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. The
advent of ultra-cheap computer chips and the prevalence of wireless networks have
made it possible for everything from the smallest of pills to the largest of airplanes to
be part of the IoT. Connecting all these different objects and adding sensors gives
devices a level of digital intelligence that otherwise would not work, allowing them to
communicate real-time data without human involvement. The Internet of Things is
making the world around us smarter and more responsive by merging the digital
and physical universes.
Almost any physical object can be turned into an IoT device if it can be connected to
the internet and controlled or sent information.
A lightbulb that can be switched on using a smartphone app is an IoT device, as is a
motion sensor or a smart thermostat in your office or a connected streetlight. An IoT
device could be as fluffy as a child's toy or as serious as a driverless truck. Some larger
objects may themselves be filled with many smaller IoT components, such as a jet
engine that's now filled with thousands of sensors collecting and transmitting data
back to make sure it is operating efficiently. At an even bigger scale, smart cities
projects are filling entire regions with sensors to help us understand and control the
The term IoT is mainly used for devices that wouldn't usually be generally expected
to have an internet connection, and that can communicate with the network
independently of human action. For this reason, a PC isn't generally considered an
IoT device and neither is a smartphone -- even though the latter is crammed with
sensors. A smartwatch or a fitness band or other wearable device might be counted
as an IoT device, however.
The idea of adding sensors and intelligence to basic objects was discussed
throughout the 1980s and 1990s (and there are arguably some much earlier
ancestors), 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
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
advent of RFID tags (low-power chips that can communicate wirelessly) has solved
some of these problems. In addition, the availability of broadband internet and
cellular and wireless networks has improved. The advent of IPv6 - especially the need
to provide enough IP addresses for every device the world (or even this galaxy) is
likely to need - was also a necessary step in scaling IoT.
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