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IoT Components

In the previous article, we found out what the term IoT means in simple terms. We discovered IoT was a connection of many components namely: sensors, actuators, embedded devices and the means of communication that exists between them. In this episode, we are going to attempt to talk about these components and their roles in making the internet of things (IoT) function as designed and intended.


sensors

For devices to know what is going on around them, they need to sense the environment. IoT components that help devices know what is going on around them are termed sensors. These devices send data to the processing components of the IoT; they are in essence input devices.

Sensors are usually transducers that convert real life stimuli into current or voltage levels. There are different types of sensors classified in different ways; they can be applied in various fields.

There are analog and digital sensors. This mainly has to do with the way data is sent to the processing device. Digital sensors produce discrete data while analog sensors produce continuous data.

The physical means by which data is gathered also forms a means of classifying sensors. For example, some sensors use chemical, mechanical or electrical means of gathering data from the environment. Passive sensors do not require power sources to function while Active sensors require power sources to function. Sensors can measure qualities like temperature, humidity, sound, image.

Once sensors gather data, they transmit the data to processing units for decisions to be made. There are various types of processing units. However, the main ones used are microcontrollers and microprocessors. However, microcontrollers are the best fit for IoT many applications. They are compared below.


MICROCONTROLLERS vs MICROPROCESSORS

The line between these two keeps getting thinner and thinner by the passing minute. However, there still lingers some major factors to consider in drawing the line between them.

Microprocessor Unit (MPU)

A microprocessor is an integrated circuit (IC) has only a Central Processing Unit (CPU) inside; there is no Random-Access Memory (RAM) and Read Only Memory (ROM) and other peripherals on the chip. General examples include Intel's Core series of processors and AMD's Ryzen series of processors.

System Designers have to complement MPUs with desired peripherals for them to function; they cannot function as standalone devices. MPUs are used in applications such as laptops, desktop computers. MPUs find use cases in generic applications such as software development, games, websites, video creation. They require high amount of RAM, ROM and Input/Output(I/O). Microprocessors clock speeds are usually higher. This gives rise to higher power draws. The figure below summarizes the MPU:

microprocessor unit

Microcontroller Unit (MCU)

A microcontroller has a CPU, fixed RAM, ROM and other peripherals embedded on a single chip. MCUs include manufactures include ATMEL, Motorola, Texas Instruments, Freescale, Philips.

Usually, microcontrollers are designed to perform specific tasks; due to this specificity input to output relations are known and fixed. Since MCUs are made by embedding CPU, ROM, RAM on single chips, size is drastically reduced and cost is largely slashed. This also allows MCUs to require less power input. Usually, MCUs run at lower clock speeds further reducing power draw. Applications of MPUs include washing machines, refrigerators, digital cameras, digital watches.

microcontroller

Since Internet of Things include embedded devices mostly, MCUs are the most regular set of parts used.

Advantages of using Microcontrollers in IoT

  • Cost advantages: MCUs are cheaper to replace compared to MPUs. They are also cheaper to buy for design in the first place.
  • Less power hungry: Talking about IoT always presents the constraints of power. MCUs run at slower clock speeds hence they draw less electric power.
  • Small size: Another constraint is the space limitation in IoT. MCUs due to having their most important components on the same chip come at very small sizes.


ACTUATORS AND TRANSDUCERS

These are devices that convert electrical signals into outputs that make changes in the system they form a part of. Hence, they form the output component of the IoT. Examples of actuators include electric valve actuators. These are usually driven by motors. Transducers are devices that convert electrical signals to other physical quantities and vice versa. Hence, transducers can act as input and output devices depending on specific use. Examples include buzzers, speakers.

Transducers are devices that convert electrical signals to other physical quantities and vice versa. Hence, transducers can act as input and output devices depending on specific use. Examples include buzzers, speakers.


CONNECTING LINKS

The various components of the IoT can be connected together for the purpose of data transfer and exchange. The most prominent means of sending data is the wire. Devices like sensors usually send their data over wires. Though wires are just drawn out conductors, there are different connectors at the ends; most are male/female pins. There are also different protocols for the way communication established over these links.

The protocols include I2C, SPI, UART (serial). These are usually for connections to microcontrollers. Again, wireless means are also employed in exchanging data. Wireless data standards include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth. Devices in closer proximity employ Bluetooth. Devices that are in wider apart rely on Wi-Fi. There are wireless sensors that send their data over different wireless protocols.

References
engineeersgarage.com
microcontrollertips.com

Author
Rene Novor X.K
Mor-Lan Technologies.

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