Steve Sufaro of Axis Commnications proposed a three step test to define an IoT device. It is this:
- Is the device capable of being remotely detected; is there the ability to know what IoT devices and components are connected to a given network or system?
- Can the device become trusted and authenticated on a network?
- Is the device able to be updated and upgraded to enhance features, deliver data and improve device security?
Assuming that the test is good and that a particular device passes on all counts what further definition could be given to IoT devices? How should we think about things? What kind of language should we use?
It is clear that all IoT devices are communicating entities however not all IoT devices are equal. Different communication regimes pertain to different devices. Stratifying IoT devices by the sort of communication regime they operate in could help us think about things and the relationship we have with them. Here is our concept:
A plain old thing – fails all thee of Sufaro’s tests and is not considered to be part of the IoT. A roll of sellotape or a pot for example.
A local thing – the communications with this thing occurs locally – only. The device exists behind a LAN or some other sort of network (Bluetooth or a zigbee mesh for example). Detection and Authentication is completed within the local network. Updating can be achieved by using a proxy device such as a mobile app, which in turn connects to the device and updates it.
An example of a local thing is a Bluetooth controlled heater working in connection with a mobile app.
A wide thing – communicates with someone or something on the internet. The architecture for such a device often includes: the device itself and peripheral sensors, a cloud service including data sources, a user control and monitoring panel, often in the form of a mobile app. Home automation control hubs and cloud based security camera systems are wide things.
A simple example of a wide thing is a lamp that changes colour when a favourite football team scores a goal.
A swarm thing – communicates with other things in the network. A swarm thing acts like a single entity although it is comprised of many constituent entities. Some access control systems are swarm things. A city traffic light system acting in unison could be a swarm thing. A change in the state of one thing affects the state of other things in the network. A key feature of a swarm thing is that it enables the addition of a connection to another thing thereby increasing its functionality.
An autonomous thing – acts in a wide environment responding to cases it detects to achieve a set goal. The control panel for an autonomous thing allows the user to change parameters of the goal. The communication with an autonomous thing is primarily at the start of its life when it is set its task. Devices for seeking an equilibrium state in an environment could be autonomous things.
The divisions between the strata are not fixed or ranked. It is possible to envisage and autonomous local thing for example. The level of remote control, programmatic agency or artificial intelligence in the thing is not the critical stratification (things will certainly get smarter) it is instead the communications regime that any individual thing operates within that is the identifier.