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IoT enables devices to gather and then relay information for data analysis. Smart devices are equipped with sensors that collect data. A few common sensors that measure attributes of the physical world include:

  • Environmental sensors that capture temperature and humidity levels.
  • Barcode, QR code, or optical character recognition (OCR) scanners.
  • Geo-location and proximity sensors.
  • Light, color, and infrared sensors.
  • Sound and ultrasonic sensors.
  • Motion and touch sensors.
  • Accelerometer and tilt sensors.
  • Smoke, gas, and alcohol sensors.
  • Error sensors to detect when there's a problem with the device.
  • Mechanical sensors that detect anomalies or deformations.
  • Flow, level, and pressure sensors for measuring gasses and liquids.

By using Azure IoT services, devices that are equipped with these kinds of sensors and that can connect to the internet could send their sensor readings to a specific endpoint in Azure via a message. The message's data is then collected and aggregated, and it can be converted into reports and alerts. Alternately, all devices could be updated with new firmware to fix issues or add new functionality by sending software updates from Azure IoT services to each device.

Let's suppose your company manufactures and operates smart refrigerated vending machines. What kinds of information would you want to monitor? You might want to ensure that:

  • Each machine is operating without any errors.
  • The machines haven't been compromised.
  • The machines' refrigeration systems are keeping their contents within a certain temperature range.
  • You're notified when products reach a certain inventory level so you can restock the machines.

If the hardware of your vending machines can collect and send this information in a standard message, the messages each machine sends can be received, stored, organized, and displayed by using Azure IoT services.

The data that's collected from these devices could be combined with Azure AI services to help you predict:

  • When machines need proactive maintenance.
  • When inventories will need to be replenished and new product ordered from vendors.

Many services can assist and drive end-to-end solutions for IoT on Azure.

Azure IoT Hub

Azure IoT Hub is a managed service that's hosted in the cloud and that acts as a central message hub for bi-directional communication between your IoT application and the devices it manages. You can use Azure IoT Hub to build IoT solutions with reliable and secure communications between millions of IoT devices and a cloud-hosted solution back end. You can connect virtually any device to your IoT hub.

The IoT Hub service supports communications both from the device to the cloud and from the cloud to the device. It also supports multiple messaging patterns, such as device-to-cloud telemetry, file upload from devices, and request-reply methods to control your devices from the cloud. After an IoT hub receives messages from a device, it can route that message to other Azure services.

From a cloud-to-device perspective, IoT Hub allows for command and control. That is, you can have either manual or automated remote control of connected devices, so you can instruct the device to open valves, set target temperatures, restart stuck devices, and so on.

IoT Hub monitoring helps you maintain the health of your solution by tracking events such as device creation, device failures, and device connections.

Azure IoT Central

Azure IoT Central builds on top of IoT Hub by adding a dashboard that allows you to connect, monitor, and manage your IoT devices. The visual user interface (UI) makes it easy to quickly connect new devices and watch as they begin sending telemetry or error messages. You can watch the overall performance across all devices in aggregate, and you can set up alerts that send notifications when a specific device needs maintenance. Finally, you can push firmware updates to the device.

To help you get up and running quickly, IoT Central provides starter templates for common scenarios across various industries, such as retail, energy, healthcare, and government. You then customize the design starter templates directly in the UI by choosing from existing themes or creating your own custom theme, setting the logo, and so on. With IoT Central, you can tailor the starter templates for the specific data that's sent from your devices, the reports you want to see, and the alerts you want to send.

Screenshot of the IoT Central graphical user interface displaying templates you can choose to create a new app.

You can use the UI to control your devices remotely. This feature allows you to push a software update or modify a property of the device. You can adjust the desired temperature for one or all of your refrigerated vending machines from directly inside of IoT Central.

A key part of IoT Central is the use of device templates. By using a device template, you can connect a device without any service-side coding. IoT Central uses the templates to construct the dashboards, alerts, and so on. Device developers still need to create code to run on the devices, and that code must match the device template specification.

Azure Sphere

Azure Sphere creates an end-to-end, highly secure IoT solution for customers that encompasses everything from the hardware and operating system on the device to the secure method of sending messages from the device to the message hub. Azure Sphere has built-in communication and security features for internet-connected devices.

Azure Sphere comes in three parts:

  • The first part is the Azure Sphere micro-controller unit (MCU), which is responsible for processing the operating system and signals from attached sensors. The following image displays the Seeed Azure Sphere MT3620 Development Kit MCU, one of several different starter kits that are available for prototyping and developing Azure Sphere applications.

    Screenshot of an Azure Sphere development kit micro-controller unit.

  • The second part is a customized Linux operating system (OS) that handles communication with the security service and can run the vendor's software.

  • The third part is Azure Sphere Security Service, also known as AS3. Its job is to make sure that the device has not been maliciously compromised. When the device attempts to connect to Azure, it first must authenticate itself, per device, which it does by using certificate-based authentication. If it authenticates successfully, AS3 checks to ensure that the device hasn't been tampered with. After it has established a secure channel of communication, AS3 pushes any OS or approved customer-developed software updates to the device.

After the Azure Sphere system has validated the authenticity of the device and authenticated it, the device can interact with other Azure IoT services by sending telemetry and error information.