When people think about the IoT, they usually focus solely on the “things.” And let’s face it – that’s the sexy part of the story. All those connected devices and sensors are what get people excited about it all.
But the real star isn’t the device – it’s the infrastructure around it, which powers and supports the IoT. Ultimately, the real value of the IoT lies in data and the cloud. By using cloud-based applications to gather, transmit, and analyze the data coming from sensors, the ecosystem around connected devices becomes the most critical piece.
The importance of APIs to the ecosystem
For developers, web APIs are turning out to be another key part of the IoT ecosystem. In the IoT, connected objects are themselves connected to a data back end in the cloud, with the objects then receiving instructions from the back end and sending data collected from sensors to that database. A simple example of this in action would be a thermostat that is instructed to keep a certain steady temperature in a house, then sending back temperature and other measurements to the database. It’s the entire ecosystem – device, data, and the cloud – that makes it work.
But the web APIs that communicate with the back end really bring it all together. As we recently said, web APIs leverage the widely used HTTP protocol and provide you with the most flexibility in connecting objects in the cloud.
Web APIs can also help you secure data exchanges on the back end. Specifically, by leveraging HTTPS encryption, giving you the opportunity to bolster security in your application.
Putting the “smart” in smart devices
You definitely get the most out of the IoT when you combine APIs, devices, data, and the cloud. The smart devices are the source of the data, but the “smart” in those devices comes from what you actually do with that data. To put the “smart” in smart devices, you can use web APIs to store the data, analyze it, and ultimately extract useful information from it.
A good example of how this might look can be found in the industrial IoT. One of the major promises of the IoT is the opportunity to get devices to collaborate, and this is common in industrial settings, where multiple units – heating and cooling units, for example – collect and pool together data in the cloud from built-in sensors. All that data is stored and analyzed in the cloud.
By pooling all that data, building managers can look for efficiencies. They can easily get visibility into which systems or devices are running efficiently and which ones might be costing them money by not running efficiently. With that knowledge, the managers can fix the underperforming systems and improve overall building efficiency.
The smart parking example
Another good way to see how web APIs, data, and the cloud fit together so well in the IoT is to look at smart parking solutions, which are becoming more common. In a typical smart parking scenario, a bunch of parking spots on a ramp or in a lot are connected to one another and to the cars. To make that kind of connectivity real requires web APIs to facilitate communication between the parking spots, the cars, and the back end, with all that data being stored and analyzed in the cloud.
Some organizations are taking it a step further and making that data even more useful by utilizing tariff parking – using car and parking data to set the price of parking spaces. SFpark, for instance, is an initiative created by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to use technology to improve parking throughout the city.
Through SFpark, SFMTA installed wireless sensors to detect parking space occupancy and availability in metered spaces in real time. SFpark took the data from the sensors to conduct demand-responsive pricing and direct drivers to available spaces by sending out updated parking availability info to mobile apps and a website. Parking managers could use this information to determine the price to charge for parking, based on overall availability, time of the day, and demand for spaces.
Web APIs also offer more than a way to tie together the IoT infrastructure. Because many APIs provide a kind of hosted service, you can rely on them to offload some of the IoT infrastructure. You could easily launch an IoT product and use third-party back-end storage, for example, using web APIs.
And you could use a platform like Golgi to really take advantage of the combination of APIs, data, and the cloud. The Golgi Programmable Device Cloud uses a middleware that runs from an embedded device through the cloud to deliver programmable cloud APIs. Using this platform, you could easily create APIs for IoT devices or build custom connectors for any third-party web service, whether for data storage, data visualization, or other key functionality.
No matter what kind of application you’re building or where you are in the development stage, you can see that the real beauty – and value – of the IoT happens through the integration of web APIs, data, and the cloud.