Sensors Galore!

What exactly are sensors? What do they do and how do they help? Well, sensors are objects which detect events or changes in its environment. It sends this information to the computer and then tells the output device to provide the corresponding output. In other words, it changes real world data into information to be used elsewhere. As for specifics, you’d have to look at specific sensors because each one does something different. There are:
Machine Vision/Optical Light Sensors — These tend to be cameras of some sort or another and can be used for anything from detecting edges to light levels to geographical locations. Think of 3D printers for this one or even just your webcam.

Position/Presence/Proximity Sensors — They’re able to detect nearby objects without any physical contact. They’re good for systems where you might need to avoid colliding with things you can’t see or, in the future technology arena, 3D screens.

Motion/Velocity/Displacement Sensors — These work in a similar fashion to proximity sensors, but instead of focusing on whether something is close, it focuses on how quickly it’s getting closer or farther away. These are used in anything from radar guns that police use to security systems.
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Temperature Sensors — Temperature sensors are pretty straightforward. They measure the temperature around them and relay that information. Think thermometer.

Humidity/Moisture Sensors — Another straightforward type of sensor, they measure the amount of water something has in it. These can be used in many agricultural projects from soil to air, or can be used in more industrialised places to determine and other problems.

Acoustic/Sound/Vibration Sensors — These work very similarly to the above motion and proximity sensors, but instead of focusing on objects, they focus on the level to which something vibrates, vibrations per second (loudness and pitch) and can be used to create images of something based on these vibrations. These can be used in ultrasounds or, well, ears.

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Chemical/Gas Sensors — Gas and Chemical sensors can measure concentrations of various chemicals and gasses. They’re best used anywhere using dangerous chemicals, including carbon monoxide sensors or anything else.

Flow Sensors — These determine the flow rate of water, air, or any other liquids or gasses that might flow. They’re great for engines, water conservation systems, and anything else with delicate systems focusing on conservation or efficiency.

Force/Load/Torque/Strain/Pressure Sensors — These sensors tend to measure compression and tension. They can be used very effectively in systems with rotating parts like an engine, motor, or turbine, and are commonly found in hand tools as well.

Leak/Level Sensors — Another very straightforward type of sensor. These find leaks in systems from any number of means whether it be floats or electrosonic level transmitters. To be frank, they’re used to determine whether there is a leak somewhere.

Electric/Magnetic Sensors — These sensors are different from most in that they determine changes in the magnetic or electrical field that has been created or modified and from that, determines direction, presence, rotation, and other variables. They can be used in various applications from traffic control signals to security-devices used by the military.

Acceleration/Tilt Sensors — These are used to help determine direction and speed. They can be used in things that need to move around in the physical world like robots or cars.

As you can see, there is a huge amount of variation in sensors that you might not have even realised. In the same way that a car doesn’t need arms, a lot of devices don’t need a lot of these sensors because, frankly, some information is just useless. My coffee maker doesn’t need to know how fast I’m approaching it, but it absolutely needs to be able to determine the temperature of the liquid, whether it’s running out of water or even leaking.
Determining what sensor each device needs is crucial to obtaining efficient and cost-effective products. In the Internet of Things, that’s no different, so before you start grabbing up every sensor known to man, do a little research and figure out just what it is you’ll need.

IoT — Future Tech

If you’ve come here to read about the Internet of Things (IoT) before, I’d wager you’ve heard a fair deal about it already and what it can do. There are endless possibilities out there right now and endless applications for what could be, but notice that’s the majority of what you’ll hear — possibility.

As of right now, the IoT is mostly just hype, as it has been for the past few years. We don’t have roads connected with our vehicles. We don’t have our alarm clocks talking to our coffee makers or our oven talking to our microwave. We don’t have many commercial applications at all, actually. What we do have is pockets of IoT with both commercial and business applications around our world.

So, is all this just hopeful thinking? Are we fooling ourselves with thinking of how important this will be in the future? I’d have to say absolutely not. The fact is that at this very moment, we’re mostly in the investing and developing stage. Hundreds of companies out there are extremely interested in putting this future technology to use to help with productivity and, as the technology becomes more secure and is developed further, we’ll start to see more and more commercial, everyday products with the IoT incorporated into them.

To put it into more recent terms, look at computers. We started with all computers being basically the same. They functioned for a small set of purposes. They were big, expensive, and didn’t have any real use for the average consumer. Time passed though and they started to become more diverse, from different looks and different functions to entirely different operating systems.

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The world changed around the computer as it got smaller, faster, and began having uses for more than just big companies and the military. The average consumer now started having a reason to buy and it only spurred the technology on more. After that, things really took off and, rather than one computer per household, we’re all sitting here with our phones in hand, tablets in our bags, and laptops right beside them. We’ve got a multitude of computers with a diverse range of functions and the same will be true of the IoT in time.

With time comes change, and the change that we’re going to be seeing in the next few years will be, as always, faster, smaller, and more diverse. As it stands, we’re currently in the early years of the IoT. The hype is real and it’s all around us of what is possible and what we can and will be doing in just a few years time. We’re entering a world of interconnected devices — smart homes, efficient building, connected infrastructure, and more.

Ready to Tool-up? IOT has become Weaponised

Assuming you’ve not been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard about how tens of millions of websites went down in mid-October. Among these sites include Twitter, Spotify, and Reddit; even Playstation Network was down for a time. Unfortunately, the Internet of Things was the tool that made this attack possible.

So, how did this one attack affect so many different websites all at once, you ask? Well, because the attack wasn’t on a website at all but on Dyn, a DNS service. Think of it as an electronic phone book roughly the size of a building where, instead of phone numbers, we’ve got our web addresses stored there. When this phone book was bombarded by millions of queries through a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, it crashed.

Now, any normal DDoS wouldn’t have done much to Dyn. They’ve got servers galore in countries across the globe. This wasn’t a normal attack though and they hit all the servers at once. Just a couple hours after the first attack, a second came, and then a third. Taking responsibility for these attacks was the well known group Anonymous alongside New World Hackers as retaliation for Ecuador taking internet access away from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

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Where does the IoT come into all this? Well, there’s a malware out there called Mirai which searches the Internet for IoT devices still protected by their factory default usernames and passwords, which is most. Once the hackers had access to these devices, they set their sights on Dyn to ping it constantly for information with people none the wiser that their printers, cameras, or even baby monitors were being used in such a way.

Balance of Machine and Sensor

There’s a delicate balance in the Internet of Things (IoT) between machine and sensors. On the one hand, you have the practical application. Machines produce results. They have an action, whether it be to process your information and give you a train ticket, change from red to yellow to green on a timer, or to read this very article.

Sensors, on the other hand, are the eyes and ears of that machine. In the same way that we see, hear, taste, and feel, sensors gather data on their surroundings. Imagine trying to do something without any of your senses. Imagine an existence without sight, smell, touch, taste, or hearing. Nearly lifeless, right? You’d still be able to do things, but you’d be severely crippled in your decision making process. In that same way that we rely on our senses to make decisions, machines rely on their sensors, and that is all the more true in the IoT.

Now, back to that balance I mentioned. Within the IoT, that balance is crucial. All the sensors in the world won’t mean a thing without a machine to process, analyse, and determine a course of action. It’d be raw data without anywhere to go. A bunch of ones and zeroes fed right into your trash bin. It’s a waste.

On that same line, the IoT would be rendered worthless without sensors. In fact, it simply wouldn’t exist. The best example I can give is a stoplight. Before the IoT, they worked on a timer. It was a good way to make crowded intersections work better, but I think you know that it’s not at all efficient. Add in some sensors to it, the car, the road, etc. and you’ve got a stoplight able to determine high and low traffic flow and adjust itself according to where the traffic is coming from and going to. In real time, the road would transmit data of a crash to likely detour routes of nearby streets, giving those lights a better, more efficient function as they update. Without sensors, you go back to a machine that is little more than a glorified light-up timepiece.

There is a third component I should add to this, equally as important but not quite as tangible — the Cloud. It’s what enables the IoT to work at all. The Cloud’s ability to transmit and interpret data in real time from one device to another is exactly what is required for multiple devices connected through each other.

I think you can start seeing how important this balance is now. The sensors gather the data, transmit it through the Cloud, where it’s put to an application by the machine. Any failing between sensor and machine and you’ve got an inefficient or potentially even broken device.

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Imagine waking up promptly at 7:00 from your alarm. Your coffee is brewing and starting to fill the air as you go hop in the shower. You come back, cup already made and sugar added. That is perhaps the most basic consumer application that the Internet of Things (IoT) is able to make a possibility. Your alarm is connected to your coffee maker and when you set your alarm, your coffee maker knows to be ready with a nice hot cup 10 minutes later.

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Next, let’s get a bit more advanced. Your car is now connected to your alarm system and is able to access the internet and know the temperature. It’s a chilling 4°C. You open your garage door, your alarm system recognizes this and sends a signal to your car. Your car, in turn, starts up and sets the heat going because it’s cold. Your garage door notices your car is on and within ten feet and up goes your door. All you had to do was walk out a door and suddenly everything is already ready for you to get going. Sure, this saves only about 30 seconds, but that’s just one example of just how connected things are able to become.

Now what about some real world, current uses. The first ever use of the Internet of Things was a coke machine at the Carnegie Mellon University in 1982. It was able to both report its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold or not. Since then, the IoT has spread rapidly. We can now find it in loads of manufacturing, transportation, and monitoring technologies. Perhaps the biggest use of this though is in city infrastructure where variables constantly change on a second-by-second basis.

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Not everything is perfect in this system though. With more devices connected, you’ve got more threats to your security. In theory, all someone would have to do is find the weak link in the chain to make it all come tumbling down. The IoT works better and better when more devices are connected, but it also makes it harder to secure. The potential for the IoT is amazing and probably the biggest leap in technology since we invented the internet, however, matching security with ease of use is not going to be simple.

We are living in an information age and the Internet of Things is the newest child of that age. It exists to give real-time data faster and easier than anything else. It’s not just the future, but the world we live in even now and it’s only just begun. 10 years from now, we might really be waking up with a fresh brewed cup just waiting for us.