The Future of Connected Devices

With the increasing power of digital technology, the vision of a connected manufacturing system that can sense, analyze and respond will soon be a reality. This vision – called “intelligent edge” – combines computing power, data analytics and advanced connectivity to allow responses to be made much closer to where the data is captured. It takes emerging Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 capabilities to the next level.

Cybersecurity plays a complex role in this vision. On one hand, technological advances can lead to improved cybersecurity capabilities. On the other hand, when built without a consideration for privacy, data integrity or network resilience, such technological advances can instead increase cyber risks dramatically.

The capabilities that enable the intelligent edge include artificial intelligence (AI), computing hardware, networking capabilities and standard protocols. Advances in these capabilities have converged to help tie together components that accelerate the realization of Industry 4.0. The key components that enable new ways of working, new products and services, and new value creation are:

  • AI already powers a broad array of applications. Cloud-based AI coupled with real-time data processing allows AI to handle high-demand tasks. For example, AI can respond autonomously to process inefficiencies, quality defects and suspected cyberattacks at the edge, with ongoing learning conducted at the core.
  • Computing hardware and firmware are becoming smaller, more rugged and more energy-efficient while increases in processing power enable virtualization, automation and other features customized for a user’s operations and goals. On the edge, data can be captured, encrypted, integrated, processed and stored with ever increasing speed, responsiveness and security.
  • The growth in adoption and deployment of both 5G wireless and Wi-Fi 6 can help drive the secure deployment of increasingly complex systems of connected devices. These advances in wireless technologies can address several current network limitations with:
    • More flexible and scalable deployments.
    • Improved reliability, data capacity, data speeds, latency and density of devices.
    • Support for WPA3 encryption and key management.
    • Precise location sensing of connected devices.
    • Lower power consumption ratios (and in turn reduced size requirements for connected devices).
  • One of the key concepts that allowed the early computer networks to become the internet we now depend on was the adoption of a universal communication protocol that allows networks and devices to communicate regardless of their specific construction. Improved standards and protocols will likewise spur on the growth of the IoT, and in particular Industrial IoT. These standards and protocols include:
    • IO-Link – (IEC 61131-9) defines standard cabling, connectors and a communications protocol for smart sensors and actuators. IO-Link also allows for access to additional information about sensor health and condition.
    • OPC UA – an extension of the OPC interoperability standard that has been used since the mid-1990s for data exchange between operational technology devices. The newer Unified Architecture provides platform-independent communication between devices with added encryption and authentication security while providing future-proof expandability.
    • MQTT – a bi-directional messaging protocol developed to allow for device-to-cloud and cloud-to-device communications. This protocol allows for minimal processor sizes and optimized networks, building in the reliability, security and scalability required for IoT networks.
    • Lightweight Cryptography – emerging standard cryptographic algorithm(s) that can be used to encrypt communication in constrained environments such as with IoT.

    In light of these and other emerging and advancing technologies, the imagination seems to be the only limit to the breadth and scale of applications for connected devices. Here are a few examples that are poised to take advantage of breakthroughs:

    Autonomous driving: At the heart of this visionary goal for the automotive industry is the concept of Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) connectivity. This will leverage universal protocols for communication, advanced real-time processing and high-speed data consumption, with a concerted focus on protecting data integrity and privacy.

    Wireless Sensing and Location Tracking: Tracking of shipping containers, packages, fleets of vehicles, delivery drones or any other asset can be done in real-time to provide efficiency data as well as prevent thefts, counterfeits and other security risks.

    Networked Reality: Expanding on the concepts of augmented, virtual and extended reality (AR/VR/XR), connected devices can enable such things as remote maintenance of machines by an offsite technician, visual threat monitoring, and immersive training simulations for new employees.

    Monitoring and Control of Critical Infrastructure: Intelligent edge computing will enable the broader deployment of smart monitoring devices on critical infrastructure like roads, railways, power lines, smart grids, buildings, bridges and utilities. Smart systems that detect faults, threats, cyberattacks or potential failures can pinpoint vulnerabilities and initiate corrective measures in a predictive and proactive manner.

    Smart Factories: Smaller, smarter and wireless devices can be deployed on a larger scale in factories and supply chains to provide secure, real-time status of operations on the floor and in the field. Predictive methods, model-based design and digital twin architectures will allow for real-time identification and monitoring of any process or security weaknesses.

    As we look to the future of edge computing, connected devices and IoT, cybersecurity plays a crucial and integral role. Each technology and each application can succeed or fail based on how cybersecurity is built into the framework. This is sometimes referred to as the Trustworthy Network of Things (TNoT). The goal of the TNoT effort led by NIST in collaboration with industry is to “protect IoT devices from the internet and to protect the internet from IoT devices” by improving the security and robustness of large scale IoT deployments.

    The decentralized nature of the future – including remote connected devices, intelligent edge gateways, remote servers and distributed users – warrants careful planning and consideration of how data is collected, handled and used. This includes principles of developing a trusted ecosystem of technology partners, security of devices and protocols, and maintaining the integrity and accuracy of data. It also will involve a significant uptick in cybersecurity awareness, education and training to ensure the secure deployment, use, monitoring and maintenance of these new technologies.

    If you need help with your manufacturing company’s data strategy, have cybersecurity questions or would like to learn more about how connected devices may be in your company’s future, contact us today!

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