There are no dumb questions. What is IoT?

The buzzwords ‘IoT’ or ‘Internet of Things’ seem to be everywhere today. It has become so common that at this point, it is almost embarrassing to ask what it really means. I tried searching online to understand the basics of IoT and could not find an article that explains the fundamental building blocks of IoT without the noise of marketing buzzwords. Many people know ‘IoT’ stands for ‘Internet of Things’ yet most do not understand its premise. I want to explain this concept in very basic terms to illustrate the fundamentals and its growth potential in the next decade.

Before we get into details and definitions, let’s take a step back. Imagine you travel back 10 years in time. It was the boom of consumer gadgets! Most people had a camera, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a torch, MP3 players, a physical phonebook, calculators, GPS in their cars, a video camera to record special occasions, a web camera for Skype chats and so on. It was the golden era of multiple consumer tech gadgets.

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Early cell phones

The cellphone was large (the size of a brick) and bulky and its sole purpose (and only feature) was to place a call to another cell phone or landline. I got my first cell phone in my 10th grade and it was so fancy because it had a 0.5 MP camera and a color screen for picture messages. It was just so cool!

Slowly but steadily cameras in cellphones got better. There were some expensive phones with video recording features as well! This was the beginning of the smartphone revolution. Slowly but surely the devices mentioned above – GPS, camera, video camera, alarm clock, calculators were becoming redundant (at least for everyday use. Don’t get me wrong – there is still a market for high end professional cameras and other gadgets). When I got my first car, I used my Garmin GPS all the time. I eventually got a smartphone in 2010, phone network providers like Verizon started offering better data speeds, Google had just introduced the Google maps app and I eventually sold my GPS in 2014 since I had not used it in over a year. I experienced GPS becoming a redundant gadget first hand! The below graphic illustrates this concept beautifully

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Internet of Things – Basics

Yet there were some things that just could not just be replaced by a phone – your thermostat, light bulb, garage door, door locks, fire alarm sensors. Our phones had become such an important part of our lives yet they were still disconnected from most of our physical world. With increasing competition, internet providers started finding faster and better ways to provide high speed internet to more households at a reasonable cost. This combined with low cost sensors and computers chips (recent examples include credit card size single-board computer- Raspberry Pi) gave birth to what came to be know as the ‘Internet of Things’.

The definition for IoT states that it is a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers/sensors and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

This child born to high speed internet and low cost sensors will dramatically change the way we interact with the physical world around us.

From sensors in clothing that detect your sweat levels to surgically inserted sensors in our bodies to smart luggage with sensors so you never lose them – the possibilities are endless. To put this in perspective, think of any physical object around you, and imagine the possibility of either detecting them and or controlling them using your smartphone, laptop, tablet and the likes. It has endless potential!

This figure shows the amazing growth potential by the year 2020.

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Internet of Things

If you want to experience the early stages of Internet of things – here are some relatively inexpensive consumer options to try out or read more about:

  1. NEST thermostat – Google’s smart thermostat that can be controlled from your smartphone from anywhere
  2. Philips Hue – Philip’s smart bulb, that lets you control it from anywhere and additionally lets you change colors from the smartphone app!

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    Internet of things – the smart revolution

  3. IoT_Tile

    The smart tile low cost sensor

    Tile tags – This was born out of a Kickstarter campaign. It is a low cost way to tag your phone, remote, purse so you can find them using your phone.

Either for personal use or for your business, you cannot ignore IoT. It is here to stay and grow exponentially. You can either get on the bandwagon and reap the benefits and opportunities or fall by the wayside. Your choice!

Now that you know the basics of IoT – go explore this world! 🙂

Swathi Jay

Tech Blogger, Georgia Tech Engineer, Microsoft Program Manager

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