The ability to communicate information and deliver an appropriate response in a timely fashion has been one of the main factors that enabled human civilizations to flourish or to dismantle. This dynamic has accompanied us since time immemorial, but due to the explosive rate in which technological advancements have emerged over the past decades, a shift in this age-old paradigm has already materialized.
Communication in its most basic forms is the exchange of ideas between two individuals who share the same language. The advent of the internet has completely reshaped the way we perceive communication on a global scale, as vast geographical distances are no longer an obstacle and communication is instantaneous. But probably the most intriguing aspect enabled by technological advancements is the fact that communication between smart devices is now, not only possible, but an integral part of our personal lives, and as automation slowly becomes the new standard, in industry as well. A vast network of interconnected devices which react autonomously to external stimuli may seem like something depicted from a science fiction novel, but if we look around us, we can already see that consumer-grade versions of these type of devices are already becoming mainstream.
The Internet of Things (IoT) currently rules many activities in research and development of mobile and wearable devices, as well as industrial-grade equipment. According to analysts from the International Data Corporation (IDC), the number of smartwatches tripped from 7.1 million devices in Q3/2014 to 21.2 million devices in Q3/2015. A similar analysis performed by the ABI Research data estimated the market increase for all wearables from 53.8 million devices in 2013 to 146.2 million sold units in 2015. Keep in mind that these figures represent only the private user market for wearables such as smartwatches, other devices mobile phones, wireless monitored health devices like insulin pumps, blood pressure and heart rate monitors are not included. This massive increase indicates that the market demand for consumer-grade IoT devices is on an ascending trend. This point is further strengthened by the fact that global giants like IBM, Ernst & Young and Deloitte have set up special teams for researching how this technology can be fully integrated across various industry sectors as well day to day activities.
What is the Internet of Things
Ernst & Young describes IoT as the connection of devices to the internet using embedded software and sensors to communicate, collect and exchange data with one another. IBM defines IoT as the concept of connecting any device to the internet and other connected devices. The IoT is a giant network of connected things and people – all of which collect and share data about the way they are used and about the environment around them. These definitions center around two key processes: collecting data and providing an immediate adequate response through sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects linked through wired and wireless networks.
A sensor is a device that detects and responds to external stimuli from the physical environment. Sensors come in all shapes and sizes and can detect a wide range of inputs, ranging from sound, audio and acoustics, temperature and thermal, motion and velocity, proximity position and presence, flow liquid, chemical and gas, magnetic fields, pressure and force, optic light and imaging. The output is generally a signal that is converted to human-readable display at the sensor location or transmitted electronically over a network for reading or further processing. The vast amount of inputs that can be registered by sensors open a new window of opportunities, for business and industries, as new smart devices can be designed to measure and respond to specific purposes. As a core component of any IoT device, sensors can be considered as the powerhouse which grants unlimited potential to this newly emerging field.
In general, IoT devices can be classified into three categories:
- Devices that receive data and act on it: 3D printers, wearable devices, smart TVs, thermostats that collect data from sensors and take actions based on it.
- Devices that collect information and send it: motion, moisture, light, audio, and gas sensors which collect data from their proximity and sent it for further processing.
- Devices which perform both functions: automated systems which trigger an event once certain parameters are registered by the sensors. This is the case of IoT based farming where moisture sensors register the humidity of the soil and start the irrigation system when the parameters fall under certain thresholds or assembly lines which detects faulty products or components and automatically discards them.
The concept of smart devices connected over a wide network is much older than one might think. The first known IoT use case dates back to 1982 at MIT, where university students used sensors to monitor and restock their cola dispenser machine. Unsurprisingly, this drastically increased the efficiency of the vending machine, allowing a worker to be sent out whenever it was needed, ensuring that the machine was always stocked with cold drinks. Further progress in the field was made around 1994 when a journal article by Reza Raji, an IoT veteran, proposed the idea of moving packets of data in order to automate homes and factories. In the early 1990’s Microsoft along with several other companies began experimenting with similar ideas, and from 2002 onward, many media outlets started discussing IoT smart devices connected to each other while linked to a monitoring information system. Currently, it is estimated that the number of interconnected IoT devices in use worldwide has already exceeded 8.6 billion since 2018.
Due to its incredible levels of flexibility and inherent utility, IoT can prove to be a viable solution to streamline productivity, increase efficiency and user comfort. From a general perspective, IoT can be applied in two dimensions: domestic and industrial use.
IoT in domestic and personal use
IoT can be implemented in many facets of our domestic and personal life by providing a much-needed layer of automation. The concept of smart home can become a reality through IoT, where several devices can be employed to monitor and control the use of lights, air conditioners, heaters, and even security systems. As a matter of fact, these type of systems are already in use. For example, through Apple Home, a person can control their air conditioning, heating, light, speakers, outlet, switches, windows, fans, humidifiers, air purifiers, security sensors, security cameras, locks, doorbells, and garage doors with an iPhone app. This technology has the potential to make our lives more comfortable and easier to manage.
Besides the comfort aspect, automated homes have the potential to significantly improve the quality of life of older people, as well as people with disabilities. Through a network of devices embedded with sensors, people with sight, hearing and mobility impairments can lead a normal life. Furthermore, the vital signs of people who are bedridden can be constantly monitored through devices which immediately notify paramedics and relatives when an emergency occurs.
IoT in industrial use
IoT can be a game-changer in the industrial and business sector where time is of the essence, and where an adequate response can make the difference when profits are involved, and in some scenarios even ensuring the safety of the people involved. In the mining and petrol industry sensors can represent the lifeline of the people who are working on the field. Detecting gas leaks, or any other harmful substances and issuing a timely appropriate response can save millions of dollars of equipment, but more importantly the lives of everyone involved. Automated machines are an invaluable tool for industries which rely on controlled environments, where a slight increase in temperature, humidity, air pressure, and vibrations can compromise the products involved. This does not imply that IoT is limited in the manufacturing process. Sensors can play a vital role during every stage of the supply chain, to determine if products have been handled and transported in the necessary conditions.
IoT limitations and vulnerabilities
The Internet of Things has proved that it has the ability to bring real value to the world, thus ensuring its place in the future. But as with any technology, there are certain limitations and drawbacks which need to be overcome. In the case of IoT, the biggest drawback that affects both industrial and domestic use is related to security concerns. The technology relies on centralized communication models to interact with the system, devices are identified, connected and validated via centralized cloud servers.
This raises a red flag, as it has been proven sufficient times that centralized data storage models are vulnerable to attacks, they have a single point of failure which means that if an attacker manages to get in the central server, he can compromise all the data. But in the case of IoT, the situation is a bit more complex, because the hacker in question can take complete control of the devices connected to the network. Imagine if you wake up in the middle of the night because your baby monitor starts broadcasting gibberish or creepy sounds, or if someone messes with the heater in the winter and completely shuts it down. Besides what may seem as pranks, these are issues which pose a real threat. A hacker can simply take control of the security cameras of a house, wait for the family to leave and disable the security system and rob the place. In the industrial segment, trade secrets can be easily exposed if security measures are bypassed and even acts of sabotage can become a reality.
Although this scenario seems to be deeply rooted in conspiracy movies, there is a real-life example of IoT compromised by hackers. On October 12, 2016, a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack left much of the internet inaccessible on the US East Coast. Initially, the attack was considered to be the work of a hostile nation, but in fact, it was the work of the Mirai botnet. A botnet is a collection of internet-connected computers that are under remote control from an outside party. Mirai took advantage of the limitations of IoT devices which were not secured properly and amassed an army of compromised-closed circuit devices which it used to propagate large scale DDoS attacks. Since then the damages caused by Mirai have been repaired, but there is a problem, the Mirai botnet code was ‘released into the wild’. This means that anyone with the right amount of skills can use it to try to infect IoT devices or improve it to create something bigger and more dangerous. From this experience, it becomes clear that client-server models aren’t suited for IoT, as they can be easily exploited.
Blockchain, a foundation for IoT
The Mirai botnet incident demonstrates that sensor industry and IoT, in general, is still vulnerable to this type of attacks. The fact that the source code of Mirai is available online, suggests that there is only a matter of time until an event of a similar magnitude unfolds. Blockchain, a relative newcomer in the tech scene (compared to IoT) can provide a viable solution to the security vulnerabilities of IoT. By design, blockchain is a decentralized, digital, tamper-proof ledger of transactions which secures data through complex cryptographic algorithms. This short description immediately provides an answer to a major issue of IoT, its centralized data storage structure. By taking a closer look at the inherent capabilities of blockchain technology, we can determine that besides strengthening security, it can add considerable value to IoT and the sensor industry in general.
Data immutability and data integrity make a good case for the sensor-based industry. Each sensor device output contains relevant information for its owner, for its producer and for other third parties regulating or monitoring the sensor business. Sensor owners have the most interest in data produced by the sensors and guaranteed data immutability and integrity should be of great interest to them. At the same time, the sensor producer would make great use for the technical logs and proof of device good functionality. A common ledger gathering device-specific data, data which is proved to be unmodified and logged in a shared data storage, an immutable data storage, but in the same time, a secure one can satisfy not only the producer and the owner but also associated third parties like insurance companies or legal entities.
Decentralized access to a data storage network will be controlled by pre-defined secure access mechanisms, on which base relevant data will be protected and only accessible by relevant parties. For instance: a producer will not be able to access sensor measurements and the owner will not be able to access other technical logs of a device. Still, in an emergency, this info will be shared based on consent or by legal order, and their validity and authenticity could not be contested. Taking these into account, a general enterprise platform connecting sensor devices, providing stats and reports, relevant logs and secure access to sensor-specific information to all sensor industry involved parties in a secure way will make a strong use case for blockchain applicability in this domain.
Sensor activity, sensor logs and sensor efficiency mean a great deal when it comes to historical data or system restoration. Snapshot-based backup might and will generate data loss. Sensor-based industry requires accuracy in regards to historical logs, especially because a highly sensitive business industry relies on that information when it comes to product development, product improvement, business development, legal issues and so on.
Connecting sensors to a decentralized ledger will provide not only quick access to relevant data but also will ensure real-time backup without risking the loss of intermediary information. Setting up network nodes with the back-up function will ensure that there are several server-side machines which make sure that data is real-time saved and also data is in real-time available for quick restoration of failed systems.
World Wide Distribution / Decentralization
The biggest meaning for a decentralized ledger based on blockchain technologies is to connect as many network participants as possible. This concept provides benefits for system availability but also benefits in regards to the storage of high data volumes. Lots of industries have to suffer because of their refusal to share data in centralized systems due to a lack of trust in regards to centralized system owners. A decentralized system can cumulate high volume of data from many devices and many brands in order to provide relevant stats and reports on those data, to develop artificial intelligence-based improvements and, at the same time, to preserve the security of that data and its beneficiary.
In the context of a secure environment, transparency is what any market needs when it comes to sharing anonymous data, which is of interest to all parties involved in the process. Decentralized distributed ledgers (DLTs) allow device owners to maintain a personal network node, to access all shared data within the node in real-time and to benefit from high network availability compared to other access issues generated in regular centralize single point of failure systems.
Traffic minimization is a general benefit of self-maintained nodes, especially in the industries running businesses in low Internet availability areas. Many automotive industries have developed production centers in geographical areas where the Internet is either limited or very expensive. A blockchain network node will download its relevant data once and it will not sync useless information. Each machine/device within the low Internet availability network will only exchange data locally and system availability will be at high speed and low cost.
Supply chain comes into focus when we talk about sensor device creation by offering sensor industry players some guarantees on product authenticity, product guarantees and order tracking. Blockchain data immutability can also guarantee some unicity in regards to distributed products or product components.
Product owners can track their orders using blockchain-based ledgers. This way, they have the vendor’s guarantees in regards to order details and delivery queue. Also, all product warranties and serial numbers of parts can be stored in the immutable ledger as legal evidence in any eventual dispute and, of course, to allow product verification and to remove counterfeit suspicions. A blockchain-based sensor supply chain platform could improve both vendor processes by offering much better traceability, but it can also serve product owners who can track the history of each purchased product.
About Modex BCDB
Currently, the majority of blockchain solutions present on the market are oriented towards blockchain as a service, limiting themselves to a rigid view and application of the technology. A company or the CTO of a company can come to the realization, after a bit of study that their business can solve several issues and streamline back-end processes by implementing blockchain. The problem is that in order for a company to implement blockchain technology only through its own tech team, they need to invest a significant amount of time and resources to study what type of blockchain is most suited for their needs, and commence a lengthy process of learning the development specificity of the respective blockchain, as well as scouting for developers proficient in the technology.
Every enterprise is reserved and unwilling to make changes to its database, and for good reason, as data loss or data corruption constitute major risks. Modex BCDB doesn’t work by deleting the existing database, or data entries. The database is maintained intact throughout the process, data integrity is ensured by calculating the metadata of the records and storing it on the blockchain.
Moreover, the system does not restrict access to the blockchain or to the database, so when a developer needs to make a reporting or ETL transformations, they can always perform warehouse analytics by accessing the database directly. This is because Modex BCDB has been purposely designed to be agnostic. With our solution, clients are able to set up a network, regardless of the type of database employed. In a consortium, each company can maintain what type of database they prefer (Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, Mongo DB), and connect them through a blockchain-powered network to ensure cohesion, availability while protecting corporate interests.
Blockchain company Modex is promoting the adoption of blockchain technology and strongly believes in a future built around blockchain. Modex offers fully integrated services designed to solve the last mile adoption problem of the blockchain and aims to make blockchain user-friendly for every single device or person. At Modex, we can innovate thanks to our incredible team of experts and we offer services for the entire blockchain technology ecosystem: Marketplace for Smart Contracts, community tools for developers and blockchain as database services for enterprises. In over two years, using cutting-edge technologies and with a clear strategy, Modex has evolved from the world’s first app store for blockchain into a complex ecosystem designed for developers’ needs and enterprises looking for blockchain solutions. Our mission is to spread and facilitate the adoption of blockchain into society and to solve real-world problems using this revolutionary technology.