Why the IoT depends on analog technology

Take a walk through any home improvement store and you will see the () on full display. From refrigerators that can show you their contents on your smartphone to home heating and cooling systems that can adjust according to the weather report, it seems that every aspect of our lives is connected to the Internet in some way. And it’s not just in our homes, either: Chances are, you’re wearing a connected device on your wrist, your car offers GPS and other connected services, and even your kids’ toys offer some type of connected function.

The IoT has become a vital part of our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not. While much of the conversation about IoT has been centered on the “cool” factor and security (will our refrigerators be hacked?) there’s also been a great deal of discussion about how the technology actually works. As it turns out, many of our most advanced devices actually rely on old technology. Without an analog interface and analog to digital converters (), it’s likely that the IoT would be little more than a science fiction fantasy.

Analog’s role in IoT

The idea of IoT usually refers to applications that work by remotely collecting environmental data, processing that data, and making the results available via the Internet for further use. For example, in the case of a fitness tracker, information about your activity is collected via sensors on the device somewhere on the body and processed digitally via an application, which then reveals your results on your smartphone or other device.

Analog technology comes into play with the sensors in the device. Analog is defined as a “device or system that represents changing values as continuously variable physical quantities.” Among the advantages of analog is that is offers an infinite number of representations — for example, on a clock, as the hands move around the clock it can represent every single possible time, while a digital clock has a finite number of possible times it can represent.

Another advantage of analog is that it tends to be more accurate. Rather than relying on the binary system and converting data into a series of numbers as digital data does, analog collects data “as-is.” Consider a record: When you play an old vinyl record, the player moves along the bumps and grooves in the record, translating them into sound as it actually was. Music played digitally is an estimation of the original sound. It’s not “bad” sound, but it’s not as exact as analog.

What does all of this have to do with the IoT, then? Most IoT devices rely on analog sensors to at least some extent to collect the data that’s used for the device’s operation. In most cases, these analog sensors are integrated with an converter (), which translates the raw data from the sensors into digital form which is then aggregated and analyzed, and offered for interpretation.

Analog to Digital Conversion

Some IoT devices do rely on digital sensors. In some ways, digital has an advantage, as the data collected is immediately processed, and digital sensors can usually manage multiple functions at once, where analog sensors tend to be limited to a single function.

However, the accuracy of analog is still a major advantage, and why so many sensors are analog to digital. In most cases, the analog-to-digital converter is integrated into the device. This is done for several reasons. For starters, integrated ADC allows for a smaller and more manageable device, something that is a priority when developing fitness trackers and other wearables in particular. An integrated ADC is also less expensive to develop, and uses less power.

Challenges still remain for designers when it comes to developing integrated devices. Developers who have specifically worked in the realm of analog are now finding that they need to work within a more integrated analog and digital environment. That being said, the integration of analog and digital in IoT sensors is a key element of reducing costs and saving power in these devices without sacrificing the function and the flexibility of the device and system. In short, in order for this new, exciting technology to work to its full advantage, it needs to rely at least in some part on old technology and ideas.

Kady Harper is a web content administrator at Seek Visibility.


Topics covered in this article