What is the Internet of Things?
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. 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. Connecting up all these different objects and adding sensors to them adds a level of digital intelligence to devices that would be otherwise dumb, enabling them to communicate real-time data without involving a human being. The Internet of Things is making the fabric of the world around us more smarter and more responsive, merging the digital and physical universes.
What is the history of the Internet of Things?
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 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.
Kevin Ashton coined the phrase ‘Internet of Things’ in 1999, although it took at least another decade for the technology to catch up with the vision.