The hashtag is consistently trending on Twitter and tossed around in business jargon. You may have even used it in your own tweets, but do you really know what “the Internet of Things” is and what it means? You know what the internet is (obviously) but do you know how to properly use the term and understand it as more than just a concept?
The Internet of Things, as it’s defined, actually seems quite simple but there is a lot that goes into it, from the devices and platforms it encompasses to how it’s implemented in various industries. The Internet of Things refers to the connection of devices to the internet beyond the obvious players like cell phones and computers. Business Insider defines it as “a network of internet-connected objects able to collect and exchange data using embedded sensors.” Think appliances with voice command technology, wearable devices, and personal assistants like Alexa. But that’s just the most basic definition. In order to really understand the Internet of Things, you’ll have to understand everything that goes into it, and the internet is essentially its own galaxy. It’s important to have at least a basic understanding of the Internet of Things because this interconnected network of things that we have come to call the IoT runs our lives. According to Gartner, by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices.
Because there are so many pieces at play, it helps to break it down into categories. Here are the main devices, platforms, industries, and trends you should know about that make up the Internet of Things.
It’s important to realize that the devices that comprise the IoT are not themselves “smart”; it’s the sensors they contain that are intelligent. Devices are just the instruments through which sensors operate. Without the sensors gathering, measuring, and evaluating data, these machines that can communicate with each other would be useless. “The internet of things really comes together with the connection of sensors and machines,” says Wired. These devices can include anything from wearables like smartwatches to smart street lights to smart coffee machines to smart cars- even smart cement to prevent infrastructure problems! Really, nothing is off limits.
As Business Insider explains, you can think of platforms as the bridges between devices’ sensors and the data networks that they tap into to connect to the internet and each other. You probably already have a general understanding of platforms as the software and hardware that support application functions; however, in the specific context of the Internet of Things, “platforms are designed to deploy applications that monitor, manage, and control connected devices,” according to McKinsey & Company. Some of the most popular platforms today, to name a few, are Amazon Web Services, Cisco IoT Cloud Connect, and Microsoft Azure.
The power of the IoT can be harnessed and applied to virtually all industries. It only makes sense that some of the major players are the huge tech companies like Apple, Google, Amazon and Comcast. However, according to Business Insider, there are three primary groups that will benefit from the IoT: consumers, governments, and ecosystems. Among those groups, a variety of industries including manufacturing, infrastructure, oil/gas, mining, utilities, transportation, insurance, retail, hospitality, defense, logistics, connected home, health care, agriculture, banks, food service, and smart buildings will be the most affected. The IoT is not off-limits to anyone. Virtually no industry is left untouched.
The IoT is a fluid, dynamic entity that is subject to the rapidly-changing tides of technology. As such, it can be difficult to predict precisely what the future of IoT looks like. One area that seems to have immense potential for growth is smart cities. Smart devices could tap into transportation networks, helping us to reduce waste and increase efficiency for energy use. Sensors could be used to improve infrastructure as well as driving safety, alerting drivers to hazards. Stoplights could be equipped to streamline traffic. As you can see, the impact here is huge. According to Wired, “When we start making things intelligent, it’s going to be a major engine for creating new products and new services.” However, with great power comes great responsibility (forgive me for the cliche). The IoT creates both opportunity and challenges. With so many devices containing sensitive information connected to the internet and each other, it raises security concerns. Another challenge for IoT will be the massive amount of data that these devices must be equipped to store and process.
The Internet of Things still has some challenges to sort through before it becomes a fully-functioning force, but as we can see, it is already well on its way to becoming just that. Until that day when our lifestyles are completely defined by the IoT, it pays to at least be educated on what it is and how it could impact your life.