The Role of Sensors in an IoT Strategy
One of the powerful things about the Internet of Things is the ability it gives you to assemble data that until recently flew beneath the radar. Organizations that put this data to use effectively often gain insights that may contribute to cost savings, innovation, and sometimes significant competitive gains.
Yet applying a specific strategy to a specific business is a somewhat daunting task. A growing array of IoT sensors introduces a complex tangle of possibilities. Moreover, the way sensors are combined can create very different outcomes—and solutions.
An integrator or VAR can play an important role in helping businesses develop a strategic focus. First, it’s important to understand what type of sensors exist and how they can be used. These include: temperature and heat, pressure, moisture and humidity, proximity and motion, vibration, chemical, optical and infrared, flow, sound and acoustics, visual, electrical, location and GPS, speed, and more. The list continues to grow.
Second, it’s important to understand how sensors work alone and in a network. Ultimately, IoT platforms revolve around three key functions: sensing the physical conditions in an environment, transmitting the “sensed” data, and putting the data to work to address business problems and opportunities.
Roman Staszewski, president of McKinney, Texas-based IoT design and consulting firm Zenseio LLC, has noted that IoT sensors include three fundamental components—sensing, communication, and power supply—all wrapped into a framework and interface. A variety of IoT applications can exist—and coexist—within a single sensor hardware platform. Devices may function in a standalone mode or plugged into other machines. This, Staszewski says, is possible “by employing appropriate functional modularity and interface abstractions.” Within an IoT platform, an application processor and well-defined interfaces help support functions for versatility and ease of use, he adds.
Understanding how data collection and processing will take place is vital when choosing the right sensor for a project. Both activities can take place on devices, in the cloud or fog network, or at a central database residing on a server, Staszewski points out. In order for the system to function effectively and data to flow freely, the integrator who deploys it must understand how to power all the sensors, how to transmit data, and how to design interfaces and other software components to connect all the digital dots.
In the end, determining how to deploy an IoT project requires a good deal of planning. It is driven by important factors including the desired application, the data that’s captured, and the environmental and operating conditions where the IoT platform will function. Also important are the nature and frequency of the data that will be used to drive decisions or actions, and the specialized skills required to set up the network. Implementation choices are also typically driven by cost and ease-of-use considerations, Staszewski notes, especially when deciding on the right sensor for the project. Since sensors are a critical part of most IoT implementations, follow your grandmother's advice and choose wisely rather than in haste.
Samuel Greengard is a business and technology writer based in West Linn, Ore. He is the author of The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).