The Internet of Things (IoT) market continues to grow as the number of connected devices increases. These connected or smart devices can be found in every industry you can think of, such as manufacturing, healthcare, and agriculture. You've probably encountered smart home devices like smart switches, lights, etc, in your own home, even! Still, it can seem difficult to imagine how these devices form the larger ecosystem, that is the IoT. You might be wondering, what exactly is IoT? Although the IoT is very broad, this is all you need to know about the Internet of Things when a friend or colleague mentions their smart cars, watches or doorbells.
What is IoT?
If you just Google “What is IoT?” many answers are unnecessarily technical. Example:
“The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interconnected computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are equipped with unique identifiers and the ability to transmit data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-human communication. – computer interaction.”
—An overly technical explanation of IoT
If you are confused, you are not alone if you are confused. Most people neither want nor need to dive into the nitty-gritty of IoT. In this post I will give you a simple explanation of IoT and how it works.
Before we get into that, note that "Internet of Things" and "IoT" can and will be used interchangeably.
IoT explained: Simple and non-technical
You may be reading this on a computer or tablet, but whatever device you're using is connected to the internet.
Connecting things to the Internet brings many wonderful benefits. We've all seen these benefits on our smartphones, laptops and tablets, but the same goes for everything else. And yes, I mean everything.
The Internet of Things means taking all the things in the world and connecting them to the Internet.
Why IoT Matters
When something is connected to the Internet, it means it can send information or receive information or both. This ability to send and/or receive information makes things smart, and smarter is better.
Let's use smartphones again as an example. You can listen to any song in the world, but not because the phone has all the songs stored. This is because every song in the world is stored somewhere else (this place is known as "the cloud") and your phone can request a song and receive information to stream it.
A thing doesn't have to have super storage or a super computer inside to be smart. All you have to do is connect to a super storage or super computer. Being connected is amazing.
In the Internet of Things, all things can be divided into three categories:
Sensors that collect information and then send it.
Computers that receive information and then act on it.
Things that do both.
And all three have huge advantages that feed off each other.
Collection and Submission of Information
That means sensors. The sensors can measure temperature, motion, humidity, air quality, light, and just about anything else you can think of. Sensors, when paired with an internet connection, allow us to gather information from the environment, which in turn helps us make better decisions.
On the farm, automated acquisition of soil moisture information can tell farmers exactly when crops need to be watered. Instead of watering too much or too little (either of which can lead to poor results), the farmer can ensure that crops receive exactly the right amount of water.
Just as our senses allow us to gather information, sensors allow machines to understand their environment.
Receiving and dealing with information
We are all familiar with machines that act on input information. The printer accepts the document and then prints it. The garage door receives the wireless signal and the door opens. It is common to remotely command a machine to act.
So what? The real power of IoT comes when things can gather information and act on it.