What is the Internet of Things?

Author
Subhas Chandra Mukhopadhyay
Date
28 March 2018
Faculty
Faculty of Science and Engineering

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Dr Subhas Chandra Mukhopadhyay, Professor of Mechanical/Electronics Engineering, explains.

The term Internet of Things (IoT) is used to describe embedded devices (things) that have internet connectivity, allowing them to interact with each other, services and people on a global scale.

The term emerged from MIT (Massachusetts Insitute of Technology) and began with radio-frequency identity tags (RFID) and electronic product codes (EPC), used in logistics and warehousing to track and manage inventory items.

The IoT is all about physical items talking to each other, and it extends machine-to-machine communications and person-to-computer communications beyond computers and people, to a whole range of different inanimate objects.

The range of 'things' that can be connected is unlimited. Examples are heating, air-conditioning and lighting systems in the home; cars and their various components; devices like the Apple Watch or FitBit; shipping containers and even ocean buoys.

Anything you can attach a sensor to, can be hooked up to the IoT.

But the real power of the IoT is not in the things themselves, but in the data and information we are able to gather, and the way all of this information interacts to build IoT 'ecosystems'.

The technologies that will drive the future Internet of Things are sensor technologies including RFID, near-field communications (NFC), smart things, nanotechnology and miniaturisation.

As a result there’s a strong push for developments in computing, network ubiquity and the next generation of the internet.

Connecting systems like environmental monitoring, home and building automation and smart grids will allow information to be shared between systems that affect each other. Giving these systems better awareness can improve their efficiency, reliability and sustainability.

Due to the large number of applications, the IoT has the potential to replace people as the largest consumer and producer of information on the internet.

Low-power wireless embedded devices are cost-effective and require little infrastructure, however the internet and its protocols are unsuitable for such devices due to a lack of resources.

Protocols created for the IoT by the Internet Engineering Task Force are changing the standards that the internet operates on. Now, low-power wireless area networks can access the internet.

While there are technical and security challenges to overcome, the IoT is a global phenomenon and will have wide-ranging consequences that will extend into every aspect of society.

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