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What is IoT and how will it impact me?

Data will be the currency of the future, and the future is now. IoT. Such a vague term. Such amazing possibilities.

IoT. You’ve heard it. Everyone is talking about it. It’s going to change the world! But what does it mean? Why is it such a big deal? Maybe you’ve been afraid to ask, or maybe you think, “Whatever it is, it doesn’t apply to me.” Let me tell you, in the coming years, IoT will play a role in your life in some way, and in its new style of openness, visibility, and quiet leadership, Microsoft is paving that way.

IoT means the “Internet of Things.” It’s a vague concept, and a straightforward description is hard to find. Let me start by breaking it down: IoT is the massive collection of data thrown into the air by everything connected to the internet. More specifically, it is the data thrown out by unexpected devices (washing machines, wind turbines, thermostats) rather than the usual suspects (PCs, tablets, phones). To go one step further, ‘IoT’ is also used to refer to the devices doing the throwing (small connected computers) in addition to the data being thrown. Let me give an example, because I know it can be confusing.

Your clothes dryer has an element or flame that heats air, and a fan blows that hot air into the tumbler. The air is monitored by a thermostat, and when the air reaches a certain temperature it triggers a switch to turn off the element or gas. If you place a small connected computer between the thermostat and switch and broadcast a message of “on” or “off” whenever the switch gets triggered, you’ve turned your dryer into an IoT device.

Creating value with IoT and Microsoft Azure

But where’s the value? You could use that data for some very basic diagnostic purposes or an alert if something fails to trigger correctly (preemptive monitoring), but not much more. However, if that small connected computer was also wired to the start button, stop button, temperature controls, and cycle manager, you would gain the ability to remotely control all aspects of the dryer’s functionality.

This is where companies like Microsoft come into play. All that dryer data is useless unless it is collected somewhere, and places like Microsoft’s Azure IoT Hub are designed for the task. Azure IoT Hub is built to collect data from your devices, store it, and make it available for you to use on other devices (phones, computers) through API endpoints (special URLs that connect you to specific pieces of data). As a developer I can use these endpoints to not only collect data from the dryer (to know when it starts, stops, changes cycles), but also trigger those conditions from an app programmed to send commands through the IoT Hub back to the device.

There are many other cases where devices are talking directly to each other. With some creative programming, these devices can even seem intelligent. What if my basement was “listening” for the dryer to fire off its “I stopped” message and turned on the basement lights?

Seem complicated? It can be, but Azure and Windows are making it easier every day. Two of the more common IoT device controllers (small computers) are Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and Microsoft has released a version of Windows 10 that runs on these devices. If you read my blog on UWP and Windows 10, you know that Windows 10 running on my Raspberry Pi means that basically the same app can run on my Xbox, HoloLens, phone, PC, and Tablet. As a test, I created an app that controls the pins on my Raspberry Pi to light a small LED. I added my Raspberry Pi to my Azure IoT Hub instance, and Azure generated endpoints for me to send commands to the device. I created another Windows 10 app and a custom Windows 10 library to send an “on” or “off” message to the Raspberry Pi through the IoT Hub. Because I was feeling fancy, I deployed the app to my HoloLens (but it would have worked with no modifications on my Xbox One, PC, and Windows phone. With about an hour of work, it would have worked on an iPhone or Android phone). Now, by clicking on my holographic “on” or “off” button, the LED connected to Raspberry Pi turns on or off in kind. I can also monitor the “action” that is being stored in the IoT Hub and get a report on the light status, the times it was turned on or off, the length of time it was on or off, and even the location of the device turning it on or off (either by IP or by GPS if the device has it.)

“Vectorform, in partnership with Microsoft and with tools like Windows 10 and Azure at our disposal, is actively exploring these ways that IoT can provide real, transformational value to businesses of all sizes in all industries.”

Vito DiMercurio

The possibilities with IoT

What are the implications? This stuff is great, but not necessarily life changing, right? Let’s explore some of the larger possibilities. By wiring an IoT device to the torque controls on an oil rig drill, you could make adjustments without sending a diver to the ocean floor. But why stop at one drill? An oil company could configure its fleet with the technology, and a single person could monitor and adjust the setting for a hundred or thousand rigs all over the world from a single location. The same could be said for adjustments to generators at the bottom of a dam or a wind turbine engine 200 feet in the air. This paradigm has implications in every industry in every country across the globe. It could increase safety, reduce cost, and improve production—and that affects you personally.

Though IoT may still seem vague, there are a ton of possibilities beyond what I’ve written here. All of this data can be used to train artificial intelligence models, to analyze trends, and to make predictions based on those trends. Monitoring traffic on specific streets or the flow of foot traffic at certain times, city planners can create new avenues of growth or predict what business might do well in certain areas. By combining data from weather devices and devices attached to livestock, we can actively predict how meat consumption might be affecting climate.

Vectorform, in partnership with Microsoft and with tools like Windows 10 and Azure at our disposal, is actively exploring these ways that IoT can provide real, transformational value to businesses of all sizes in all industries. We’re not looking to “optimize” the way enterprise does business or the way a business interacts with its customers—but to transform it with data and real, measurable ROI, from a mom who doesn’t have to walk down dark stairs to the dryer, to energy companies revolutionizing renewable energy, to governments fighting climate change.

Data will be the currency of the future, and the future is now. IoT. Such a vague term. Such amazing possibilities.

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