6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks - InformationWeek

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2/22/2015
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6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks

Need an embedded system to whip up an IoT prototype? These six platforms make it easier than ever to get started with embedded programming.
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Six Building Blocks for the Internet of Things
(Image: courtesy of Arduino)

(Image: courtesy of Arduino)

The "Internet of Things" is, in reality, the rise of embedded systems. Taking a small computer and embedding it in a formerly un-computerized object allows us to control the object, gather data from the object, and ultimately tie the object to other things through a network or the Internet.

Fortunately for engineers and product designers everywhere, it has become rather easy to find very capable small computers that can be rolled into an object to bring it into the Internet of Things. More to the point, it's become easy to find embedded systems that make use of the same operating systems and programming languages used in business servers and workstations.

It's difficult to overstate the importance of being able to use common operating systems and programming languages to develop prototypes and production systems for the Internet of Things. Embedded systems have been around for decades, but for most of their existence programmers have needed special software development environments to write code in unique languages (often, but not always, a variation on assembler for the processor sitting at the heart of the computer).

Now, there are various platforms on which people can develop prototypes for IoT applications. Some of these are the same platforms that will ultimately be used in a final product, while others will simply be the initial springboards from which to launch a product. Either way, the systems here will help a product development team get a project off the ground.  

There's one more thing that really must be mentioned here: Any of these systems can also be a great way to teach people programming. Whether you're thinking about a system for teaching a young person how to code, or just looking for a way to sharpen some of your skills, you won't really go wrong tinkering with any of these embedded systems.

The real challenge to you is this: What do you want to build today? The embedded platform is no longer a good excuse for avoiding the dream project you've had locked in your head.

 

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

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Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
3/3/2015 | 4:33:22 AM
Re: IoT based devices
"In either case it's fascinating to see just how much data applications are drawing from the sensors: I remember when "skinny" data sources and network protocols were the norm because bandwidth was the most limited of commodities!"

Curt, if all individual sensors are going to transmit datas across network, then bandwidth is really going to be a bottleneck.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
3/2/2015 | 9:12:45 PM
Re: 6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks
@SaneIT, it may be that IoT data is what finally teaches the lesson on the huge difference between precision and accuracy. We're going to get a lot of information of dubious accuracy that's presented with a high level of precision. There will also be some very accurate data provided by sensors that are only somewhat accurate. The challenge is going to be designing management and presentation systems that are able to deal with both.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
3/2/2015 | 9:00:54 PM
Re: 6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks
@tzubair, I think you've put your finger on something critical here -- IoT has to be able to assist us is making better decisions and responding more intelligently to our environment. If the technology doesn't do one of those things, then it's just a toy, no matter how bright and shiny it may be.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
3/2/2015 | 8:54:44 PM
Re: 6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks
@Ashu001, do you think there's a straightforward solution to the problem of data blindness -- which I absolutely agree is a problem -- or is it one of those things that's going to be a problem that's intractable under the current avalanche of data?
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
3/2/2015 | 4:39:01 PM
Re: 6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks
@Ashu001, in some senses we're already seeing governments releasing a lot of information -- they just tend to be rather selective about which mountains they're willing to release into the wild.

When it comes to things like building control (and, even more strictly, wearable technology data) then I think a great deal will depend on just how the data is ultimately classified. If the data is classified as belonging to a building or being part of an anonymous, amorphous population, then it will be quite available. If, on the other hand, it's defined as "personal data," then people (and governments) will become much more tight-fisted about its release.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
3/2/2015 | 10:41:05 AM
Re: 6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks
@Ashu001, you're absolutely right: Software automation was supposed to take care of many problems. The only thing is that software automation tools are very good at generating very mediocre code. So far, we've been able to write packages that can write code that's "good enough" for many situations. If you want truly optimized code, though, you need to have a creative human being behind the keyboard.

I think the best situation is going to be a partnership between humans and systems: Let the systems take care of weeding out most of the noise (or generating a decent framework from which to begin), then turn it over to someone who's skilled and creative to turn out the best solution in the least amount of time.

At least, that's what I think today...
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
3/2/2015 | 8:27:28 AM
Re: 6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks
@Curt, I agree that the interface is going to be difficult for many especially when the scale of your data has very loose tolerances.  There will be systems where the tiniest fluctuation of data will be an issue and any bump will be cause for alarm but there will be systems where the data can fluctuate wildly and not really mean anything significant.  Those systems are going to be very hard to report on in the beginning because human nature is to look at two numbers and compare them, often giving one a distinction of "better".  That kind of reporting will just wear people out until an interface is built to guide the use of that data.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
3/2/2015 | 8:20:30 AM
Re: 6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks
I guess this is my soap box recently, I hear a lot of "we need this data" without anyone understanding why or what they are going to do with it.  It's great to be able to say you have data but you really need to have a plan regarding why you're collecting it and what you're going to do with it.  Making a graph is not a plan by the way.

 

On the Chernobyl note, it is a pretty good example but not because of ignored lights.  What happened was they were testing backup coolant pumps that were supposed to function in the event of a power loss until a set of generators came online to restore power.  Someone decided that shutting the reactor down completely for this test wasn't necessary even though every safety procedures told them it was necessary.  The technicians had become so comfortable around a running nuclear plant that they were blind to volumes of safety instructions.   Long story short they side stepped all that boring data that they had thrown at them for years because they were the experts.  Turns out those safety procedures were there for a reason and when things didn't go as planned, the events quickly got out of control and there was no way to stop the chain reaction.  This is all from memory of a documentary but I'm pretty sure I've got 90% of that right.  While it might not have been a technician ignoring a blinky light it was the result of people ignoring good data.

 
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
3/2/2015 | 7:56:59 AM
Re: 6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks
@tzubair, I have no doubts that many other people see this in the same light that I do, the posts in this thread are a good indicator that people are putting some thought into the issues of being inundated with data from the IoT, I think what we need now is a group of people to step up and lead the charge to build those smarter, more tightly focused IoT devices and applications so that the current mentality shifts away from grab all the data and spit it back out.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2015 | 7:16:40 PM
Re: 6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks
"If you've got a device pinging you all day telling you everything is good chances are you're going to have started ignoring it when the first warning signs come in"

@SaneIT: Exactly. IoT is never about just data. While data collection is an essential part, gathering too much data, as you said, can totally miss the objective. IoT is about having smart devices which are able to gather the data and take decisions on our behalf, or at least, organize and present information in a way that the decision-making becomes much easier.
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