies are enabling the development of all of the cool, new devices that are colloquially being referred to as the Internet of Things (IOT).

Of all the technology trends for 2015, the Internet of Things, and the embedded technologies that are enabling them,  is one of the most pervasive in everyday life. While the cloud is ephemeral and hard to define, the Internet of Things is very concrete. It's embedded in everything from a WiFi enabled pedometer to a car equipped with a monitoring device for usage-based insurance. What's behind this trend and what new inventions are just around the corner?

Embedded tech as an enabler

Through the evolution of recent technology, something that was very hard before, which is Internet connected robotics, is now very easy.

Jenny Tong, VP Firebase

As miniaturization improves, developers are gaining access to platforms that are capable of running Java and Scala environments with ease. This means tiny devices can perform complex actions and do far more than simply store or communicate data. It doesn't stop with the computing power on the embedded device, either. As Sorin Zaporojan, co-founder at SFactory noted, "2015 will bring wearables, watches, and other devices and the connection will be done mostly through the cloud." This massive cloud backend extends the reach of embedded technology even farther, allowing individual devices to come together as part of a much larger network.

Wearables may get a makeover

Speaking of wearables, watches may soon be old hat. Some of the world's most innovative researchers are toying with much more adventurous options for tech apparel. Barry Burd is the well-known author of Java for Dummies and a core member of the Northern New Jersey Developers Group involved with Google's Solve for X program.

According to Burd, "The idea of this research forum is to bring people with big ideas to the forefront. A really big idea is called a moonshot. There are three components. There's a grand problem, a proposed radical solution, and some kind of technology that's involved in the solution." Among the proposed solutions that are enabled by the Internet of things: computerized contact lenses that can monitor health and a computerized scarf made of flexible silicon.

Meet the Internet of robots

Google is making more direct inroads into connectivity for the Internet of Things with FireBase—a new real-time backend-as-a-service offering. Jenny Tong, developer advocate at FireBase, revealed that this is the type of service that's bringing IOT technology to the local science fair. "Through the evolution of recent technology, something that was very hard before, which is Internet connected robotics, is now very easy. You can go to a hobby store and pick up a Raspberry Pi and some other off-the-shelf components, throw in some JavaScript, and make some really powerful Internet connected robots—called NodeBots."

What might be done with a NodeBot? For practical business purposes, they could be used to integrate with sensor networks for thermostats and interact with each other to make adjustments for energy efficiency. The options for entertainment and art are boundless. At a recent NodeBots event for JavaScript enthusiasts, projects ranged from a Wii nun-chuck controller to a theremin. On a more prosaic level, NodeBots might be used for geo-spacial mapping to figure out the best way to vacuum a carpet. What makes robotics most attractive may end up being the fact that bots make the mundane easier to accomplish.

Is the IOT really all that and a slice of pi?

Simon Maple, developer advocate at ZeroTurnaround, suggested that the Internet of Things is not without pitfalls. In fact, the technology is ripe to dip deeply into the "trough of disillusionment" very soon. But it won't stay there. The technology is useful enough to outlive the hype.

At the same time, enthusiasts aren't helping matters along. Maple pointed out that the IOT doesn't always enable efficiency. "One thing that's quite sad is how people have jumped on the IOT bandwagon and are calling things IOT for the sake of it. They are actually lengthening and adding complexity to a series of tasks just by making it IOT capable. For example, they are using technology where it isn't needed. At a recent conference, you could tweet a hashtag, scan the QR code, then get a beer. You could have just clicked a button instead. It's over-engineering for the sake of IOT."

Looking ahead for the IOT

Over the next decade, it's likely that the Internet of Things will make the shift into the plateau of profitability—and a very profitable place that will be. While the sale of connected gadgets will represent a substantial percentage of the revenue, it's likely to be the Big Data and analytics that end up delivering the greatest value . Be prepared to see major players emerging in the field of IOT analytics in 2015 and beyond.

Why types of IOT projects are you working on? Let us know.

This was last published in September 2016

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