During our history as the strongest and most intelligent species on the planet we have had several Industrial Revolutions. First one was happening in the period of 1760 to 1830. It was mainly focused on manufacturing. For the first time machines were replacing humans in their labor. In the late 19th and 20th centuries the second industrial revolution happened.
It was focused mainly on using synthetic materials like plastic, as well as new energy sources. It was also a period of time when computers appeared, which gave the opportunity to create automatic factory. But what is happening right now is called the third and fourth industrial revolution. Third one is focused on digital revolution and creation of the first supercomputer. On the other hand we have Fourth Industrial Revolution, called by many “Industry 4.0”. It is a term used by almost every company as long as it is focused around manufacturing, automation, robotics, etc. Although it is good to know what industry 4.0 really means – in brief – Massive and Industrial IOT.
What is internet of things
But what actually is this IOT (“Internet of Things”)? Let’s enucleate this name. Firstly – the Internet. We are all using it, often without much thought of what it actually is. To make it simple – it is nothing more than a connection. We are used to have it in our computers, smartphones, tablets. However there is no limit on where we can “put the Internet”. Everything that does have NIC (Network Interface Card) can be potentially connected to the Internet, or just any smaller local network. That is basically the whole idea of IoT. To put this Internet to some usual things and make them smart. Let’s give some examples. Some of them should probably be at least a little bit familiar. Do you know someone who has a printer that does not have to be physically connected to a computer and still can print desired documents? Or maybe someone you know has lamps at home that can be turned on and off using smartphone? If you think about it, almost anything you have at home could benefit from such connection. Coffee machines, blinders, ovens, air conditioners, even locks at your doors. The whole idea of putting the Internet connection to everything that could benefit from it is precisely what the idea behind IoT is. And by doing that we could create new world, easier to live in. Smart homes – homes where almost all tools and items you use can be controlled by one, small smartphone is a dream of many people. But it does not end there. In an industry where projects are of a city or country scale even sky is not a limit.
Intelligent Factories – Industry 4.0
As mentioned earlier, IoT is mainly used in a concept called Industry 4.0. Idea behind this industrial revolution is pretty easy and genius at the same time. Let’s say you have a factory and there is a ton of machinery and people working simultaneously. Suddenly some anonymous truck driver (we will name him Smith) calls you and says ‘Sorry boss, I overslept, these things you wanted to get from city ‘A’ will be around tomorrow’. And for you these “things” were extremely important and some part of the workflow cannot be continued without it. Of course it is possible to optimize the process of work in your factory by reorganizing some of your workers to do other things. But sadly it is harder to do it with machines which just produce some parts over and over. What if we have self-optimizing factory that could exchange information between machines and workers in real time and in the critical situation be able to make autonomous decisions? In 2011 this idea originated from the project focused on high-tech strategy of the German government. This working group was leading by Siegfried Dais (Robert Bosch GmbH) and Henning Kagermann (German Academy of Science and Engineering). To be able to optimize such a nonlinear system called a factory you need a lot of data. By that means we are in dear need of IoT. We can connect machines to some network and make them send some data to the database. Thanks to that we can build a mathematical function with many (thousands) of variables. Such function or system can self-optimize easily.
There is another example of massive and industrial usage of IoT. As human population rises our cities grow. And this growth is so fast that right now probably no one has any control over it. For instance, there is a problem with security of citizens. As the number of people rises and technology develops, crimes become more and more of a problem. But why not use this technology for good purpose? Not so long ago in Nice, France, there was a big IoT project of intelligent surveillance. Such system can determine the name and actual location of a criminal that stole a smartphone five minutes ago from an electronic shop. Right now there are attempts to implement this system in many cities around the world, for instance in Katowice, Poland. With lots of actual usage and safety comes also vastness of controversy. You have to remember that for such safety we pay with our privacy, as we are being surveillanced all the time. From this perspective we can see that it is a big problem not only for engineers implementing the idea, but also for social scientists like Waldemar Czajkowski. Of course there are some less controversial and also helpful usages of IoT in cities. We have pollution detection, traffic optimization, and even more. And it is only possible thanks to the existence of IoT and its unlimited possibilities of implementation.
Who is an IoT specialist
So now when we know how interesting this whole IoT thing really is, let us think for a while what does it take to become a specialist in this field. Of course, as always, the answer could be “it depends”. Right now this whole industry gets more and more momentum and projects become larger and more complex. However there is some fixed set of skills that are involved in each of them. First term that we have to be familiar with is the word “embedded”. Many of the devices that we want to make smart are rather small. And even if that is not the case, the main idea behind such devices is aforementioned connection to the Internet. It means that we want to make this whole “brain” of devices as cheap and small as possible. That’s what embedded means. Most of these smart devices run on really small microprocessors or microcontrollers, like Arduino or ESP. To make use of them you must be familiar with low level programming in languages like C or Assembly and of course have a strong sense of optimization of memory and processing complexity. Apart from that you should have at least some minimal knowledge about computer networks, electronics and web programming as you will need some circuitry and interface for your devices.
With that knowledge you should be able to make simple projects for yourself. Something like connecting your coffee machine or toaster to your alarm clock application so your breakfast will start doing itself while you are trying to get out of bed.
However, as projects grow bigger in scale the data factor comes in. You can find more information about that in our article called “Data extraction and why is it important for your business”, however here is a general idea. When we extend the scale of our projects some data is being created and collected. This data is then analysed and used to better the performance and give us new possibilities. People who work on that are Data Analysts, Scientists and Engineers. And every project that comes out of your house to public space has to include that factor.
After reading all of that you should have a good grasp of what IoT is and where we can use it. It’s not a coincidence that IoT is connected with something called Industry 4.0.
The scale of this topic is bigger than most of us think but probably we have not so many years left until we will be living in a world where almost everything will be connected and working together. It sounds like a scenario from some science fiction movies but it is actually happening right now.
Krzysztof Kramarz – A machine Learning developer and Data Scientists in WASKO S.A. and a student of Silesian University of Technology. Big fan of USA and Asia culture, one day would like to write an AI that creates hip hop/jazz songs and also have a bar where you could listen to it and drink some good whisky.
Damian Kucharski – Working on data engineering at WASKO S.A. and studying Computer Engineering on Silesian University of Technology. Privately NLP enthusiast. Intending to make a bot that mimics other people based on data from messaging apps like WhatsApp.