Introduction to the Internet of Things (IoT)

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The term Internet of Things (often abbreviated IoT) was coined by industry researchers but has emerged into mainstream public view only more recently. Some claim the Internet of Things will completely transform how computer networks are used for the next 10 or 100 years, while others believe IoT is simply hype that won't much impact the daily lives of most people.

What Is IoT?

Internet of Things represents a general concept for the ability of network devices to sense and collect data from the world around us, and then share that data across the Internet where it can be processed and utilized for various interesting purposes.

Some also use the term industrial Internet interchangeably with IoT. This refers primarily to commercial applications of IoT technology in the world of manufacturing. The Internet of Things is not limited to industrial applications, however.

What the Internet of Things Can Do for Us

Some future consumer applications envisioned for IoT sound like science fiction, but some of the more practical and realistic sounding possibilities for the technology include:

  • receiving warnings on your phone or wearable device when IoT networks detect some physical danger is detected nearby
  • self-parking automobiles
  • automatic ordering of groceries and other home supplies
  • automatic tracking of exercise habits and other day-to-day personal activity including goal tracking and regular progress reports

Potential benefits of IoT in the business world include:

  • location tracking for individual pieces of manufacturing inventory
  • fuel savings from intelligent environmental modeling of gas-powered engines
  • new and improved safety controls for people working in hazardous environments

Network Devices and the Internet of Things

All kinds of ordinary household gadgets can be modified to work in an IoT system. Wi-Fi network adapters, motion sensors, cameras, microphones and other instrumentation can be embedded in these devices to enable them for work in the Internet of Things.

Home automation systems already implement primitive versions of this concept for things like light bulbs, plus other devices like wireless scales and wireless blood pressure monitors that each represent early examples of IoT gadgets. Wearable computing devices like watches and glasses are also envisioned to be key components in future IoT systems.

The same wireless communication protocols like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth naturally extend to the Internet of Things also.

Issues Around IoT

Internet of Things immediately triggers questions around the privacy of personal data. Whether real-time information about our physical location or updates about our weight and blood pressure that may be accessible by our health care providers, having new kinds and more detailed data about ourselves streaming over wireless networks and potentially around the world is an obvious concern.

Supplying power to this new proliferation of IoT devices and their network connections can be expensive and logistically difficult. Portable devices require batteries that someday must be replaced. Although many mobile devices are optimized for lower power usage, energy costs to keep potentially billions of them running remains high.

Numerous corporations and start-up ventures have latched onto the Internet of Things concept looking to take advantage of whatever business opportunities are available. While competition in the market helps lower prices of consumer products, in the worst case it also leads to confusing and inflated claims about what the products do.

IoT assumes that the underlying network equipment and related technology can operate semi-intelligently and often automatically. Simply keeping mobile devices connected to the Internet can be difficult enough much less trying to make them smarter. People have diverse needs that require an IoT system to adapt or be configurable for many different situations and preferences.

Finally, even with all those challenges overcome, if people become too reliant on this automation and the technology is not highly robust, any technical glitches in the system can cause serious physical and/or financial damage.