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  • Thing Definition

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    Tim Kannegieter

    The fundamental element of the Internet of Things are smart devices, otherwise known as a “Thing”. A thing can be defined as a smart device consisting of embedded electronics with communications interfaces.

    Things typically incorporate sensors, which can sense parameters of the environment, and actuators, which can take interaction to other electronic signals resulting from communications messages. Things also incorporate all the intervening intelligence that actually creates value for the users. 

    Things usually have intelligence, make autonomous decisions, and actually do things autonomously in conjunction with other things. They are often modular in nature. The underlying modularity is actually more important than how a thing is classified. One approach is to create different modules that provide a collective function, and that collection becomes a thing.

    The most important way to define a thing is usually in terms of its network connection, i.e. its physical network address. Many models of the Internet of Thing assume one address, eg for one sensor, but that is too simplistic. A better way to designate things is, for any particular network address, examine the inputs, and outputs, and other characteristics like a real time clock etc, then modularize that. The aggregate of that modules becomes your thing, which can be considered a compound thing.

    These modules can be mixed and matched depending on how it actually serves the user best. Considerations in how to do that include asking: Is your thing a network? Is your thing a controller? Is your thing a node? Is your thing a point or a channel? What are the relationships? Are they one to one, one to n, n to n? Are the things distributed? Is the intelligence distributed? Does one thing comprise of multiple sub-things that are actually distributed spatially? How do they aggregate? Do we compound them? Are they simple? Are they complex? The ideal data model will capture all of this information and can allow for all situations.

    Things can also be raw or abstract. A raw thing would be something that presents data or functionality that is really not all that much altered by the actual thing that holds it or it is responsible for. An example of a raw thing might be an analogue input, but an abstract thing might actually be a temperature sensor that uses an analogue input, for example.

    Other elements that make up a thing include the input/output signalling or a data source if it's a virtual thing. Input's typically a sensor and output's typically an actuator, though you can have analogue, digital, serial, parallel, stream, storage and algorithms. All of these elements combine in a modular manner, to constitute your things.

    Internet enabled things can be employed in an extremely wide range of environments and are expected to impact virtually every industry. Typically, we have domestic/consumer and commercial/industrial environments. Industrial settings are present in virtually all industries, listed on the wiki contents, and there are common functions that span these industries.


    Sources: Material on this page has primarily been sourced from the following:

    Edited by Tim Kannegieter


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