The Internet of Things


  • Martin de Saulles


The term, Internet of Things (IoT), has been around since 1999 when brand manager Kevin Ashton at Proctor and Gamble applied RFID technology to streamline his company's massive supply chain. Since then it has grown to encompass the deployment of Internet-connected sensors and trackers across a range of industries and business processes. Essentially, it is an evolution of closed, proprietary telemetry systems that go back to the 1970s. On an industrial scale it includes connected sensors to track the wear and tear of a jet engine and water quality sensors to measure the safety of drinking water. At the city level it includes initiatives such as the AirSensa project which is installing 10,000 air quality sensors around London, each of them providing accurate, street-level data in real time for third parties to analyse. Individually many of us are already contributing data to the IoT via smartphone apps or devices such as Fitbit that track our movements, exercise regimes and health status. Google's Nest thermostat is a good example of how everyday household devices are being connected to allow the remote monitoring and control of domestic lighting and temperatures. Google's announcement in late May of its Brillo operating system for smart devices reveals its plans to extend data gathering beyond search and Android smartphones.

As these systems are rolled out and integrated into our daily lives the biggest challenge is going to be making sense of the data thrown off the myriad of devices in our pockets, houses, workplaces and cities. Cisco estimate that the number of Internet-connected devices overtook the number of people on the planet in 2008 and that by 2020 there will be 50 billion 'things' transmitting information. By 2018, they claim, the data created by IoT devices will be 277 times higher than the amount of data generated by smartphones and PCs. With a Boeing 787 generating 40 terabytes (TB) of data per hour of flight and the mining operations of a company like Rio Tinto generating up to 2.4 TB per minute it is easy to see how the IoT presents huge opportunities for companies able to create value from it all.