Wednesday, October 9, 2013

IOT - Internet Of Things

By: Dave Edstrom
The Internet Of Things, or IOT as it is better known, is a very hot buzzword these days.   IOT is not a new concept by any stretch, but it has become very powerful and popular because of the perfect storm of Moore’s Law and IPV6. This intersection of technologies is allowing IOT to become an up-and-coming technology worth your attention.  IOT becomes especially important to manufacturing; MTConnect can play a huge role with IOT as well.
Moore’s Law is something the pundits on cable news pull out during the technology segments of a broadcast.  Intel co-founder Dr. Gordon E. Moore wrote an article titled “Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits,” which was published in Electronics magazine on April 19, 1965.  This article has turned into the metaphorical equivalent of Moses coming down from the mountaintop carrying the Ten Commandments of Electronics. In 1965 Dr. Moore was given the tough task at Intel of predicting what would happen in silicon design over the next decade.  In this1965 article, Dr. Moore basically stated the number of circuits on a chip would double every two years. This turned out to be incredibly prescient and accurate.  Computer legend Carver Mead, also a friend of Dr. Moore, is credited with coining the term “Moore’s Law”. 
What this means is that everything kept getting smaller, faster and cheaper over time.  Thanks to Moore’s Law we all carry around smartphones in our pockets with amazing computing power and a very fast Internet connection, running countless apps. This scaling applies to other devices as well.  For example, today you can buy a fully functioning computer, Raspberry Pi for example, that is the size of a credit card and sells for $25.  Hitachi announced a tiny sensor that is sometimes referred to as RFID powder or dust — the RFID chip is 0.15 x 0.15 millimeters in size and 7.5 micrometers thick. If you search for images of this RFID dust, you will see that it is so small that it is barely visible by the human eye when it is placed on a fingertip. 
Another example is the Arduino board, an inexpensive, open-source microcontroller that is truly changing how we think about talking to lots of devices. One example I saw at is a student whose mother was complaining that she always forgot to water the plants. The student used an Arduino with a sensor to measure the moisture in the soil of the plants and send a tweet to his mother reminding her to water the appropriate plant. Another example describes someone who wanted a device that would automatically mute a certain celebrity’s voice whenever it came on TV.  When you drive down the cost and make it easy to program, innovation will occur.
When the Internet was first created, one of the initial discussion points was to answer the question, “if we are connecting computers to speak to each other, how many unique addresses are we going to need?”  An address is pretty much exactly what you think of an address.  I can send a physical letter to my godfather Luverne Edstrom in Northfield, MN, if I mark the envelope with his correct address.  It might sound obvious, but if there are two Luverne Edstroms in Minnesota, then the address for each must be unique.  The same logic applies to the Internet.  Instead of a physical address, the Internet uses logical addresses. For example, if you have ever set up a home router, you know that is a typical address. Each of the four numbers separated by a period can have a value of 0 to 255, or 8 bits (known as a byte) for a total of 32 bits. This means that there are roughly four billion addresses available. When the Internet was created that was deemed to be much more than could ever be needed.  Keep in mind that there were not desktop computers, notebooks, iPhones, Androids, or Wi-Fi enabled scales in people’s homes in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The idea of four billion computers hooked up to the Internet was considered unimaginable!
Fast-forward to 2013 and we all know how this movie played out. Just in my home alone, I have 19 different devices that all have their own IP address. Yes, I might be a little more on the geeky side than most, but having 6 devices in the average home is a reasonable estimate when you realize how many things have to be connected to the Internet to be useful.
With a forward-thinking mindset, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) decided almost 20 years ago that the Internet was going to eventually run out of IP addresses. To address this concern, they started working on a new version called IPv6.  The difference between IPv4 and IPv6 is tremendous in terms of the number of available addresses.  Instead of 32 bits,the IPv6 address size is 128 bits. The preferred IPv6 address representation is in 8 groups of 16 bits separated by the colon.  For example, an IPv6 address might look like fe80:0000:69b8:c945:1031:3baf:fe0e:c843
What 128 bits means is that there are roughly 340 undecillion addresses available. The two most popular versions of IP are IPv4 an IPv6.  Below are some address specifics of both.
Total Number of Internet Protocol (IP)
  • IPv4 is 4,294,967,296
    • That's 4 billion
    • That's 32 bits
  • IPv6 is 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456
    • That's roughly 340 undecillion
    • That's 128 bits
Let’s put IPv6 into proper perspective because I am sure that someone is thinking, “But Dave, 340 undecillion does not sound like a lot. Will we run out of IPv6 addresses?”  In the context of “never say never” when it comes to technology, I will give you one data point that should help you sleep at night. An infographic from Cisco stated if we were to count up every single atom on planet Earth and start assigning IPv6 addresses to them, we would be able to give each and every atom 100 IPv6 addresses.  You read that correctly.  Every atom would have 100 IPv6 addresses.  What if we find life on another planet and they want to speak to us using the Internet? What about Interplanetary networking, aka InterPlaNet?  Well, Vint Cerf and other brilliant individuals have already been working on that for some time as well.
Now that we have established both Moore’s Law and IPv6, the perfect storm of smaller, faster and cheaper technology combined with essentially unlimited IP addresses makes for the obvious prediction of IOT.  You don’t have to be Vint Cerf or Bob Kahn, the two people that are appropriately credited with being the fathers of the Internet, to make the bold statement that every device will be connected to the Internet.  The first person I heard lay out the business case for IOT was John Gage of Sun Microsystems.  John came up with the phrase, “The Network Is the Computer”, but it was also John and Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems who I first heard say, with the technical specifics to back it up, “everything will be connected to the Internet.” That was back in the mid-1980s. 
IOT plays very strong with MTConnect.  The challenge with IOT is the countless number of protocols that all these devices speak.  It is really the United Nations of devices out there today.  This is where MTConnect can play a huge role. MTConnect is an abbreviation for Manufacturing Technology Connect.  In 2013, I think that MTConnect really should stand for Making ThingsConnect. MTConnect is the open and royalty-free standard that is becoming the de facto standard on the shop and plant floor where discrete manufacturing is occurring.  
MTConnect is ideal for IOT because of the extensive interest in MTConnect for a wide variety of devices in manufacturing.  When plants or shops become MTConnect enabled, the first priority is typically shop floor monitoring. After that, the natural next step is to integrate everything from wireless sensors, the electrical grid, ERP systems, maintenance and diagnostic systems, inventory control, supply chain, RFID systems, analytics in the cloud and everything else in between.  MTConnect outputs XML over http, which means it’s easy to get and read MTConnect data. With all of these devices spitting out lots of data, then next logical step is to send all the data to the cloud to run massive analytics on it, looking for patterns that only racks of computers can find.
The Internet Of Things will be both fascinating and perhaps, as with any technology sea change, give us reason to pause at the same time. Think of the privacy and security concerns when everything is connected to the Internet.  A good example is the testing that is happening with wireless car security.  Computer scientists at Rutgers University and the University of South Carolina detailed how the tire pressure monitor sensors in some cars are not encrypted and can be spoofed into thinking all four tires have low air pressure.  Dr. Eric Topol wrote a groundbreaking book titled, “The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care” that discusses how remote sensors are going to cut down on visits to your doctor.  I was listening to a podcast where Dr. Topol was discussing the use of sensors in the body that would speak to your smartphone and that data would then go to to your doctor.  These types of sensors might be able to predict a heart attack or stroke before they occur. That is fantastic and great example of IOT, but how secure are these devices? 
I was talking to an employee at an RFID company a couple of years ago and asked what the smallest thing was they had ever monitored.  It turns out they had placed RFID tags on ants to track their movement.  My father took was given a “pill” that had a camera in it for gastrointestinal examination that was taking pictures and transmitting them.  When I joked that I was going to come over to his house to hack into his large intestine, he told my mother to “lock the door if David comes over, I have enough problems.”  We have seen these technology security issues before and they have been addressed over time.  Do you remember when garage door openers did not use rolling security codes and it was easy to capture the signal being sent from a car to the garage door opener?  
With IOT, we will continue to ride the wave of Moore’s Law and thanks to IPv6 we will have enough addresses to take care of every device we will want to connect, at least on this planet.  When Moore’s Law and IPv6 are combined with easy to program devices, then we will find ourselves making the transition from suggesting to someone, “you know what would be cool ….” to “let me show you this.”  IOT is the hot buzzword today; tomorrow it will just be part of our daily lives.