The world loves pizza. According to a recent Pizza Google Doodle
, the Margherita pizza is considered the most popular variety of Neopolitan-style pizza, with its delicious tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. Who knew? When it comes to pizza options, there are so many choices. Well, the same can be said of the Internet of Things.
In this post, we take a light-hearted look at what pizza has in common with the IoT. Pizza, as we know, is pretty easy to understand. It comes in all kinds of varieties and has many different purposes — from serving a small family with a single pizza to feeding an entire hockey team after a playoff game.
The Internet of Things is not quite so simple to understand. However, when you consider its similarities to pizza, it gets a whole lot simpler.
What Flavor Do You Want?
Source: Google Doodle
As a consumer of pizza, you likely have your favorite flavor, be it the Margherita, an Italian sausage and mushroom, spicy pepperoni, or a savory-sweet Hawaiian with ham and pineapple. But gone are the days when you had to stick to a predictable menu of options. In fact, because pizza has only grown in popularity and variety over the years, you can combine any number of ingredients together to make unique combinations. Anchovy and shiitake mushroom with béarnaise sauce? You’ve got it.
This is where the analogy to IoT comes in. Like pizza, IoT projects have infinite possibilities, especially for those developing a unique product to take to market. Depending upon your needs and requirements, you might want to connect a small number of smart devices for a home automation project — such as connecting your Alexa or Amazon Echo device to your backyard mosquito zapper — or you might want to connect hundreds of solar panels in a remote region of Arkansas.
These examples of IoT represent the absolutely enormous breadth of possibilities. And in both cases, to get to the end goal of a seamlessly operating IoT deployment, you'll need to source the "ingredients," and determine the best way to connect them.
Remember when a pizza was predictably a big circle of dough with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and pepperoni, sausage or Canadian bacon? Innovative chefs everywhere have expanded on the options over the years and today you have a daunting number of choices.
The same is true of IoT, which today allows anyone — researchers, industrial process managers, IT professionals, farmers, manufacturing facilities, fleet managers, and shipping clerks to name a few — to each have their own flavor of IoT, depending on their needs and goals.
Just considering the options for getting things to connect to things is daunting, as connectivity options abound. The range of networking protocols for connectivity includes 802.15.4, mesh networks like Zigbee® and DigiMesh®, Bluetooth®, cellular and LoRaWAN®. But for simplicity, all of the options fall under the categories of long-range, short range and cellular communications. The one you choose depends upon what you want to build, and how far apart your devices will be deployed.
Sourcing Your Pizza or IoT Product
When you want a pizza, how to you get it? Do you build it and bake it yourself? Buy it from your corner pizza vendor? Or perhaps get it at a take-and-bake retailer?
If you are like many people, you have it baked and delivered to your door, in a fraction of the time it would have taken with any other method.
Your choice probably depends on a few factors, including how fast you want it, what supplies you have on hand, and whether or not you are a skilled cook.
Same with IoT. You need to choose your starting point. You can build the entire thing yourself, or you can buy the components and build it. You can also commission it to be built for you. Which method is best? That depends, of course.
Starting from Scratch
In IoT, as in pizza making, you might want to start with nothing more than an idea and build it yourself. This only makes sense if you have the time, skills and resources. If you don’t have the skills, you still might want to build it, if you want to learn by doing. By that will only work if you have the luxury of time to factor in the learning curve, cost and frustration of trial and error. In IoT, we call this the "build vs. buy" selection.
If you want that solution or that pizza fast, you don’t want to go source all of the parts/ingredients individually. You won’t have time to learn all of the steps involved in building the foundation for your project. In the case of the pizza, you have to create dough, let it rise, punch it down, let it rise again and then shape it. That part alone is hours of work, and it takes time to master it, as any pizza chef will tell you.
In the case of a product or application design, your connectivity and communication module is perhaps analogous to the foundation for building a pizza. It can be built from all the disparate ingredients. But you likely want to find a starting place for your design that gets you from concept to final product more quickly.
Starting with Building Blocks
Let’s say you want that product or that pizza faster. Maybe you can’t afford trial and error. Maybe you have that entire hungry hockey team waiting for the pizza to be delivered. The analogy in IoT is that there’s a hungry market waiting for you to deliver, and you do not want to let them down.
In the IoT world, demand for certain products and markets can be very tight. For example, you might be developing products for a fast-growing market like electric vehicle charging infrastructure space. To get your products built and delivered on time, you likely need to start with building blocks, like system-on-modules that have already integrated hardware, software, security, system management and industrial reliablility.
If you are a developer working with Digi ConnectCore® system-on-modules, you know it’s all there for you, completely integrated with open source software, board support package, development tools, software development kits, plug-ins for popular IDEs, as well as tools for simplified hardware pin assignments, design guidelines, mechanical drawings, 3D models and schematics.
Getting from concept to completed product is highly accelerated with the modular approach. What’s more, you likely arrive at the end result at a lower cost — because you didn’t have to run around sourcing everything, take the time to integrate it all, incorporate sophisticated cybersecurity measures, or take on any additional risk due to lack of experience.
Commissioning a Completely Finished Product
As with pizza, you don’t have to build it at all, if you don’t want to. If just getting your hands on a fully baked pizza is your goal, you can get that. You can commission a complete project in the IoT world as well.
For example, at Digi, we have an entire devoted Wireless Design Services team that can take your concept to completion rapidly, eliminating your team's design risk factors along the way.
Let’s say, for example, your team builds motors. And they’re really good at what they do.
But now you want your team to build a highly connected electric vehicle motor that uses sensors, reports critical daily metrics and insights, launches processes, integrates artificial intelligence, and has the potential to revolutionize the EV industry. That’s when you have to ask whether it’s worth the time to get your entire team up to speed on AI, cellular and radio frequency connectivity and other skills they may be missing. Or should you work with a team that has all of those skills and will build your product to spec?
Managing and Monitoring Your Products in the Field
Our final pizza and IoT analogy is about how you keep tabs on the completed product. In the case of pizza, let's compare IoT to two pizza scenarios: a home-baked pizza vs. a restaurant chain that delivers 200 pizzas every night.
For the home baked pizza, your monitoring is very simple. You set the oven to the right temperature, set a timer, and take the pizza out when it's done. If the cheese isn't quite brown enough, you can see that with your eyes and pop it back into the oven for two more minutes.
A manager of a pizza chain cannot check every pizza. She can't individually monitor every delivery vehicle. She needs the tools to make sure all of the processes are working properly. The same is true of IoT devices. If you have more than one or two, you simply cannot keep tabs on each one, day and night.
You need an IoT device management system that will provide the right insights at the right time.
And with enterprise, industrial, agriculture and transportation processes, the stakes are much higher than a burnt pizza or a pizza delivery going to the wrong home. A light rail system can break down on the tracks. A bridge can fail. A dam can break. An oil well can leak. An automated cattle feeder can stop feeding.
That's where a critical central monitoring and management system like Digi Remote Manager® (Digi RM) comes in. With full integration into edge devices like cellular routers, gateways and devices built with Digi SOMs, Digi RM enables remote monitoring and control, and the ability to detect failures. This lets managers keep tabs on all of those remote processes, and receive actionable alerts to enable predictive maintenance and rapid response to issues.
What Do You Want to Build and Connect? And How Fast?
That’s really what it comes down to, with both pizza and IoT. Once you have decided on the needs and goals, you need to find the best way possible to get there, so no one goes hungry and the hockey team can go on to play the next game.
Wondering how to get a wireless product designed, built and deployed to the field? Digi can help! Contact us to start a conversation. Whether you have an idea you want to protype, or you want a fully developed and tested final product ready to deliver, Digi experts can help you get there.