The Internet of Things (IoT) is the collection of physical devices, vehicles, buildings, etc., embedded with any type of sensor or actuator that are connected through wired or wireless networks and allow them to collect and exchange data. Obvious examples include smartphones, tablets and computers. Some not so obvious examples include coffee makers, pacemakers, headphones, jet engines and thermostats, just to name a few.
The term was first coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, cofounder and executive director of the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His inspiration? A particular shade of brown lipstick that was always out of stock at his local store.
You see, in the mid-90s, Ashton was a brand manager at Proctor & Gamble in the United Kingdom and assigned to the Oil of Olay cosmetic line. Every time he went to his local store, they were always out of that lipstick and he wanted to know why.
Despite his best efforts, Ashton couldn’t find an answer. There was plenty of inventory at the warehouse. It just seemed that of all the stores that carried the brown lipstick, his store was the only one that couldn’t keep it in stock. At the same time, U.K. retailers began to experiment with cards with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips to track members of their loyalty programs. RFID chips can be scanned wirelessly without a reader. So Ashton wondered if he could take some RFID chips, stick them to the lipstick packages and pull data on when and how frequently that lipstick was being purchased.
He presented his idea to his superiors at Proctor & Gamble and they quickly scheduled meetings with the MIT Media Lab. Proctor & Gamble was a sponsor of the lab and soon Ashton was soon loaned to MIT to create the Auto-ID Center to study RFID and its implications on the concept of ‘smart packaging.’
Today, there are more than 15 billion IoT devices in the world. By 2019, that number will double. The emergence of Wi-Fi has made the cost of connecting and transmitting data minimal, allowing IoT to have a real-time impact on every industry and market in the world.
From adjusting the timing of traffic lights to pill-shaped microcameras that records thousands of images of the human digestive system to smart billboards that change their displays after quickly scanning the people walking by, the devices that make up the Internet of Things is creating a technological revolution that will change the world as we know it.