A global network of interconnected devices linked to the internet is about to revolutionise the way we live and work today.

Interconnectivity changes things. You can control the temperature in your house while sitting in an airport. Your car can update the maps for its navigation system while sitting in your garage. You can monitor the water levels of rivers in Oxfordshire or reservoirs in California from your couch. You can see pollution levels in the biggest cities in China or Europe on your smartphone.

These are all examples of what can be done with the internet of things or IoT – the network of interconnected physical devices such as sensors and actuators in cars, oil pipes, meters, buildings and other infrastructure, linked to the internet so they can exchange data to create new ways of understanding and controlling the world.

The IoT holds huge promise, according to multiple studies. Research company Gartner says that by 2020 it will comprise 26 billion devices, up from 900 million in 2009. By contrast, there will be about 7.3 billion PCs, smartphones and tablets.

“Connectivity will become a standard feature,” says Peter Middleton, research director at Gartner. “This opens up the possibility of interconnecting just about anything, from the very simple to the very complex, to offer remote control, monitoring and sensing.” By 2016, Gartner says, about 43 per cent of large businesses will have implemented IoT in some way.

Birth of the ‘Internet of Things’

The beginnings of today’s widespread use came from work in the late-1990s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was investigating how devices and sensors could interact and identify themselves using radio-frequency identity (RFID) devices. The British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton, who worked there, says he coined the phrase “internet of things” as the title of a presentation for Procter & Gamble where he was working in 1999.

“Linking the new idea of RFID in P&G’s supply chain to the then red-hot topic of the internet was more than just a good way to get executive attention,” says Mr Ashton. “It summed up an important insight.”

That insight, he says, is: “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 and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling and whether they were fresh or past their best.”

It’s a grand vision, but it could be realised. Gartner reckons the IoT will generate $300 billion in incremental revenue, mainly from services built on top of software, which will run on cheap hardware that might cost a pound, yet be able to run internet services and exchange data.

source: raconteur.net - by Charles Arthur, 30 March 2016.