IOT: Internet of Things

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Internet of Things


The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a popular buzzword for a wide variety of products on the market. But what does it mean? What makes "smart devices" smart, and how can I use IoT in a project?

Basically: The internet of things is a large network (or internet) of connected devices

A device can fall into several different levels of IoT, depending on what it's connected to. The higher levels of IoT devices are all connected to the cloud, while the lower levels of devices may only be connected locally using something like Bluetooth.

How do devices talk to each other?


There are many different ways for IoT devices to communicate with each other, but here are some of the industry standards:

Wi-Fi:

Wi-Fi (you may also hear it called 802.11) is a popular choice for consumer IoT devices because almost everyone has a Wi-Fi network at home. The main drawback of using Wi-Fi is that it has high power consumption and many other devices use Wi-Fi and may interfere with communication.

There are two types of Wi-Fi you will probably encounter, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, which represent the different frequencies at which communication occurs. At the higher frequency (5 GHz) more data can be transferred, but because the wavelength is smaller the signal has a hard time passing through walls and going long-distances. At 2.4 GHz, data will be transferred slower, but at almost double the wavelength so it can go farther and through more obstacles.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth has two main "flavors", classic Bluetooth, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE for short).

In a classic Bluetooth connection, the connection between devices will always be maintained, which allows for a high throughput of data but also consumes a lot of power, a good example of where this is necessary is Bluetooth earbuds.

BLE devices remain ready until they receive a connection, where they might be asked for some data or given an instruction. This saves a lot of power because the connection doesn't need to be maintained long-term. A good example of a BLE device is the Tile, which allows you to track an object if you lose it, BLE lets them last much much longer than Bluetooth would.

Another big advantage Bluetooth has is the pairing process makes it easy to establish a connection with a Bluetooth device!

The main drawback of Bluetooth is that it's at 2.4 GHz, the same frequency as Wi-Fi, so it may encounter interference from Wi-Fi connected devices. It also can travel about the same distance as 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi.

LoRa

LoRa is a "long-range", low power, communication network that can extend up to 10 Km! It operates at 150-433 MHz which allows it to travel much farther than Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections, however, it may require extra infrastructure to use this in your device. Because of the low frequency, it will transfer data slower than Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

How can I use IoT?


The Idea Shop carries a variety of IoT enabled Microcontrollers, you can read about them here.

Before you get started working with IoT, we recommend you learn about microcontrollers first and do some of the example projects you can find on the Electronics Bench page.

For beginners in IoT, we recommend using a service like ThingSpeak that lets you remotely collect and analyze data with Matlab. You can read about connecting ThingSpeak to a Raspberry Pi here. ThingSpeak is very useful if you have a specific sensor you want to track over the internet, like a soil moisture sensor in a garden!

Once you have learned a bit about connecting your microcontroller to the internet, you should learn about the RESTful API. Basically, the RESTful API is how devices communicate over the internet. This example uses a Raspberry Pi and a webpage to turn on and off some LEDs!

If you're interested in using Bluetooth or BLE for your projects, you should take a look at the ESP32! This handy microcontroller even allows you to use Wi-Fi connections, and host your own Wi-Fi access point!