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Physical and digital duality

Perhaps a better way to decide whether a device is indeed an IoT device, or not, is to ascertain if it has both a physical and digital presence.

Physical devices have ways in which we use them. A pair of pliers, for example, can be opened, closed, used to grip or twist and so on. A database server can retrieve records, store them, alter them and so on. The pliers have no digital presence and the database has no physical effect. IoT devices have both. [Note: if you can think of an exception, please post it to the discussion forum.]

You may have heard the term ‘digital twin’ applied to people to describe the way in which we have a physical presence but also a lot of digital data about us stored across numerous servers and services. The same term is sometimes used to describe the software that makes a device an IoT device. Usually, there is significant mirroring in the two representations. A smart kettle can be turned on or off, for example, using a switch in the physical world, or an instruction sent to its digital twin. It might have functionality in one domain that isn’t echoed in the other, too.

In the case of a kettle, I am yet to find one that can be filled by sending it a network message, and while it is easy to imagine having the ability to query the temperature of a smart kettle by interacting with its digital representation, I haven’t seen any kettles, smart or otherwise, that display the water temperature to someone standing right in front of them.

Your task

Choose an IoT device you know something about, or look up information about one that interests you, and draw up a list of the ways you can interact with it in the physical world.

Now make another list of the information and functionality it has in the digital world.

Can you map each digital function to a physical one and vice versa?

For any that you cannot, decide if this is truly a mismatch between the physical and digital world, or if it can be explained by seeing the device as part of a larger system, such that some of the physical functionality is mirrored by digital functionality somewhere else.

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This article is from the free online course:

The Internet of Things: The Rise of Connected Devices

Coventry University