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Internet of Things in five words: sensor, monkey, radio, cloud, Paris

Patrick Thibodeau | Jan. 30, 2014
If you want to build your own Internet of Things, try the toy monkey hack.

If you want to build your own Internet of Things, try the toy monkey hack.

Digi International, a company that makes software and hardware systems for the Internet of Things (IoT) has a step-by-step guide to create an alert device using its postage stamp-size XBee wireless radio.

You will need a few other parts, and a little soldering to attach a battery-powered cymbal playing monkey to a wireless network and Internet. But once it's connected, the fun begins. In this case (see instructions and video), the cymbal banging toy monkey can be integrated into an alert system to notify, an IT department , for instance, that "the call center is down."

The cymbal monkey hints at the creativity involved with the IoT.

There are a wide array of sensors that have, in total, more capability than humans in sensing the environment. Sensors can capture motion and direction, magnetic fields, sound and light, and many other things. In the environment, sensors can be used to detect chemicals and pollutants. Biosensors to detect the presence of bacteria in food supplies may become a major growth area.

You can mix and match sensors, connect them to a wireless network, and send the data to clouds and applications for analysis. A major connecting point to the IoT won't be via cymbal-banging monkeys but, more likely than not, government deployments.

Although IT budgets for towns and cities are increasing at about 1.5% a year, worldwide spending on IoT will reach, $265 billion this year and will grow by 11% each year for the next five year, said Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, the Smart Cities Strategies director at IDC. This figure includes spending by military and national governments.

IoT adoption is helped by vendors that often sell sensing devices with a cloud platform for data delivery. The vendors install and maintain the systems, Clark said. "A cloud supported system is really spurring adoption," she said.

The ability to combine sensors in IoT deployments has many possibilities. Streetline, a company that installs sensors in pavement that help drivers find parking spots via an app, said this month that it is adding sound sensors to provide real-time data on noise levels, as well as road temperature sensing, which can help determine, for instance, when salting should be deployed.

Some IoT deployments are using technologies already in smartphones. Boston, for instance, uses a smartphone's accelerometer to record road conditions.

What Clarke expects to see ahead is more coordination between disparate systems. An acoustic monitoring system, for instance, would get linked to video surveillance and street lighting systems, all of which come into play when gunfire is detected.


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