Technologies are developing by the second around the world. New devices and gadgets on the market now offer advanced levels of services and practically change the way people lead their daily lives. These devices are not just being smart alone but can be smart together, with the Internet of Things. In the broadest sense, IoT comprises everything connected to the internet but is increasingly being used to define objects that “talk” to each other, for example, simple sensors to smartphones and wearables – all connected together.
“Today, Internet of Things devices all connect wirelessly to each other, but it’s not entirely a seamless process,” explains Miriam Leeser, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Northeastern University. Leeser’s research involves reconfiguring the hardware to help our electronic devices go faster. Specifically, she focuses on field-programmable gate arrays—integrated electronic circuits that can essentially be reprogrammed on the fly. These devices use various protocols—Bluetooth, WiFi, and LTE, to name a few. “I’ve seen devices that have 10 chips, one for each protocol, then a new protocol comes out and it’s useless,” she explained.
The innovation is happening. The world is on track to develop and connect the trillions of intelligent devices over the coming years. In Los Angeles, acoustic sensors attached to streetlights monitor noise levels to help ensure more peaceful streets and healthier citizens. Advancements in medicine, power, gene therapies, agriculture, smart cities, and smart homes are just a very few of the categorical examples where IoT is strongly established. And not just that, from hairbrushes to scales, consumer and industrial devices are having chips inserted into them to collect and communicate data.
If this goal must be met, devices must be able to work efficiently and seamlessly. The long-term goal of Leeser’s research is designing smarter circuits that know exactly which protocol to use that will deliver the fastest and most efficient connection before you do—and switch between them as needed. Leeser explained that the normal way to do this would be to use the software, but that would be too slow. “So, you want to use hardware, but somehow make it as flexible as software. This is what reconfigurable devices do.” Over 9 billion ‘things’ are currently connected to the Internet, as of now. In the near future, this number is expected to rise to a whopping 20 billion. Our devices definitely need to keep up.