The term Internet of Things (often abbreviated IoT) was coined by industry researchers but has emerged into mainstream public view only more recently. Some claim the Internet of Things will completely transform how computer networks are used for the next 10 or 100 years, while others believe IoT is simply hype that won’t much impact the daily lives of most people.

What Is IoT?

Internet of Things represents a general concept for the ability of network devices to sense and collect data from the world around us, and then share that data across the Internet where it can be processed and utilized for various interesting purposes.

Some also use the term industrial Internet interchangeably with IoT. This refers primarily to commercial applications of IoT technology in the world of manufacturing. The Internet of Things is not limited to industrial applications, however.

What the Internet of Things Can Do for Us

Some future consumer applications envisioned for IoT sound like science fiction, but some of the more practical and realistic sounding possibilities for the technology include:

  • receiving warnings on your phone or wearable device when IoT networks detect some physical danger is detected nearby
  • self-parking automobiles
  • automatic ordering of groceries and other home supplies
  • automatic tracking of exercise habits and other day-to-day personal activity including goal tracking and regular progress reports

Potential benefits of IoT in the business world include:

  • location tracking for individual pieces of manufacturing inventory
  • fuel savings from intelligent environmental modeling of gas-powered engines
  • new and improved safety controls for people working in hazardous environments

Network Devices and the Internet of Things

All kinds of ordinary household gadgets can be modified to work in an IoT system. Wi-Fi network adapters, motion sensors, cameras, microphones and other instrumentation can be embedded in these devices to enable them for work in the Internet of Things.

Home automation systems already implement primitive versions of this concept for things like light bulbs, plus other devices like wireless scales and wireless blood pressure monitors that each represent early examples of IoT gadgets. Wearable computing devices like watches and glasses are also envisioned to be key components in future IoT systems.

The same wireless communication protocols like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth naturally extend to the Internet of Things also.

Issues Around IoT

Internet of Things immediately triggers questions around the privacy of personal data. Whether real-time information about our physical location or updates about our weight and blood pressure that may be accessible by our health care providers, having new kinds and more detailed data about ourselves streaming over wireless networks and potentially around the world is an obvious concern.

Supplying power to this new proliferation of IoT devices and their network connections can be expensive and logistically difficult. Portable devices require batteries that someday must be replaced. Although many mobile devices are optimized for lower power usage, energy costs to keep potentially billions of them running remains high.

Numerous corporations and start-up ventures have latched onto the Internet of Things concept looking to take advantage of whatever business opportunities are available. While competition in the market helps lower prices of consumer products, in the worst case it also leads to confusing and inflated claims about what the products do.

IoT assumes that the underlying network equipment and related technology can operate semi-intelligently and often automatically. Simply keeping mobile devices connected to the Internet can be difficult enough much less trying to make them smarter. People have diverse needs that require an IoT system to adapt or be configurable for many different situations and preferences.

Finally, even with all those challenges overcome, if people become too reliant on this automation and the technology is not highly robust, any technical glitches in the system can cause serious physical and/or financial damage

Google is a company that was born on the Internet, and other than a brief experiment with AdSense for radio (yeah, they really tried that) Google pretty much only make things that exist in the cloud or connect to the Internet.

Google was also ahead of rival Microsoft in realizing that mobile was going to be a big thing and responsible for much if not most of Internet traffic in the future (Apple knew it too, which is why they beat Google to the market with their smart phone).

Google started investing heavy engineer time developing mobile friendly apps on iPhones as well as working on their own mobile platform, because they knew that the fringe thing hardly anyone but a few trendy technophiles used in 2007 would someday be common place. And they were right. Smartphones are everywhere.

The Internet of Things is another one of those ideas that  eventually will just be everywhere. It’s on the verge of that right now. The Consumer Electronics Show was full of Internet of Things (or Internet of Everything as Cisco is really trying to rename it.)

So what exactly is it? This is a broad concept, but essentially the Internet of Things refers to embedded devices (things that have computer chips in them, like TVs, thermostats, cars, washers, and fridges) that can connect to the Internet. Sure, your TV can make movie recommendations and stream things from Netflix. It makes sense to have it connected.

 Why would your washer need to connect to the Internet? To tell you that your load is finished or that the machine is not working properly. Your fridge could tell you that you were out of milk. Your heater could find out that you were going to be late home from work because your car was still parked at the office and save your heating bill by not warming up that extra ten degrees until you started heading home.

Other devices could have embedded chips, such as bicycles, door locks, and lights. How great would it be if your living room light new you were in bed and turned itself off but turned itself back on if you had to get up in the middle of the night?

That’s on a personal level. It’s where your things and other people’s things combine that you get the most power. This brings us into another concept, “big data.” The data from smart devices could be used collectively to better figure out how to plan new city roads or redirect around traffic jams. Your scale and fridge could send data to your phone to let you plan a diet according to the collective anonymous data of other users if you wanted to lose weight.

Where is Google in all this?

Everywhere it can be. Google is selling off Motorola and getting out of the phone market, but they seem to be dipping more and more toes into less saturated consumer device markets. Google purchased a company called Nest that makes smart thermostats. That was actually among many robotics companies Google acquired, mostly without a bunch of fanfare. Google X, Google’s skunkworks, has been working on crazier ideas like Google Glass and self-driving cars. There are also possible drones, contact lenses that sense blood glucose levels, and even crazier ideas Google hasn’t announced.

 Meanwhile, Nest is already making products that are being sold today.

That doesn’t mean Google hasn’t had a few missteps here. Google tried and failed to innovate with an earlier smart meter platform for electrical grids. It was an idea that was really a little before its time.

Google could go in several directions with the Internet of Things. They could write the platform and apps on which devices communicate with each other (aka the failed PowerMeter approach), or they could just make and sell the devices themselves. They could also partner with other companies (Samsung or LG for example) to create and distribute things.

Judging from how Google handled mobile, they might just try all of those things and see what sticks.

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