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Is the IoT Really ‘Internet of Sensors’? 

A contrarian view of the conceptual framework known as the Internet to Things asserts that it should really be called the Internet of Sensors. "Companies that embrace the IoS and not the IoT will be the winners in the connected world," claims the U.K.-based technology and development organization called The Technology Partnership.

TTP's argument in a nutshell is this: "The IoT is, to a large extent, a solution looking for a problem, rather than the other way round. There’s simply no point in objects talking to each other just for the sake of it and the IoT only provides the communications backbone. An Internet of Sensors looks more like the roots of a tree, with sensors of all types at the extremities, capturing and feeding data upwards to the main trunk—the Internet.

Based in Cambridge, the outfit also dismisses the steady drumbeat promoting the IoT as the next big thing. “The IoT hype is supported by silicon vendors eager to dream up new applications for chips,” asserts Steve Taylor, a TTP senior consultant.

Others have said as much. Thomas Conte, the Georgia Tech engineering professor co-chairing the IEEE's Rebooting Computing initiative, noted that chipmakers like Intel are promoting the IoT as a way to sell more chips that would add intelligence to IoT devices.

Conte agrees that applications should drive what the IoT infrastructure—and with it, the future of computing.

Which brings us back to the IoS, which looks pretty much like machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. Industry analysts generally define M2M as a subset of the IoT. They also consider it one of the best places to start in transforming the Internet of Thing/Sensors, or whatever you want to call it, from a conceptual framework to the next version of what the Internet turns out to be.

Bill Morelli, research director for IoT and M2M at market analyst IHS Technology, argues that the IoT is not strictly M2M, but also includes machine-to-people and vice versa along with machines- and people-to-objects.

Source: IHS Technology

This, Morelli says, "creates the ability to collect data from a broad range of devices" and that "data can be accessed via the cloud and analyzed using big data techniques."

TTP's Taylor agrees that there is much data that are not being "listened to," especially in the industrial sector where many observers think the IoT/IoS will initially take off. "Certainly there is a need to pump more data to the cloud, to gain greater insight into systems and how they perform in reality,” says Taylor. “This information is extremely valuable, particularly if you can blend local sensor data with historical data."

IHS is bullish about the industrial sector as a driver of industrial – Internet connectable devices. "A trend to seek efficiency in manufacturing and commerce is driving demand for more intelligent strategies which is in turn driving a trend toward connected devices growth," Morelli said in a recent presentation.

Source: IHS Technology

"This trend is related to the growth of integrated intelligence, sensor networks, asset tracking, Internet connectivity, M2M communications and energy measurement and management, which in turn is driving growth in IP connectivity for this sector," he added.

Predicts Taylor, "It's those who think first about real world information and to capture and harness it" who will leverage his organization's vision of the Internet of Sensors.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

3 Responses to Is the IoT Really ‘Internet of Sensors’?

  1. Peter Kinnon

    Absolutely, George, very perceptive!. What we are actually seeing is the embryonic sensory network for Netty. This being the diminutive of the name I choose to identify our non-biological successor.

    The fact that there are now more devices connected to the Internet than people should alert us to the realization that its evolution is properly regarded as a autonomous natural process and, on the larger scale, beyond human control.
    Most folk consistently overlook the reality that distributed “artificial superintelligence” has actually been under construction for many decades.
    Not driven by any individual software company or team of researchers, but rather by the sum of many human requirements, whims and desires to which the current technologies react. Among the more significant motivators are such things as commerce, gaming, social interactions, education and sexual titillation. Virtually all interests are catered for and, in toto provide the impetus for the continued evolution of the Internet.

    By relinquishing our usual parochial approach to this issue in favor of the overall evolutionary “big picture” provided by many fields of science. the emergence of a new predominant cognitive entity (from the Internet, rather than individual machines) is seen to be not only feasible but inevitable.

    The separate issue of whether it well be malignant, neutral or benign towards we snoutless apes is less certain, and this particular aspect I have explored elsewhere.

    Stephen Hawking, for instance, is reported to have remarked “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all,”

    This statement reflects the narrow-minded approach that is so common-place among those who make public comment on this issue. In reality, as much as it may offend our human conceits, the march of technology and its latest spearhead, the Internet is, and always has been, an autonomous process over which we have very little real control.

    Seemingly unrelated disciplines such as geology, biology and “big history” actually have much to tell us about the machinery of nature (of which technology is necessarily a part) and the kind of outcome that is to be expected from the evolution of the Internet.

    This much broader “systems analysis” approach, freed from the anthropocentric notions usually promoted by the cult of the “Singularity”, provides a more objective vision that is consistent with the pattern of autonomous evolution of technology that is so evident today.

    Very real evidence indicates the rather imminent implementation of the next, (non-biological) phase of the on-going evolutionary “life” process from what we at present call the Internet. It is effectively evolving by a process of self-assembly.

    The “Internet of Things” (or more aptly, of sensors) is proceeding apace and pervading all aspects of our lives. We are increasingly, in a sense, “enslaved” by our PCs, mobile phones, their apps and many other trappings of the increasingly cloudy net.

    We are already largely dependent upon it for our commerce and industry and there is no turning back. What we perceive as a tool is well on its way to becoming an agent.

    There are at present an estimated 2 Billion Internet users. There are an estimated 13 Billion neurons in the human brain. On this basis for approximation the Internet is even now only one order of magnitude below the human brain and its growth is exponential.

    That is a simplification, of course. For example: Not all users have their own computer. So perhaps we could reduce that, say, tenfold. The number of switching units, transistors, if you wish, contained by all the computers connecting to the Internet and which are more analogous to individual neurons is many orders of magnitude greater than 2 Billion. Then again, this is compensated for to some extent by the fact that neurons do not appear to be binary switching devices but instead can adopt multiple states.

    Without even crunching the numbers, we see that we must take seriously the possibility that even the present Internet may well be comparable to a human brain in processing power.

    And, of course, the degree of interconnection and cross-linking of networks within networks is also growing rapidly.

    The emergence of a new and predominant cognitive entity that is a logical consequence of the evolutionary continuum that can be traced back at least as far as the formation of the chemical elements in stars.

    This is the main theme of my latest book “The Intricacy Generator: Pushing Chemistry and Geometry Uphill” which is now available as a 336 page illustrated paperback from Amazon, etc .

  2. Joe Barkai

    A couple of thoughts/observations:

    Despite its name, M2M was never machine-to-machine. It was always machine to some back office app., i.e. humans were in the loop. The implication that the IoT is “objects talking to each other just for the sake of it” is equally imprecise.

    There is no business value in wiring sensors. The value is in synthesizing multiple data from sensors and non-sensor sources. Whether you call it IoT or IoS, counting connected things/sensors to explain the potential of IoT is using the wrong metric. See, for example,

  3. michael kanellos

    Sensors, though, are historically data gatherers. They don’t receive information (generally) or take actions. With things like smart thermostats or light bulbs you’re going to have devices receiving data like price signals and/or taking action autonomously. You’ve got a point. Most of the communication will be on a vertical trunk line–light bulbs aren’t going to talk to each other but insted some centralized hub–but the you’ll see a lot more storage,processing and bidirectional traffic than one would expect on a sensor network. IoS is an interesting way to phrase the question


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