In the world we live in today, almost every single thing is connected in some way to the internet. The Internet of Things is a pretty simple concept — taking all the things in the world and connecting them to the internet.
“Internet of Things: the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.”
This sounds quite terrifying. Why would we need everything connected to the internet?
Let’s first think of a typical day in your life. How many internet-connected devices do you already use? Probably a lot more than you realize.
Your day starts with the ringing of your smart alarm, which is connected to your phone so it can show you the notifications you received during your beauty sleep. Then you check your smartwatch, which tracked your sleep during the night and lets you know how it was in comparison to other nights, and obviously is also connected to your smartphone so that you can see the meetings you have today at work. You brush your teeth with your smart toothbrush (yes, this actually exists), which somehow tracks your teeth-brushing. You get up and ready for work while yelling “Alexa! What’s the weather today?” so you know what kind of clothes to wear. You turn on the heater in your tesla from your phone because Alexa said it’s quite chilly.
(Of course, this “typical” day is a little extreme, but is absolutely possible in today’s world).
As you can see, the rest of the day will continue similarly; most of the devices you use are connected to the internet.
The Internet of Things as a concept wasn’t officially named until 1999, however devices following this idea already existed.
One of the first examples is from the early ’80s: a Coca-Cola machine located in Carnegie Melon University. Programmers would connect via the Internet to the machine, and check if their preferred drink was available and cold, before heading to the machine.
The idea of adding sensors and a connection to the Internet was discussed already a few decades ago, but progress was slow; the technology just didn’t exist yet. As you can tell by the graph, the growth has been exponential for the past ~10 years and more internet-connected devices are being created, very fast.
Why IoT Is Important
All things connected to the internet can be divided into three categories:
- Things that collect information and then send it
- Things the receive information and act on it
- Things that do both
To make this more clear, we could use some real-life examples.
These devices use sensors (usually) to collect information. For example, a thermostat in your smart home, can measure the temperature in your house and show you the degree on an app on your smartphone.
The sensors along with an internet connection allow us to automatically collect information and make smarter decisions based on complex computer algorithms, while not having to interact at all with anything but an internet-connected device.
Receiving Information and Sending it
Most of the devices we know operate like this — getting information and acting upon it. A printer receives a document to print and prints it. A car unlocks if it receives a signal to unlock.
These operations can be as simple as turning on a device from farther away. The real power of the Internet of Things is when these two behaviors can work simultaneously from the same device!
Things That Can Do Both
Let’s take the example with the thermostat from before; what if it could operate completely on its own? The thermostat measures the temperature, and once the house becomes too hot it automatically lowers the temperature.
This way the device is collecting information but also receiving its own information and acting upon it. This is the true power of IoT.
If the whole point of all devices being connected is for them to communicate, we need to find a way to allow that to happen. If all devices run on different standards, they’re going to struggle to communicate and transfer data to each other.
Currently, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Standards Association lists a large number of standards that exist and are being worked on for different devices.
Also, Microsoft has started to think about this issue and came up with their own system — IoT Central. The system gives businesses a central platform for setting up their IoT devices.
To sum things up, revolutionizing the planet with IoT is often thought of as “The 4th Industrial Revolution”, because of how impactful it can be. We should all be aware of the changes happening and the issues they bring, but also appreciate we live in a world where these kinds of changes are possible and are actually happening.
I’m sure lots of people will believe these changes are useless and are meant for “spoiled” people (mostly those with more old-fashioned ideologies), but we must think of all the positive impact it can bring, to the extent of saving lives (and even the planet).