What do wearable tech, smart homes, smart cities, and intelligent transportation systems all have in common? They are current applications of a widespread, worldwide technological development known as the Internet of Things (IoT). This phenomenon promises to make our wireless world even more prevalent in our daily lives than it is now.

Internet of Things is more than just a fad, or a short-term trend. We are wired to the gills already, and demand for wireless devices and technologies continues to grow every year. In 2012, nearly 700 million new smartphones shipped. In 2013, that number was 1 billion, a number expected to grow by 200 million in 2014, and by another 700 million by 2018, according to market research firm International Data Corporation. And that’s just smartphones – not tablets or PCs, let alone routers, headsets or keyboards. When you add to this list the market sizes for common wireless devices like garage door openers, smart watches, remote heart rate monitors, video game consoles, baby monitors, walkie talkies, GPS devices…you began to get the picture: wireless already dominates – and continues to dominate – our lives. Moreover, wireless connectivity is now becoming standard in a rapidly growing subset of new products across the globe. Some experts predict that by 2025, there will be a total of 1 trillion networked devices worldwide in the consumer and industrial sectors. Internet of Things is not just the latest buzzword: it is where our world is heading.

The Internet of Things | The Future of Data

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In this article, we will discuss: 1) the definition of IoT, 2) the history of IoT, 3) benefits of IoT, 4) implications of IoT, 5) trends in IoT, 6) current applications of IoT, and 7) future applications of IoT.


Fundamentally, the Internet of Things (IoT) is the movement to connect physical things (objects, especially those objects that have not been wired historically) to the Internet and to each other through wireless technologies. Objects include everything from coffeepots to municipal building statues. The functionality of the newly wired objects, based on the internet and capabilities of the IoT firm, varies greatly.

Beyond this basic definition lies the idea that, eventually, once a critical mass of objects are connected (their underlying technologies having been refined and standardized), all of the connected systems, though disparate perhaps in function, origin, and design, will communicate with each other and work in tandem to form a seamless, coherent experience for the average consumer.

Internet of Things

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For example, your home automatically locks your front door behind you and unlocks your car and garage door before you get there. Once inside, your car automatically plays music to suit the mood its sensors have predicted you are in (based on real-time vital sign monitoring), and then drives you to the gym. Once in the gym, the weight machines automatically adjust their loads to your strength level.

This is the promise of Internet of Things. 


Of course, the beginnings of IoT have their ultimate origins in the beginnings of the Internet in 1989. Wireless connectivity also plays an important role, and the development of GPS in 1998, the first Internet connected cellphone in 1999, and the commercial availability of Wi-Fi in 2000, should be noted. While many science fiction authors, from Isaac Asimov to Bruce Sterling, have depicted Internet of Things in their works (in many cases, decades ago), the term itself was coined by Kevin Ashton, a British technologist, in 1999.


IoT connectivity, to the consumer, would mean a seamless experience, integrating all devices and allowing the automation of routine tasks. This would result in considerable time savings and convenience. Moreover, it could also save lives: home health monitoring technologies could get medical assistance to a person suffering a sudden medical emergency, or remotely keep track of children on field trips.

In a business context, an increase in the number of wireless devices (deployed strategically, of course) could increase productivity and efficiency. Already, many retail and service establishments use wireless headsets to communicate, and other sensors to monitor inventory levels. However, Internet of Things can be leveraged on a deeper, more fundamental level, to enhance operations. Some firms have begun to place sensors on everything to monitor and analyze internal operations in granular detail; for example, a GE ceramic plant’s management placed sensors on every component of the manufacturing process and learned, through a sensor on the mixer, at what point the ceramics mixture was optimized for best results. Firms also will have a much larger pool of so-called Big Data from consumers from IoT, which could be invaluable with the proper internal focus on analytics and data warehousing.

Air Warrior

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In a medical context, seamless integration of a clinician’s medical and healthcare tools, as well as internal hospital systems, would likely greatly improve the delivery of healthcare to patients. In a military context, IoT might yield more effective enemy targeting, fewer overall casualties, and shorter military conflicts. The U.S. military, among others, is already integrating wearables into its gear, such as the Aviation Warrior, a Raytheon-developed wearables system comprised of a helmet, wrist display and portable computing device, which provide soldiers with real-time battlefield intelligence.

One day, science fiction writers have often posited, IoT, with its increasing connectivity, may even yield singularity the point at which robot intelligence will outstrip human intelligence. However, this is unlikely. Internet of Things, though, may improve our understanding of human and robot learning to such an extent that we make real breakthroughs in the development of artificial intelligence.

The Internet of Things Meets Big Data


nest thermostat

© Flickr | David Berkowitz

The market for IoT is nearly as fragmented as the market for things. Some manufacturers have decided to develop their own internal electronic systems to apply to their products, usually compatible with one or more popular operating systems (Android OS, Windows OS or iOS). Others have insourced or outsourced the wireless technology component of their products to major software firms. Still, others have developed their own electronics ecosystem, with proprietary software and wireless standards. In addition, some software firms have begun to purchase promising connected products and integrate their operating systems in them (e.g. Google’s recent purchase of the Nest Learning Thermostat). Trends in IoT include the continued arrival of new entrants, and selective acquisition of promising firms by large corporations.

Standardization is a key challenge of Internet of Things, but one that some firms are trying to address. Without seamless integration between disparate products, consumer confusion will impede adoption. And standardization demands some level of collaboration among competing firms is a tall order, even when long-term profits will likely outpace short-term gains. 


Though it may take us decades or longer to be fully wired, we do not have to wait that long to see Internet of Things in action. Many current IoT applications present promising clues as to what a fully wired future would look like, including: 

Smart cities

Smart cities, in practice, are cities that are fully wired. But urban planners, architects, government officials, companies like IBM, Siemens, Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco, and futurists would love to see the day when all of a city’s disparate infrastructure systems could be connected to each other, centrally controlled, and work in tandem. Centralized systems might include traffic systems, sewers, publicly owned energy firms, water purification and conservation, and more. Imagine a day when a mayor could ration water in an area where a flood occurs, as well as divert the flow of traffic away from the occurrence by changing the area’s traffic signals. Or a smart city might optimize individual power consumption with its overall consumption of electric, hydroelectric, solar, and other forms of energy. 

Medical monitoring devices

Most medical monitoring devices these days are wireless, and allow doctors to monitor the vital signs of patients remotely. This is tremendously beneficial in remote and rural areas where hospitals and healthcare facilities are scarce. Other types of medical monitoring devices are designed to provide emergency notifications when a person is suffering a medical emergency. Integration of these technologies with one’s electronic medical record and other in-hospital wireless technologies can not only improve hospital/healthcare efficiency, but also save lives. 

Smart homes

Smart homes centralize the control of all electrical devices, appliances, and wirelessly connected objects in a residence, allowing users to automate their functions from a single input device. Such a system might allow you to use you laptop to schedule your TiVo to record at a specified hour; turn on your security system, thermostat, and washer, dim your lighting, and turn off your air conditioner. Current smart homes are created either from expensive custom installed packages, or less expensive wireless hubs for the do-it-yourself. Full connectivity is an ideal difficult to achieve because of varied technical standards for disparate household implements. However, the market is rapidly growing and, as per market research firm Juniper Research, it will reach $71 billion by 2018.

Wearable tech

Wearable technology is the integration of wireless technology with clothing, jewelry, and accessories. Consumer wearables are largely concentrated in the fitness and healthcare monitoring markets, taking the form of wristwatches, gloves, and even tattoos. While Juniper Research predicts the market will grow to $19 billion by 2018, the market potential for wearables is unclear as the market is highly fragmented and there is consumer hesitation about both the social ramifications of having them and the fundamental need for them. Military and medical applications, which currently include exoskeletons for soldiers and paraplegics respectively, will likely influence further wearables innovations in the future. 


Other applications include environmental monitoring systems – deployed especially in disaster prone areas; infrastructure management systems – which can monitor the stability of structures; energy management systems – designed to conserve energy, and monitor energy consumption; and intelligent transportation systems – which describe systems with functions ranging from fleet management to traffic control.

What Is the Internet of Things? | Mashable Explains


The future of Internet of Things will be shaped more by the ever-evolving utility of the Internet, then by individual product development challenges. For better or worse, humanity is moving towards an exponentially increasingly wired world. Driven by convenience, entertainment, or necessity, we keep adhering and integrating wireless technology into everything. Whether this increasing connectivity eventually coheres into a seamless symphony of convenience, access, and data, or falls, flat, one thing is for certain. The growing markets of IoT applications like smart homes and wearable tech will continue to drive IoT forward (towards a market value of $6.2 trillion by 2025 according to McKinsey Global Institute, and beyond). Future applications of IoT might include:

  • Smart wristwatches that provide directions to the nearest fire extinguisher in case of a fire;
  • Pens that “remember” and store a consumer’s hand motions, thus recording what it has written;
  • Implanted organs that can notify hospitals when they begin to fail;
  • Homes that “learn” and “adapt” to their owner’s needs by activating or deactivating residential devices based on its predictions of the owner’s behavior;
  • Cars that automatically reduce energy as they “sense” approaching gas stations; or
  • Water conservation systems that automatically conserve water based on weather predictions.

The Internet of Things: Dr. John Barrett at TEDxCIT


Of course, a world all the way wired is fundamentally different from our partially wired world of today. Full Internet of Things will have significant implications for: 


Tremendous security implications exist for IoT. Recent studies by IT firm Symantec and Hewlett-Packard uncovered multiple vulnerabilities in popular wearables and smart home devices, respectively. The severely fragmented market for IoT products yields players for whom IT security measures are not a core competency. The linking of disparate hardware products creates its own security issues. Moreover, the more connected devices containing personal information, the more risk the consumer assumes. Open standards must be adopted by hardware manufacturers that incorporate shared communication and security software protocols. Further, though despite nearly 45 years of cybercrime, consumers have often avoided taking their own cyber security seriously, IoT’s applications like smart homes, make this of more importance than ever before. No longer can consumers use passwords like 1234, because a criminal’s illegal access of a consumer account will no longer just mean monetary theft. It could mean burglary – or worse.


Google glass

© Flickr | Ted Eytan

Privacy is a major IoT issue, particularly concerning applications that record audio or video content. Some devices, such as the Google Glass, have the capability of surreptitious recording. This brings to the fore a number of ethical issues, such as whether businesses should ban them, whether such devices should be used by law enforcement in surveillance efforts, and just how much individuals can or should record. Intellectual property issues are brought front and center as well. How does one stop and/or deter individuals from pirating movies or taking a picture of a copyrighted image with a wearable?

These are far from the only ethical issues that Internet of Things raises. Are businesses that are collecting data about consumer online activity using it ethically? Is a firm, monitoring a consumer’s preferences and sending coupons for the kinds of unhealthy foods the consumer buys, colluding in, and/or liable for the consumer’s poor health? Will IoT be equally accessible to all, and what ramifications are there for those without access? Will those dominant IoT firms adhere to network neutrality? The list is broad and far-reaching, and will only grow as IoT does.


Regulatory authorities and legislators must address most of the aforementioned questions. For the most part, legislation and law enforcement training have not kept pace with IoT or its major trends. A notable example involves a Google Glass user issued a ticket in California for wearing the device while driving. The officer in the case cited a vehicle code that did not apply, and the police department noted that there is no law that applies to Google Glass. It is critical that legislators, regulators, and law enforcement keep abreast of IoT, as it will spawn more and more products that present real legal and ethical challenges. 


As connectivity increases, energy consumption will become a key issue. Now, smart technologies will help reduce overall energy consumption, automatically conserving energy when necessary. Nevertheless, more things will be connected, and, potentially, more people will have access to Internet of Things, then the wireless world of the PC. Whether IoT’s reduction in energy consumption can offset the increase in energy consumption stemming from increased usage, remains to be seen.

Data storage will also be a key issue for IoT firms storing the data and the businesses collecting it. Further, for businesses, the fragmented nature of Internet of Things data could be a nightmare, as IT departments will have to warehouse it within internal enterprise databases that are fundamental different.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons | Wilgengebroed under Attribution 2.0 GenericFlickr | PEOSoldier under Attribution 2.0 Generic, Flickr | David Berkowitz under Attribution 2.0 Generic, Flickr | Ted Eytan under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

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