It is safe to assume that by now most of us have a working understanding of what the Internet of Things is and why it's practically indispensable to the way our things around us work.
Today, thanks to the internet of things, we are able to transform objects around us into nodes in an extensive and powerful system that is based on information free flow. What this has enabled is a world which is much more tightly knit together in terms of connectivity and data. We are able to achieve levels of efficiency, connectivity, communication and economy that were practically impossible to conceive of just a few years ago.
But here’s the best part - this is just the beginning! We are only in the dawn of the veritable technological revolution that is IoT. With each passing day, advancements are being made in IoT and its allied technologies that are uncovering newer and more exciting possibilities. This seemingly endless stream of advancements is giving us some pretty exciting technologies - one of which is the Internet of Nano Things (IoNT).
To understand IoNT in the right context, it is important that we take a brief look at the history of nanotechnology.
But before we do that, let’s define nanotechnology first.
So, what is nano-technology?
Nanotechnology basically refers to the use of matter on an incredibly tiny scale - i.e on an atomic, molecular or supramolecular scale. Mostly, nanotechnology is used for industrial and computing purposes.
The seeds of what modern nanotechnology is today were sown by legendary physicist Richard Feynman in his talk titled There’s plenty of room at the bottom, all the way back in 1959.
It wasn’t for another 15 years that the term nano-technology was first used by Norio Taniguchi. Throughout the 1980s, there was a lot of experimental work conducted around nanotechnology and this led to widespread popularity of the field and some notable early progress.
By the early 2000s, the field of nanoscience had piqued a substantial amount of global interest, to the point that there were several controversies about what the term nanotechnology entailed and what the potential implications of this technology were.
Around the same time, we also started seeing commercial products that were based on advancements made in the field of nanotechnology. The most notable example is perhaps the advent of the silver nano platform which enabled the use of silver nanoparticles as an antibacterial agent.
In the subsequent decade and a half, copious amounts of research work has been performed within nanotechnology and this has resulted in some notable advancements within the field. For instance, in 2006, a team of Korean researchers developed the world’s smallest nano-electric device device. Measuring a mere 3nm, the device heralded the dawn of a new era in technology.
Hmm all that sounds fine. But, what good is all this in the real world? Like, what is it used for?
Leaving aside the technical details, a simple way to understand all this is by taking a look at how technology has been shrinking in size for the past few years. Phones used to be big, bulky things just a few years ago - today, they are sleek and this trend is continuing as time pases. The same kind of trend is evident with pretty much all other kinds of technology as well.
This essentially signifies a process of getting more efficient with the way we design and use technology - i.e we are able to accomplish more with less. IoNT basically represents IoT’s journey towards accomplishing more with less.
Wait a minute - so what is the IoNT again?
The internet of nano things isn’t all that different from the internet of things - it’s just a bunch of interconnected devices that are able to communicate with each other. Except, in the case of the internet of nano things, these devices are super-tiny - i.e they are nano sized.
So, how small are we talking?
We’re talking 0.1 to 100 nanometers And just so you can wrap your head around that, the thickness of a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nm. It takes a billion nanometers to make a meter! That should give you a rough idea of the kinds of minuscule sizes we are talking about when we say “nano”.
It is assumed that in the near future, IoT will embrace nano-technology in a much bigger way which will lead to an accelerated development of IoNT.
OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at some of the ways in which IoNT devices will be used. This will depend a lot on the specific application and the purpose that they are built to serve.
For instance, in a smart manufacturing scenario, IoNT devices might be used to monitor temperature, humidity, pressure, levels of toxic fumes and particulate matter and perhaps other similar variables such as emissions and water quality.
In a different application like say a smart city, they could be used to monitor various parameters pertaining to air quality, water quality across the entire city. Alternatively, they could perform a proximity-sensing role which could help alleviate congestion and regulate traffic. These nano-sized sensors could help us make connected vehicles safer and more seamless to use.
The bottomline is that they can be applied in as much of a range of capacities as present day IoT technologies - what makes IoNT exciting is the scale.
The internet of nano things offers a possibility to hook up various nanodevices together using a high-speed network. In conjunction with other allied technologies such as cloud computing, big data and machine learning, this can open up a wide range of opportunities.
It’s a lot like how mobile phones do everything fixed line phones did but add layers of functionality, new features and more convenience. IoNT can take everything that IoT does today and super charge it.
IoNT can allow us to receive extremely granular information from networks of nano-sized devices. These can lead to novel insights that would have been impossible to acquire if not for the scale and penetration that nano-sensors can help us achieve. IoNT networks allow for data to be collected from places that are extremely hard to access.
Typically, an IoNT system is likely to consist of nano-nodes, nano-routers, gateways and nano-micro interface devices. So, what do each of these components do?
Nano-nodes - The smallest device that can perform a computational task is called a nano-node. For instance, bio-sensors that can collect data from within the human body are an example of a nano-node.
Nano-routers - Nano-routers have more computational capabilities than typical nano-nodes. They function as information aggregators within an IoNT network. Nano-routers also control the activity of the nano-nodes in a network bye xchanging control commands.
Nano-micro interface devices - These devices act as relay points between the nano-scale and micro-scale components of the network. They act as hybrid devices that enable communication using both nano communication techniques and more traditional communication protocols.
Gateways - A gateway enables the entire nano-network to be controlled over the internet. Let’s use the example of the bio-sensor again. In the case of an implantable medical device or a host of nano-sensors implanted in the human body, a gateway is the part of the system that allows doctors to access and manipulate the data using the internet.
As we mentioned in an earlier instance, state-of-the-art methodologies are employed by IoNT for data collection. This means that nearly all present-day IoT applications can be built upon to some extent by IoNT technology. Moreover, IoNT can allow us to expand on the gamut of possibilities that IoT currently offers.
Let’s take a look at some of the potential use-cases for IoNT systems.
Healthcare should be the first thing to come to anybody’s mind when it comes to IoNT technology. Body sensor networks (BSN) is the foremost application for IoNT devices in today’s world.
A body sensor network is a system that uses a suite of sensors that are deployed inside the human body to gain pertinent insights and diagnostically useful information that are otherwise beyond the scope of traditional diagnostic techniques. These nano-sized biosensors can help us gain a previously inaccessible level of reach into the inner workings of the human body. In the years to come, IoNT is likely to play a massive role in the way healthcare is delivered.
Nanosensors are likely going to perform several roles within medicine - for instance, they can be used to detect pathogens that are otherwise hard to detect. Imagination’s the limit really when it comes to what can be done - we might even be able to design continuous temperature monitoring devices that work from inside the body in the near future!
Times change and we change with the changing times. However, some fundamental realities of life have never and will never change - one of these fundamental realities is the fact that human beings need food to survive.
We have been desperately trying to uncover new solutions to keep up with the ever increasing global demand for food. As a result of an exploding global population, there is an urgent need to implement high-tech solutions in farming.
IoT based precision-farming solutions are catching up all over the world and this trend is only set to continue in the years to come. The Internet of nano things can be used in smart farming operations in several ways - nanosensors can collect data, in real-time, about soil quality, moisture levels and crop health. IoNT can allow farmers to collect highly granular data that can help them optimise their operations and in turn, increase their yields.
Nanosensors can also be used to track the location of farm animals such as cattle, in real-time. They can also potentially be used to monitor the health of farm animals and regulate their feeds and behaviour. These systems could very well include nano-sized biosensors that are embedded inside animals. These sensors could offer us access to an unprecedented level of insight into specific nutritional and medical requirements of farm animals, which in turn is likely to translate to higher profits for farmers.
We already have smart home solutions today but with IoNT can greatly increase the functionality of a smart home and its value proposition to the end-user. It’s simple really - with nano-sized sensors, more data can be collected and over a broader range of variables. The data collected can be super-fine and granular.
For example, nano-sensors can help us detect gas leaks and alert homeowners well before any serious harm befalls their property. Additionally, nano sensors could be used for climate control or security.
As far as the IoNT is concerned, there is no doubt that what we are seeing is the very tip of the iceberg. There is no telling what new possibilities this technology will unearth in the near future.
Nano-technology holds a lot of promise, especially in certain key sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing and transport. In this article, we just took a bird’s eye view on some of the more probable ways in which nano-sensors are likely to be used within IoT networks. However, the full scope of nano-sensors and the internet of nano things at large is way bigger than what we’ve seen here.