It means different things to different people, but essentially it boils down to being an interconnected network of “things”, which have embedded network connectivity in order to capture and exchange data with other systems, applications, or operators, ultimately contributing to the Big Data deluge.
It’s likely that you have already started using devices that connect to the internet which most may not regard to be a traditionally networked system. Speech recognition televisions, Phones (in ways you know, and many you don’t), fitness trackers, watches, cars etc etc. The ongoing extension of what will be part of the IoT, is likely to encompass biochip transponders in animals, health monitors, dynamic and adaptive traffic control systems, kitchen appliances and white goods – someone has even connected their toilet to the Internet!!
The reason the IoT is coming into prominence currently, is down to the fact that technically we can now make chips small enough and powerful enough to perform the advanced functions that people are looking for. In the main, the key aspects to enable the IoT are: Processing power, size, but also connectivity (Bluetooth LE & WI-FI), in addition to the ability, for example, to make accelerometers small enough to provide the motion tracking abilities for many of the mobile devices (e.g. health trackers). This has permitted a rapid advancement of the deployment of these tools.
The first question on many people’s lips is why we need to network these devices?
There’s a number of answers, but I would venture that the main answer is: To collect data.
All of these systems are collecting data, albeit in different ways, with the aim being (notionally, I suspect in some cases) to improve efficiencies and provide the users with information. With a smart TV for example, your viewing habits can be learned and you can be presented with programmes of interest to you. In turn, this means that advertising can be more effectively targeted at you (there’s always got to be an incentive for the manufacturer too!)
With Health Monitors, while these are ostensibly for ensuring problems are identified early on, just imagine what pharmaceutical companies could do with data extracted directly from people! Targeted drugs, before you even know there is a problem, again bringing a financial incentive to them to develop these tools.
Mood monitoring allowing advertising of just the right thing, at the right place, imagine walking past the bus stop and seeing “Feeling low – buy some chocolate!” The lists go on, and while there is usually a benefit for the user, there is often a longer term benefit to the manufacturer.
Where does the Internet of Things go from here? For the user, onwards and upwards (although Gartner indicates that we may currently be at the peak of the Hype Cycle.) There’ll be continued improvements, as the manufactures and vendors of this equipment come up with innovative ways to use your data – and THIS is what will become more and more of a problem: Who owns the data and its usage?