29 July 2016

DIGITAL - What Exactly is the 'Internet of Things'?

Defining the Internet is a challenge.

Is the internet what it contains? If so, it is a massive accumulation of data encompassing everything from the most esoteric to the most mundane, from digitized historical documents and academic research to community forums and personal content.

Is the internet the infrastructure that supports it? If that’s the case, then it is a global framework of servers, bundles of wires, routers, switches and satellites that enable devices to access the data of the internet.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an ongoing evolution of the internet that expands both the content and the infrastructure of the internet.

According to a 2016 Special Report on Technology by Accountancy SA, “The next evolution in connectivity is creating a network of interconnected 'objects'.”

This interconnected network of objects is the Internet of Things, and it is already changing the way people interact with their homes, malls, cars, and even cities.

This network depends on “smart” devices – any electronic device that can connect to the internet or to other devices. These can be as simple as a device with an on/off switch that can be triggered by another device, or as complex as a device equipped with sensors and other information-gathering equipment.

People are already using utilities like location-based reminders on phones, which use a combination of GPS in the phone and reminder software to let users know when they’re near the grocery store, or give them a reminder to take dinner out to thaw when they arrive home.

These smart devices communicate with each other and with existing networks, gather information from the surrounding environment (both physical and digital), and work with other objects to create an interactive network of connected devices.

Upcoming projects like Knocki, which promises to turn any wall or table or solid object into a smart device, are expanding the IoT beyond devices that are designed to be “smart.”

Devices like Trackr and Tile similarly turn non-smart devices (such as a wallet, keys, or purse) into smart devices that are part of the Internet of Things.

These small attachables can be activated via smartphone app, and beep to help users find lost keys. They can also give alert users if their phone moves too far away from, say, their purse.

These two devices also use “crowd GPS,” meaning that the tracking device can use the GPS information from other people’s app-enabled smartphones to give users information about where items are even if the user is out of Bluetooth range.

Other evolutions in the Internet of Things include shelves that automatically order when stock is low, home appliances that order their own supplies or adjust their own settings (HP’s “Instant Ink” service is one example).

And, of course, Niantic’s wildly popular Pokémon GO is connecting the ephemeral Internet of data and servers to the physical Internet of Things by putting poké stops and gyms at physical locations, using GPS data to determine players’ movements, and typing specific types of Pokémon to specific locations. 

This internet evolution has wide-ranging implications for individuals, businesses, and professionals. Watch for future articles about what the next stage of this internet evolution might include.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

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