I’ve seen more and more references lately to “IoT,” which means “Internet of Things,” so I dug a little deeper into the definition of it for myself and want to share with you what I found.
And, not surprisingly, what I’ve found when you research “What is IoT?” is that most of the answers are unnecessarily technical. I hope I can explain it more simply.
Usually, what you find is something along the lines of, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.” Pretty technical.
If you just read that and are still lost, you’re not alone. Most people don’t need to dive into the nitty-gritty of IoT. So here’s a simple explanation of the Internet of Things and what it means for you.
“The Internet of Things” and “IoT” can be used interchangeably. A quick tip if you find yourself in a situation where you need to sound knowledgeable, avoid saying “the IoT.” It’s usually spoken of in its complete form but written in its short form.
You likely have a desktop, mobile phone, maybe a tablet, but whatever device you use it’s most definitely connected to the internet.
It can be hard to nail down the concept
An internet connection is a great thing, opening the door for all sorts of benefits that just weren’t possible before. If you’re old enough, think of your cellphone before it was a smartphone. You could call and you could text, but now you can read any book, watch any movie, or listen to any song all in the palm of your hand. And that’s just to name a few of the incredible things your phone or connected device can do.
Connecting things to the internet has many amazing benefits. We’ve all seen these benefits with our smartphones, laptops, and tablets, but this is true for everything else too. And yes, I do mean everything. The Internet of Things is actually a pretty simple concept, it means taking all the things in the world and connecting them to the internet. It can be hard to nail down the concept in your head when there are so many examples and possibilities in IoT.
What is the benefit of connecting everything to the internet and why would we even want to do so? When something is connected to the internet, that means that it can send information or receive information, or both. This ability to send and/or receive information makes things smart, and smart is good.
On your smartphone or tablet right now, you can listen to just about any song in the world, but it’s not because your phone actually has every song in the world stored on it. It’s because every song in the world is stored somewhere else, but your device can send information (asking for that song) and then receive information (streaming that song on your phone).
To be smart, a thing doesn’t need to have super storage or a super computer inside of it. All a thing has to do is connect to super storage or to a super computer. Being connected is awesome.
Sensors allow machines to make sense of the world
In the Internet of Things, all the things that are being connected to the internet can collect information and then send it, receive information and act on it, or both. And all three of these have enormous benefits that feed on each other.
One simple example is sensors. Sensors could be temperature sensors, motion sensors, moisture sensors, air quality sensors, light sensors, you name it. These sensors, along with a connection, allow us to automatically collect information from the environment which, in turn, allows us to make more intelligent decisions.
On the farm, automatically getting information about the soil moisture from a sensor can tell farmers exactly when their crops need to be watered. Instead of watering too much (which can be an expensive over-use of irrigation systems) or watering too little (which can be an expensive loss of crops), the farmer can ensure that crops get exactly the right amount of water. More money for farmers and more food for the world!
Just as our sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste allow us, humans, to make sense of the world, sensors allow machines to make sense of the world.
We’re all very familiar with machines getting information and then acting. Your printer receives a document and it prints it. Your car receives a signal from your car keys and the doors open. The examples are endless.
Whether it’s a simple as sending the command “turn on” or as complex as sending a 3D model to a 3D printer, we know that we can tell machines what to do from far away.
Connected in more and more ways
So, the real power of the Internet of Things arises when things can do both of the above. Things that collect information and send it, but also receive information and act on it.
Going back to the farming example. The sensors can collect information about the soil moisture to tell the farmer how much to water the crops, but you don’t actually need the farmer. Instead, the irrigation system can automatically turn on as needed, based on how much moisture is in the soil.
You can take it a step further too. If the irrigation system receives information about the weather from its internet connection, it can also know when it’s going to rain and decide not to water the crops today because they’ll be watered by the rain anyway.
And it doesn’t stop there! All this information about the soil moisture, how much the irrigation system is watering the crops, and how well the crops actually grow can be collected and sent to supercomputers that run amazing algorithms that can make sense of all this information.
And that’s just one kind of sensor. Add in other sensors like light, air quality, and temperature, and these algorithms can learn much more. With dozens, hundreds, thousands of farms all collecting this information, these algorithms can create incredible insights into how to make crops grow the best, helping to feed the world.
How to gather information, process it, and send information back to act on what has been gathered is only limited by our imagination. In the very near future, expect to be connected in more and more ways to more and more things over the internet that you’ll be able to receive information from and react to that information. That, simply put, is IoT, or Internet of Things.