11 Myths about IoT Engineering

Oct. 22, 2016
What is IoT Engineering? There are plenty of myths. Check them out.

The number of devices in the Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly growing, currently numbering in the billions. It is taking a great many developers and designers to make this happen. And yet, plenty of myths still circulate regarding how IoT engineering is done and what issues are involved.

Here are a few of those myths, addressed by the speakers from this year’s upcoming IoT Emerge 2016 conference in Chicago that I am hosting. The IoT Engineering Track includes:

  • Gianfranco Bonanome, senior director of business development, Intelligent Product Solutions; "Smarter Products, Complicated Architecture: A Look at Common Pitfalls in Developing Connected Products."
  • Richard Catizone, chief technical officer, The Morey Corp; "Connecting the Unconnected: Hardware Pitfalls to Avoid."
  • Jayson Delancey, chief developer evangelist, GE Digital; "IoT Architecture: Shifting Workloads Between Edge and Cloud."
  • Ruth Frank, senior director of global user experience, Pitney Bowes; "The Four Pillars of Design Thinking."
  • Eddie Garcia, director of products management, Freewave Technologies; "IT/OT Convergence: The Impact from the Industrial Internet of Things."
  • Bob Kressin, founder and chief engineer, KS Technologies; "Managing IoT Complexity: The Rule of Three."
  • Lewis Lancaster, director of IoT, Solstice Mobile; "Why Executing on an IoT Strategy is Much More Than Simply Engineering a 'Thing.'"
  • Matias Rodriguez, vice president of technology - gaming, wearables & IoT, Globant; "Exploring the Use of Sensors to Create Compelling Digital Journeys."
  • Reinier van der Lee, vineyard owner; "How to Build a Low-Cost, Open-Source IoT Solution."
  • Marcia Walker, principal consultant, manufacturing, SAS; "IoT Strategy: Engineering, Science, and Art."

On to the myths.

1. There is no such thing as IoT engineering.

Wong: There are plenty of IoT myths, but is IoT engineering for real? After talking with the speakers and tracking IoT in general, I can say it definitely is. IoT engineering differs from just building a wireless or mobile device because of the protocols and services involved. Often how the data from sensors or control of a system may change over time, or be more readily available, so features like predictive failure analysis can be performed. These days IoT engineering is more than just adding a web browser to a wireless device.

2. All equipment is connected and IoT-ready.

Walker: My presentation tells the story of NASA’s mission to Pluto and what we can learn about IoT from that amazing tale of adventure. For the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), there is a lot of very old equipment out there that was specified in the pre-internet era. It was designed to last—and so it did—which means people are reluctant to replace it now, since it is still working. But much of it does not have the sensors or communications protocols necessary to take full advantage of today’s data management and analytics technologies.

3. IoT is intended for in and around the house.

van der Lee: The range of IoT applications largely depends on the wireless technology used. For IoT applications in and around the house, like garage door openers, sprinkler control, etc., Bluetooth and Wi-Fi provide sufficient range. When larger range is required, technologies like X-bee mesh networks or LoRa star networks can provide multiple mile range. A Finnish team from the University of Oulu investigating LoRa range reported 30 km (20 mi) range over water and 15 km over land using standard antennas.

4. IoT is all about science—not about art.

Walker: Art—whether the art of storytelling, of conveying a vision, or of simply inspiring your stakeholders—is the glue that holds IoT initiatives together and makes them successful. I like to refer to going full “STEAM” ahead with IoT projects (with Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Math) to proceed toward a successful outcome. Often engineers and technical personnel are so engaged in the nitty-gritty details required to make the machines or networks or computing applications do what has been specified, that they neglect the importance of communicating in a compelling way with those that will be impacted—or perhaps, more importantly, those that might fund the projects! A great idea without great storytelling may never make it off the ground.

5. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is not ready to support predictive analytics.

Garcia: When most people think about the IIoT, they think of machine-to-machine communications (mostly supported by RF technology) that have dominated the industrial sector for years. However, the convergence of IT and OT practices have seen intelligence moved closer to the access layer than ever before. New communication platforms have improved to the point where big data transport can come directly from the sensors at the edge (OT) all the way to the servers in the back office (IT). The industrial sector is closer than it's ever been to supporting the future of data collection, transport, and aggregation, ultimately resulting in the huge data sets necessary to support predictive analytics at the IT/OT level.

6. IoT is only about making smart toasters and appliances.

DeLancey: By equipping machines in an industrial setting we can create digital twins of their physical counterparts for continuous monitoring and analysis of operations. A small 1% gain in industrial machines could be the difference in saving 100 million gallons of fuel across the aviation industry, 45,000 lives saved in hospitals, and increased clean energy production of 240 TWh or the equivalent of energy used in all of Canada.

7. If there's no user interface, there is no need for user experience design.

Frank: The need for good design is often considered when developing a product user interface, but it is just as important to intentionally design a great end-to-end experience—even when there is no traditional user interface. In the world of IoT, we often transform the user experience to one that has many touchpoints aiming to provide a set of experiences that our clients may not have been able to articulate if asked directly. Now, however, they cannot imagine a world without this design. The experience will occur, whether it is intentionally designed or not. Make your IoT user experience great through the four pillars of design: design thinking, design system, globalization, and talent.

8. You can tack security on at the end of your design effort.

Bonanome: Security needs to be baked into your IoT product design process, not added on as an afterthought. It's a must-have, not simply a nice-to-have. The number of connected devices is astounding. Already there are more connected devices than people on the planet, according to Norio Nakajima, an executive vice president at Murata. By 2020, there will be 50 billion connected devices, outnumbering people by more than 6 to 1. The potential for a breach is enormous, and the results could be devastating. Bad guys often scan for poor or misconfigured security. Consider end-to-end security mechanisms, end-to-end data encryption, access and authorization control, and activity auditing.

9. IoT support can be added after the product is done.

Wong: IoT support, like security, are not features that can easily be tacked on to a finished product. Retrofitting IoT support into an existing product can be very challenging. IoT service providers can make the job much easier, but there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTAFL). It is best to incorporate IoT support from the initial design and throughout the implementation of a system. In the long run, IoT support can often reduce overall costs since IoT frameworks typically include communication and security support that developers can take advantage of. Connectivity can often make debugging easier, too.

10. I can add IoT support by just subscribing to an IoT service.

Wong: While many IoT service providers would like you to think that adding their support is a trivial exercise, it usually takes quite a bit more work and design effort to do it effectively. IoT service providers deliver needed support and usually make the job significantly simpler, but not all services are identical or all encompassing. Some systems may be more amenable to consumer oriented products, while others target industrial IoT. Support, management, and application features tend to differ significantly.

11. I must have IoT support in my device.

Wong: This may be true for many applications and many specifically target IoT support, but make sure that is a real requirement. Wired or wireless connectivity is often sufficient. Provide an interface via a web server or a link via Bluetooth to a smartphone application without the need to tie into the cloud. This approach will greatly simplify system design and implementation.

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