It’s official, we’re living in the future. As had been predicted by the ‘futuristas’ – a commune of artists, technologists, and free thinkers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we are living in the second age of machines. Connectivity is the name of the game, and the internet of things (IoT) is what is spurring its evolution.
The Internet of things is a system of connected devices that can exchange information independently and can be programmed to function in unison, to achieve a set of tasks. These tasks can be as simple as ensuring the comfort and entertainment needs of a family, or as complex as the defence of a country (DARPAnet) or NORAD’s vast network of military drones.
The History of the Internet of Things
To understand the Internet of things’ history, we will have to take a step back to the evolution of the internet itself. The early 19th century saw the development of wired communications solutions like the telegraph. What followed for the next few decades were the development of better and faster telecommunications-based solutions like the radio and Alexander Graham Bell’s celebrated telephone. These were the seedlings of the modern internet, which finally came to exist post World War II, in the early to late 1960s.
The internet itself began life under DARPA or Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. This agency was responsible for linking multiple computer terminals over a limited area and enabling secure transmission of data across them. DARPAnet as it was called in 1962 was the first use (military or civilian) of this kind of computing network. In the early 1980s, civilian telecom providers came out in support of the limited technology’s use for general communications of all kinds. With the evolution of GPS technology in 1993, the internet as we know it today, first came into being.
An important step in the realization of the development of the internet of things was IPV6’s remarkable decision to increase address space. In the words of Steve Leibson, a former director at the Computer History Museum, “The address space expansion means that we could assign an IPV6 address to every atom on the surface of the earth, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths.”
Proof of concept: An important juncture in the internet of things’ history
Up until 1999, the internet of things was little more than a concept. But in the early 1980s the adage, genius is creativity at play was demonstrated as the first proof of concept of the actual workings of the future IoT. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University hooked up a Coca Cola machine to the local area network and were able to transmit information to individual PCs, such as availability and temperature. This would save the person looking to slake their thirst a trip to the machine, if the cola was not available or not at a cool enough temperature. This amazing project was the first working prototype of what would eventually morph into the internet of things.
The Future of the Internet of Things
The internet of things is a rapidly evolving technology, and we have only just started to scratch the surface of its possibilities. One of IoT’s most ubiquitous uses thus far has been in the space of home automation and entertainment. On the other hand, IoT platforms are also being used in areas such as e-commerce automation, where tasks like sending out e-mailers, answering consumer complaints or queries and even reaching out to customers through pre-recorded calls and actual e-server based calling software is also gaining widespread prevalence and acceptance. The future of the internet of things therefore is still to be fully mapped out, but IoT can be applied to enhance virtually any industry. The potential is so vast and exciting that numerous start-ups are emerging with new and innovative uses of the technology.
According to ABI Research, the surge in growth is so all pervasive, that by 2020 nearly 30 billion IP-connected devices and sensors will be present worldwide! The optimism about the pace of growth, however, needs to be tempered with a certain degree of caution. With the rise in internet of things’ capable devices, there needs to be efficient security protocols in place. This is as many of the day to day devices that are IoT enabled, all have access to users’ personal and sensitive data.
Few forward-looking applications of IoT
Let’s take a look at how IoT is being used and how that will shape the future:
- One of the most exciting areas that the era of Internet of Things has opened up, is its use both in education and medicine. Virtual classrooms are now an everyday occurrence, but the use of smart surfaces and devices like IoT enabled tablets will revolutionize the way in which testing parameters are constructed and utilized.
- Wearable smart devices like heart rate monitors, smart watches, etc. will enable doctors to monitor the cardiac functions of patients in real time. The data can be made available in life threatening events like cardiac arrest or stroke, when every second matters.
- IoT enabled devices can in theory assist in road safety and passenger well-being. Self-driving cars which communicate with each other, are currently being tested by the likes of Tesla, BMW, Google and Uber. Once implemented, these technologies have the potential to set speeds, adjust and recalibrate driver response times and even take over completely in the face of an emergency situation.
- One of the most interesting uses of IoT-capable devices is in child security and monitoring. IoT enabled devices like nanny cams and smart sensors are now capable of triggering silent alarms at the relevant end terminals at the police station and the children’s parents/primary guardians.
- Smart tech is also changing the way we dine. Smart induction-based cooktops are simplifying the process of following recipes. In a couple of years, the next generation of ovens and other smart devices will be able to cook our favourite meals with little or no human interaction. Smart sensors in the kitchens will also detect gas leaks and inform authorities or better still contain them on their own.
These are only a few of the multiple areas in which IoT is impacting our lives and will continue to evolve. It is a brave new world, and innovation is the name of the game. How far we go from here is a question that only time and human enterprise can tell. There are truly no limits to what IoT can do and that’s the most exciting thing!