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As you saw in the previous chapter, the applications for IoT extend across a broad variety of use cases and verticals. However, all complete IoT systems are the same in that they represent the integration of four distinct components: sensors/devices, connectivity, data processing, and a user interface.
We’ll outline what each one means in the sections below and how they come together to form a complete IoT system. Each of these sections will also serve as the organizational structure of the rest of this ebook, and we’ll dive into these components more deeply in the chapters to follow.
First, sensors or devices collect data from their environment. This data could be as simple as a temperature reading or as complex as a full video feed.
We use “sensors/devices,” because multiple sensors can be bundled together or sensors can be part of a device that does more than just sense things. For example, your phone is a device that has multiple sensors (camera, accelerometer, GPS, etc), but your phone is not just a sensor since it can also perform many actions.
However, whether it’s a standalone sensor or a full device, in this first step data is being collected from the environment by something.
Next, that data is sent to the cloud, but it needs a way to get there!
The sensors/devices can be connected to the cloud through a variety of methods including: cellular, satellite, WiFi, Bluetooth, low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN), connecting via a gateway/router or connecting directly to the internet via ethernet (don’t worry, we’ll explain more about what these all mean in our connectivity section).
Each option has tradeoffs between power consumption, range, and bandwidth. Choosing which connectivity option is best comes down to the specific IoT application, but they all accomplish the same task: getting data to the cloud.
Once the data gets to the cloud (we’ll cover what the cloud means in our data processing section)), software performs some kind of processing on it.
This could be very simple, such as checking that the temperature reading is within an acceptable range. Or it could also be very complex, such as using computer vision on video to identify objects (such as intruders on a property).
But what happens when the temperature is too high or if there is an intruder on property? That’s where the user comes in.
Next, the information is made useful to the end-user in some way. This could be via an alert to the user (email, text, notification, etc). For example, a text alert when the temperature is too high in the company’s cold storage.
A user might have an interface that allows them to proactively check in on the system. For example, a user might want to check the video feeds on various properties via a phone app or a web browser.
However, it’s not always a one-way street. Depending on the IoT application, the user may also be able to perform an action and affect the system. For example, the user might remotely adjust the temperature in the cold storage via an app on their phone.
And some actions are performed automatically. Rather than waiting for you to adjust the temperature, the system could do it automatically via predefined rules. Rather than just call you to alert you of an intruder, the IoT system could also automatically notify security teams or relevant authorities.
An IoT system consists of sensors/devices which “talk” to the cloud through some kind of connectivity. Once the data gets to the cloud, software processes it and then might decide to perform an action, such as sending an alert or automatically adjusting the sensors/devices without the need for the user.
But if user input is needed or if the user simply wants to check in on the system, a user interface allows them to do so. Any adjustments or actions that the user makes are then sent in the opposite direction through the system: from the user interface, to the cloud, and back to the sensors/devices to make some kind of change.
That’s how an IoT system works at a high level. Now we’ll take a deeper dive into each of these components to explain what they are, how they work, and important considerations for your organization as you consider building and/or implementing IoT solutions.