The connection of machines and everyday objects to the Internet is changing the world fundamentally. The close interaction between the digital and physical worlds is opening up entirely new applications with far-reaching economic and social implications.
The Internet of Things is not the future anymore. The Internet of Things is the present,” asserted Kevin Ashton at the third “Internet of Things Week” in June 2013 in Helsinki. And Ashton should know: he is regarded as the “father” of the Internet of Things. The co-founder and former Executive Director of the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) first used the term “Internet of Things” back in 1999. Ashton envisaged computers capable of acquiring information independently of human control; capable of understanding the real world without human intervention. He believed such networks would reduce outages and deliver huge savings on costs. After all, he thought, human capacities are limited; we have too little time, and we work too imprecisely.
Inanimate objects acquire an identity
Ashton described the Internet of Things as the intelligent interconnection of everyday objects – equipment, machinery and, quite literally, all kinds of “things” – over the Internet based on programmability, memory capacity, sensor technology and communications capabilities. The “things” are able independently to exchange information, initiate actions and mutually control each other. To do so, they are assigned their own identity in the form of a code, in the same way that computers and other networked devices are uniquely identifiable by their IP address. On the Internet of Things, everyday things such as cars, domestic appliances, electricity meters and even items of clothing can communicate with each other and be controlled over the Internet.
Microprocessors plus sensors plus -communications
This network is based on small-scale microprocessors built-in to the various objects which communicate wirelessly. Integrated sensors enable these mini-computers to detect and monitor their environment, process the data they capture, and share it with other objects or the Internet. This makes it possible to create “smart” objects which “know” where they are, what other “things” are close by, and what the ambient conditions are. They are able to capture this data and so record their own history. This means, for example, a pack of meat can store all the data relating to the origin, processing and supply chain of the product, or a freight container can record position, temperature and humidity data and send it to a control centre.
Different areas are being interconnected
At present, the Internet of Things still comprises individual networks developed for specific purposes. The best example is in cars, where the safety functions, engine management and communications systems are interlinked to create sophisticated driver assistance systems which, in some cases, are also capable of autonomous decision-making (such as the emergency braking system). In the building services sector, too, networks are increasingly being created to interlink the management systems for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, telephony, security and lighting, so as to enhance comfort and improve energy efficiency. As the Internet of Things advances, these and many other networks will be interlinked and extended with more safety and security, analytical and management functionality. The Internet of Things will become increasingly powerful and efficient, opening up even more opportunities to enhance the human experience.
A world-changing technology
“The Internet of Things is a world-changing technology like no other,” says Kevin Ashton. “There are immeasurable economic benefits and the world needs economic benefits right now.” Ashton sees the Internet of Things as being the answer to the planet’s population growth, and to the human hunger for more and more things: food, energy, mobility, comfort.