No really, what is the Internet of Things?

By | 3 minute read | September 20, 2016

The question ‘what is the Internet of Things?’ seems almost trite, unnecessary. But if we take it for granted, we may miss some vital clues as to how it redefines the Internet, and social interaction with technology. The simple definition from a Google search says that it is ‘a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.’ The Internet of Things Global Standards Initiative defines it as ‘as a global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies.’

The IoT brings objects to life

What the Internet of Things really represents is a force of animation. It is a set of tools, techniques and resources that make ordinary inanimate objects come alive, develop sensory and communications capacities to enhance their core function or purpose, and through cognitive computing processes, establish an understanding of their context and ecosystem that bestows a primitive rationality. Understanding this, we can begin to appreciate the potential of this change.

The Internet of Things is an evolution of technology – tools, and external objects that we human beings use and refer to, so as to achieve order and structure in society and in the world. Ordinary, inanimate objects, like the hammer, the spear, or the mug, perform a simple function. They have no moving parts. They perform no chemical or electrical function, merely a physical one, in the transference of force, and power. Technologies of a higher order – refrigerators, basic cars and cameras – automate the interactions of different elements, and electrical and chemical processes. Advanced technologies – such as smartphones, connected cars, and modern airplanes – use communications networks, data and analytics to enhance their functions in really clever ways.

Making connectivity the status quo

All of these things – once connected – could be described as being part of the Internet of Things; yet they only whisper of its potential. Much of the overt investment into the Internet of Things is today focused on connecting previously unconnected objects, like white goods, fleet, and buildings. The drivers for this investment are invariably based on linear use cases – such reducing the number of service callouts, increasing the speed of diagnostics, or locating mobile assets. There is a considerable amount of investment that is not overt – in devices like televisions, cars and smartphones – where the categories have matured to a point that connectivity and connected services are part of the base offering.

Reaping the rewards: the IoT is for everyone

The Internet of Things begins to become apparent when secondary and tertiary use cases are identified, and discovered through cognitive processes. Connected refrigerators can mean reduced warranty support costs for manufacturers, but they can also provide grocery, diet, health and wellness data to improve healthcare delivery and food supplies. Connected delivery trucks can locate drivers and their consignments, but they can also serve traffic, safety and fuel management functions. Connected buildings can be more secure and energy efficient, and those benefits can justify the initial investment; but they can also help cable installers and delivery people in apartment blocks to be more efficient.

Where the Internet of Things becomes truly real is when these things begin to engage directly with each other. Delivery trucks pick up and drop off goods on behalf of others while ‘on the way’. Connected cars interact with street lamps. Buildings and white goods connect with each other to better deploy water, energy and other resources. Infused with cognitive power, these things begin to make decisions based on the contexts within which they find themselves. The Internet of Things reorganises traffic based on security and weather incidents so that people are safer and emergency services are prioritised. It helps fight climate change by optimising resource consumption and eliminating redundant energy use. The Internet of Things makes people more aware of the opportunities and threats in their environment. The Internet of Things provides a visualization of the pulse of the world, like a graphic equalizer on a 1980’s boom box, or the bip-bip-bip on a life-support machine.

To learn more visit our IoT website, or read our latest post from Harriet Green at the IFA event.