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What is the "Internet of Things" (IoT)?

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What is the "Internet of Things" (IoT)?

The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the billions of physical devices around the world that are now connected to the internet, all collecting and sharing data. It is a network of physical objects or people called "things" that are embedded with software, electronics, network, and sensors that allows these objects to collect and exchange data. The goal of IoT is to extend to internet connectivity from standard devices like computer, mobile, tablet to relatively dumb devices like a toaster.

Thanks to the arrival of super-cheap computer chips and the ubiquity of wireless networks, it's possible to turn anything, from something as small as a pill to something as big as an aeroplane, into a part of the IoT. It makes virtually everything "smart," by improving aspects of our life with the power of data collection, AI algorithm, and networks. The thing in IoT can also be a person with a diabetes monitor implant, an animal with tracking devices, etc.


What is the history of the Internet of Things?

1970- The actual idea of connected devices was proposed

1990- John Romkey created a toaster which could be turned on/off over the Internet

1995- Siemens introduced the first cellular module built for M2M

1999- The term "Internet of Things" was used by Kevin Ashton during his work at P&G which became widely accepted

2004- The term was mentioned in famous publications like the Guardian, Boston Globe, and Scientific American

2005- UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU) published its first report on this topic.

2008- The Internet of Things was born

2011- Gartner, the market research company, include "The Internet of Things" technology in their research

The term "Internet of Things" was coined in 1999 by entrepreneur Kevin Ashton, one of the founders of the Auto-ID Center at MIT, although it took at least another decade for the technology to catch up with the vision.  Ashton was part of a team that discovered how to link objects to the internet through an RFID tag. He first used the phrase "Internet of Things"  in a presentation – and it has stuck around ever since.

The idea of adding sensors and intelligence to basic objects was discussed throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but apart from some early projects -- including an internet-connected vending machine -- progress was slow simply because the technology wasn't ready. Chips were too big and bulky and there was no way for objects to communicate effectively.

Processors that were cheap and power-frugal enough to be all but disposable were needed before it finally became cost-effective to connect up billions of devices. The adoption of RFID tags -- low-power chips that can communicate wirelessly -- solved some of this issue, along with the increasing availability of broadband internet and cellular and wireless networking. The adoption of IPv6 -- which, among other things, should provide enough IP addresses for every device the world (or indeed this galaxy) is ever likely to need -- was also a necessary step for the IoT to scale. 

Adding RFID tags to expensive pieces of equipment to help track their location was one of the first IoT applications. But since then, the cost of adding sensors and an internet connection to objects has continued to fall, and experts predict that this basic functionality could one day cost as little as 10 cents, making it possible to connect nearly everything to the internet.

The IoT was initially most interesting to business and manufacturing, where its application is sometimes known as machine-to-machine (M2M), but the emphasis is now on filling our homes and offices with smart devices, transforming it into something that's relevant to almost everyone. Early suggestions for internet-connected devices included 'blogjects' (objects that blog and record data about themselves to the internet), ubiquitous computing (or 'ubicomp'), invisible computing, and pervasive computing.

Ashton may have been first to use the term Internet of Things, but the concept of connected devices – particularly connected machines – has been around for a long time. For example, machines have been communicating with each other since the first electric telegraphs were developed in the late 1830s. Other technologies that fed into IoT were radio voice transmissions, wireless (Wi-Fi) technologies and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software. Then in 1982, a modified Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University became the first connected smart appliance. Using the university’s local ethernet or ARPANET – a precursor to today’s internet – students could find out which drinks were stocked, and whether they were cold.

Today, we're living in a world where there are more IoT connected devices than humans. These IoT connected devices and machines range from wearables like smartwatches to RFID inventory tracking chips. IoT connected devices communicate via networks or cloud-based platforms connected to the Internet of Things. The real-time insights gleaned from this IoT collected data fuel digital transformation. The Internet of Things promises many positive changes for health and safety, business operations, industrial performance, and global environmental and humanitarian issues.

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