The “Internet of Things”

Back in 1999, the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) was coined by British technology pioneer Kevin Ashton, cofounder of the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, creators of the global standard system for RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. Ashton’s vision is of an internet that is deeply engrained in every day human experience. It involves the tagging of uniquely identifiable objects with RFID sensors, creating virtual representations of these objects on the internet. The goal being to have all people and objects equipped with tags so that they can be identified, inventoried, and monitored globally. Ashton states:

“Conventional diagrams of the Internet … leave out the most numerous and important routers of all – people. The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy—all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world. And that’s a big deal. We’re physical, and so is our environment … You can’t eat bits, burn them to stay warm or put them in your gas tank. Ideas and information are important, but things matter much more. Yet today’s information technology is so dependent on data originated by people that our computers know more about ideas than things. If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so.” Kevin Ashton: That ‘Internet of Things’ Thing. In: RFID Journal, 22 July 2009.

It is a vision that is mindful of human error and individual lapses in memory, arguing that the internet can be used to overcome these shortcomings by outsourcing memory to objects, devices and the environment. According to, IoT can be looked at from two different perspectives. Viewed as a reactive framework, IoT comprises a layer of digital connectivity that is seamlessly added to the existing infrastructure of objects and things. Alternatively, It can be understood more negatively as a proactive framework, one that views IoT as a “severely disruptive convergence that is unmanageable with current tools,” adding to the problems of Big Data.

The Internet of Things is predicted to result in up to 100 billion Internet-connected objects by 2020, according to networking giant Cisco Systems, forerunners in what they are calling the “Internet of Everything” (IoE) infrastructure, which combines the Internet of Things with the Internet used by people and their mobile devices. RFID tags are now manufactured and sold by the billions, being implemented and deployed in practically all popular digital devices, particularly smartphones and tablets. These chips are location traceable and can also be scanned wirelessly, with this data being stored and organized on the cloud. The Internet of Everything combines several trends, including the growth of connected devices, the increasing use of video, cloud computing, Big Data and the increasing importance of mobile apps compared to traditional computing applications.

Cisco predicts, according to publications released on their website, that as we move into a “fundamentally mobile and video” world, the Internet of Everything  will add $14.4 trillion in value to the economy and boost overall corporate profits by 21% in the next decade. Rob Lloyd, Cisco President of Sales and Development, maintains that the $14.4 trillion figure can be broken down into five primary growth areas: $2.5 trillion in better asset utilization, $2.5 trillion in employee productivity, $2.7 in supply chain logistics, $3.7 trillion in better customer experience and $3 trillion in enabling new innovations.

The potential for this technology has people’s imaginations racing, with literally an infinite number of possibilities for making life and business more convenient and efficient. For example, the possibilities for control and interaction with your own “personal ecosystem” seem totally feasible, like being able to control temperature, lighting, volume, home security, even brewing cups of coffee, from an RFID-equipped mobile device. Businesses could use such a system to better track inventory, manage customer relations, and implement a more efficient supply chain. Back in October 2012, Cisco’s Sean Curtis demonstrated how live data being collected using people’s mobile connections could be used to track how efficiently pedestrian traffic moved through a commuter train station, contending that a similar system could be used to monitor a farmers market, offering insights into how many shoppers showed up, how long they stayed and which stalls they visited.

Jason Quintal | April 7, 2014

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