In order to make two objects interact and work together, it is necessary to introduce them to each other. It means applying something comprehensible for both participants, something able to put them in a common discourse. The objects should start communicating somehow. No matter what nature is inherent in them. Both can belong to different phenomena – a human and an animal, a human and a machine, a machine and another machine, a human and an extraterrestrial (the recent “Arrival” movie discloses the issue in a brilliant manner).
There should be a system of signals acceptable and graspable by the communicating objects. In such a case, the mere communication can appear being driven by its essence – the data exchange. Every interaction we know, every meaningful workflow, everything happening in the civilization’s lifespan, in other words, all possible relations are grounded in this core process of data sharing.
Machines seek an understanding
People use languages to build and maintain their civilizations. We play with animals training them to explain what we need from them. Aliens have not arrived yet, unfortunately, so let’s put them aside. Thus, the machines remain the ones requiring improvement of their communication capabilities for serving humans more effectively. And the communicative effectiveness is the key. The digital era has engendered a huge variety of machines interconnected within numerous networks.
The prolific and creative process of data flows keeps communication between machines complicated. For a while now the complex digital systems and networks began facing difficulties arisen from the diversity of machine languages, communication protocols, and industrial standards. And the area where vulnerabilities to poor communicating comprehension are crucial embraces the most promising and far-reaching digital trend of nowadays – the Internet of Things.
Automation is the goal
“Our technologies are interconnected” or “Our equipment is networked” are no longer extraordinary options being a part of mundane business expectations. The number of communicating devices has already outpaced the human population several times. Gartner predicts 33 billion of interconnected objects by 2020. Irrespective of the area of implementation, whether it is the consumer environment (IoT) or the industrial segments (IIoT) the core idea of connectivity comes to automation.
There is nothing revolutionary here, but as David Houghton wisely observes, “The fact is, like automation, IoT incorporates a portfolio of technologies (hardware, software and networking), many of which have been in existence for decades, advancing over time and only now powerful enough, small enough, and cheap enough to change the paradigm of what can be automated”. Nonetheless, a single definite omni-technological company that can offer the “one-fits-all IoT solution” hardly exists.
Common language wanted
It doesn’t seem weird when IoT players use different communication protocols and standards trying to build a joint interconnected environment. It is similar to the electricity supply systems still using different AC voltage (220/110) while people have been using the electric power for more than 100 years.
However, the growing complexity of IoT systems involves more and more equipment manufacturers and connectivity providers. Making such complicated IoT systems valuable for the end users the IoT market players have not to ignore each other with regard to common standards and communication protocols. In simple terms, every participant of IoT business should be able to find a common language with any other one. And above all, it concerns the standards and protocols by means of which the IoT devices communicate.
Variety of standards
Serious and lucrative business always refuses experimentation with rules. When it comes to big money game is over. One of the global IIoT monsters Siemens Corporation claims that the obstacle impeding the growth of the Internet of Things is the lack of technical standards. Of course, billions of connected devices use industrial standards.
Meanwhile, the standards are different. Siemens mentions such popular wireless technologies as FRID (radio frequency identification), NFC (near field communication), NB-IoT (Narrow Band-IoT, a 3GPP-standard for Low Power Wide Area Networking, LPWAN), WLAN, Bluetooth, and Zigbee. Besides, according to Siemens, some new approaches are under development,
“Researches at the University of Washington have developed sensors without batteries that can engage in wireless communication with other devices. They use the attenuation of radio waves as a signal path – a technology that could allow a significant expansion of the Internet of Things”.
The missing link
All IIoT providers are free to choose the standards they like. However, this can hardly result in connectivity infrastructure able to handle sharing of structured data between participants of IIoT systems. Something essential is missed. Something that can clarify “the rich but often confusing landscape of IIoT connectivity”, as one of the leaders of Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) Dr. Rajive Joshi remarks. Something similar to the approach of software developers implementing cross-platform solutions is required. It is time to come to a commonly shared understanding of IoT standards.
IICF helps things happen
The issue moved away from its long-standing inertia in February 2017 when the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) published the ‘Industrial Internet Connectivity Framework’ (IICF). Dr. Rajive Joshi defines the framework’s main goals as, “setting a stable long-term foundation for IIoT interoperability and architecture strategy and providing practical, useful and tangible guidance for IIoT connectivity requirements assessment, technology evaluation and selection”. The detailed and comprehensive document is downloadable free from the official IIC website.
In order to accomplish its goals IICF “defines an assessment template for evaluating and categorizing any connectivity technology and determine its suitability for the system at hand. The assessment template is a worksheet that can be used by IIoT architects to evaluate any connectivity technology from an IIoT perspective, and determine its suitability for a set of system requirements”.
The framework impresses with both the abundance of the covered IIoT issues and the highly professional approach applied to them. It seems every IIoT architect has received a universal tool with the publication of the IICF. However, the main value of the IICF lies in the very appearance of this framework rather than in its context. Now the missed link capable of bridging different IIoT technologies appears.
This is extremely important for developing the common discourse of the entire IIoT environment. And according to the great German philosopher Martin Heidegger, discourse creates phenomena. From now on, Indeema may believe that the notorious Internet of Everything can get a chance to be transformed from a buzzword idea into the actual evolution of the Internet of Things.