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What is it?

The Internet of Things (also referred as IoT) is the increasing use of cheap and easy to program hardware to add internet and other types of connectivity to everyday objects. This connectivity allows designers, programmers & engineers to build new uses for those objects for different industrial or consumer applications. Common examples include:

  • connected consumer products
  • measurable energy use on the grid and at home
  • smarter home security
  • remote and detailed health monitoring (also referred to as Quantified Self)
  • measurable, responsive city services
  • measurable industrial applications
  • citizen-led data collection
  • and many more.

A bit of history

Academic research developed around the ideas of the integration of advanced technology & every day design with Ubiquitous computing (1988), Human Computer Interaction (1983) and much later Slow Technology (2001) and blogjects (2007) . Tim Berners-Lee's seminal 1989 paper at CERN even makes a mention of "things" as being parts of a linked data system:

In practice, it is useful for the system to be aware of the generic types of the links between items (dependences, for example), and the types of nodes (people, things, documents..) without imposing any limitations.

The term Internet of Things however was proposed by Kevin Ashton in 1999 while at the Auto-ID Center at MIT (white paper). It first referred to the application of RFID technologies to track inventory of fast moving consumer goods in real time. The use of QR codes, fiducials and other forms of watermarking were seen as the best way to track an object.

 As new hardware platforms developed and cheaper connectivity was available, the use of the term extended to describe different types of connectivity

For most applications these communications technologies connect to a variety of cloud services, increasing the adoption of IPV6 to accommodate the increasing number of objects needing to connect to the internet.

The impact of open source hardware

Rapid growth in this sector was facilitated by open source electronics prototyping platforms for students & beginners developed over the past seven years:

  • Arduino (initially aimed at academic students in design and made in Italy since 2004)
  • Raspberry Pi (launched in the UK in 2012 and run as a non-profit)
  • mBed (developed by ARM in 2009)

2014: the year of IOT

Following on from the presence of many connected product startups at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2014 there has been an increase in public interest, press coverage, startups and business strategies built around the internet of things.

· Gartner estimated there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the Internet of Things by 2020 according to their yearly hype-cycle map of emerging technology trends for 2013

· Pew Research wrote 83% of technology experts and engaged Internet users agreed with the notion that the Internet/Cloud of Things and embedded and wearable computing will have widespread and beneficial effects by 2025.

· In response to this increase in excitement, large technology & IT providers have been developing products & strategies to cater to developers & designers in this space. 

Startups lead the way

As excitement rises, so does the interest in early stage prototypes and companies. In March 2014 at CEBIT a technology Fair in Hannover, the UK's Prime Minister also announced 1M in funding for startups in this space.

Business incubators and accelerators that specialise in supporting hardware startups started in the UK with Springboard in early 2013.  Highway1, Haxlr8rDragon Innovations, TechPeaks, RGA, Bolt  and HWtrek are some of the others operating globally. 

Finding out more

In further articles we will discuss the differences in technologies, some of the biggest challenges faced by the industry and case studies developed by startups and small companies. 

If you are interested in this space there are meetups around the world, London being one of the biggest ones.

Following the hashtag #iot on Twitter is also a useful way to keep an eye on recent developments. 

Related Articles

+ IOT - Connecting Things

+ Good Practice around IOT

+ IOT - Application Examples


London-based internet of things consultant with an industrial and interaction design background. Founder of the Good Night Lamp. Curator of the London Internet of Things Meetup since 2011. Writing a book about Smart Homes for Apress.
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