Tech 101: What Is the Internet of Things?

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Beyond mere computers, the just emerging Internet of Things (IoT) will include all manner of objects and living creatures. While the IoT could bring big benefits, it also raises some concerns.

The IoT is a system of interrelated digital and mechanical machines, computing devices, objects, animals or people, each carrying a unique identifier. The system will be able to transfer data over the network with no need for either human-to-computer or human-to-human interaction, according to TechTarget.

The Time is Ripe
The time is ripe for the dawn of an IoT, according to Forbes. Broadband Internet is widely available and connectivity costs keep falling. Smartphone use is skyrocketing. These application-enabled devices also come with built-in sensors and Wi-Fi connectivity.

How Many Connected Things are There?
An analyst firm Gartner has predicted more than 26 billion connected devices by the year 2020, notes Forbes magazine. Other analysts have estimated more than 100 billion of these devices.

What Might Show Up on the IoT
Because unique identifiers are needed, people and animals might be connected to the network through radio-frequency identification tags, for example, suggests TechTarget. Forbes foretells other examples of objects that will quite likely show up on the IoT, such as cars, office equipment, washing machines, coffee makers, headphones, lamps and even equipment components like the jet engine on an airplane. All of these objects are already network-enabled anyway. However, in the world of IoT, the scenario will be a little different. These things will be able to work together with other things and living creatures. They'll be able to transfer data among themselves without any direction by humans, even via computers.

How Will the IoT Play Out?
It's way too early to tell what kinds of expectations to hold about the IoT, but there are a few possibilities, according to Forbes. Office equipment can already tell people when it's getting low on supplies. What if it could recognize this fact for itself and go out and order paper and ink cartridges, for instance? What if a wearable device could determine when and where a worker is most effective on the job and inform other devices of its findings? Cars are certainly getting Internet-enabled. When the IoT comes to pass, however, maybe cars will have access to personal calendars, and will be able to figure out the best route to a morning meeting even before a business executive leaves the driveway. If the driver then gets stuck in traffic, perhaps the car could text a message felling colleagues that the executive will turn up late for the meeting.

'Smart Cities' a Possibility
On a grander level, the IOT might help to create things like better transportation systems. Additionally, "smart cities" with reduced waste and greater energy efficiency could also be created, notes Forbes.

The IoT's Raising Concerns Too
The IoT is sure to bring up new issues around security, privacy and data sharing, according to Forbes. Nobody would want their home devices to get hacked. Moreover, companies will need to devise strategies for keeping track of the huge amounts of information to be generated through the IoT, storing the data, and analyzing it so as to make better business decisions.