In the late 1990s, the big buzz word was the vaunted ‘paradigm shift’, that holy grail of technologies that would signify a sudden, illuminating change in the way something was done. It represented a shiny new technologically-driven future free of the foibles of the old world. To many, the inevitable tech bubble crash that soon followed represented the end of the ‘paradigm shift’ era, and the beginning of a new one – the era of the Internet of Things, or IoT.
At its heart, IoT is nothing new. The basic concept behind IoT has been around since 1990, when inventors Tom Romkey and Simon Hackett successfully connected a Sunbeam Deluxe Automatic Radiant Control toaster to the internet as part of that year’s Interop, an internet technology conference. Users on the internet could turn the toaster and off, and by doing so control the degree by which the bread was toasted. At the time, the idea of a TCP/IP connected toaster, controllable by anyone with internet access, was nothing less than magic. It was also the first step of the IoT revolution.
The world had to wait a few more years, however, before this new idea had an appropriately impressive name. The actual phrase ‘Internet of Things’ was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, one of the founders of the Auto-ID Center at MIT. Ashton first used the phrase to describe a method he and his team at MIT invented that would allow devices to be linked to the internet by RFID tag.
So, what is the Internet of Things?
IoT is based on a simple concept: connect various devices, sensors, and applications to the internet, and allow them to exchange information with each other and with end-users. This has given us immensely practical devices such as:
- Heart monitoring devices that can automatically report medical diagnostic information to health monitoring services,
- Cars that can automatically report their mechanical status to manufacturers or repair centers,
- Smart traffic monitoring systems that can alert your GPS to upcoming traffic congestion, to the less practical,
- Such as a refrigerator that can send you an e-mail when you are low on milk.
One of the most practical uses of IoT, and one which is most visible, however, is the connected home initiative. CHI, as it is also known, is the fulfillment of the old ‘automated home’ dream of the early twentieth century. It links together such household systems as heating, cooling, lighting, and security in a smart network that can ‘learn’ from the homeowner’s habits or preferences and react according. For instance, a homeowner with a CHI-equipped home can, from any location in the world with internet access, do such things as: adjust heating and cooling, monitor home security, turn lights on or off, and lock or unlock external access for guests or service people. And, once in the home, a homeowner can used any networked device – phone, tablet or laptop – to access or control any connected home system directly from the device. A properly equipped CHI home is the embodiment of what IoT will mean in the future for homeowners.
The real beauty of IoT, however, is that it is fully scalable technology. It can do the mundane, such as home automation, or it can be used for much grander things, such as automated traffic control systems for an entire city.
Municipalities have embraced IoT as a way to build smarter, more energy efficient public services. IoT-equipped electrical grids, for instance, can provide vital real-time data needed for efficient power generation and distribution systems that can lead to improved system reliability, and lower bills for customers. Meanwhile, Remote machine monitoring systems on critical infrastructure system such as water filtration and distribution systems can help cities ensure that equipment receives proper maintenance and repairs before systems fail, rather than after a failure has occurred.
The future is a connected future.
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