What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things

A Simple Explanation

“The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.”- An unnecessarily technical explanation of IoT

You are most probably reading this explanation right now on either desktop, mobile phone, or tablet. Whatever the case may be, it is most definitely connected to the internet. Compared to cell phones some years ago, due to the internet you can now read books, watch movies or your favourite sport programmes, listen to music of your choice or check the exchange rates, to name but a few of the benefits of your smartphone.

The truth is that connecting things to the internet provide many extraordinary and empowering benefits. This is also true for everything else, believe me!

In reality, The Internet of Things, is a simple concept as it means taking all the things in the world and connecting them to the internet. There are so many possibilities and examples, that it is hard to nail down the concept, benefits, examples, and prospects thereof.
It is important to understand the benefits of connecting things to the internet (which this article is all about). Why would we even want to connect everything to the internet?

Does IoT matter and why?

Being connected to the internet, information can be either sent or received, making things smart! It is not only a matter of listening to the latest news or listening to your favourite music right now, it is not because your phone actually has every song in the world stored on it, It is because every song in the world is stored somewhere else, but your phone can send information (asking for that song) and then receive information (streaming that song on your phone).

A thing does not need to have super storage or a supercomputer inside of it to be smart. All a thing must do is connect to super storage or to a supercomputer. Being connected is awesome.

According to Calum McClelland, “In the Internet of Things, all the things that are being connected to the internet can be put into three categories:

  • Things that collect information and then send it.
  • Things that receive information and then act on it.
  • Things that do both.

And all three of these have enormous benefits that feed on each other”.

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Collecting and Sending Information

What does this mean? Yes, it means sensors (be it temperature sensors, motion sensors, moisture sensors, air quality sensors, light sensors, you name it). These sensors, along with a connection of sorts, allows for the automatic collection of information  from the environment which, in turn, allows us to make more intelligent decisions.

Automatically getting information about the soil moisture can tell farmers exactly when their crops need to be watered. Instead of watering too much or watering too little, the farmer can ensure that crops get exactly the right amount of water. More money for farmers and more food for the world!

Just as our senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste allow us, humans, to make sense of the world, sensors allow machines to make sense of the world.

Receiving and Acting on Information

We are all familiar with machines getting information and then acting. Your printer device receives a document, and it prints it. Similarly, your car receives a signal from your car keys and the doors open. The examples are endless. Whether it is as simple as sending the command “turn on” or as complex as sending a 3D model to a 3D printer, we know that we can tell machines what to do from far away.
The real power of the Internet of Things arises when things can do both (collect information and send it, but also receive information and act on it).

By doing both, the sensors can collect information about the soil moisture to tell the farmer how much to water the crops, but you do not actually need the farmer. Instead, the irrigation system can automatically turn on as needed, based on how much moisture is in the soil.
But one can take it a step further too. If the irrigation system receives information about the weather from its internet connection, it can also know when it is going to rain and decide not to water the crops today because they will be watered by the rain anyways.

All this information about the soil moisture, how much the irrigation system is watering the crops, and how well the crops actually grow can be collected and sent to supercomputers that run algorithms that can make sense of all this information.

And that is just one kind of sensor. By add in other sensors like light, air quality, and temperature, and these algorithms can learn much more. With dozens, hundreds, thousands of farms all collecting this information, these algorithms can create incredible insights into how to make crops grow the best, helping to feed the world.

For further reading and learning about IoT I encourage you to check out Calum McClelland’s other links.

IoT examples and applications, beyond just smart agriculture.
How IoT is being used to help industries become more efficient.
How IoT systems actually connect to the internet, since it’s not just on Wi-Fi or Cellular. Sometimes it’s Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWAN), sometimes it’s Bluetooth, and sometimes it’s something else.
And once you do have a connection, information is sent to The Cloud.
Once in the cloud, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning take in all that information and draw useful insights (the algorithms mentioned above).

Acknowledgement:
Calum McClelland, June 1, 2017: https://www.leverege.com/blogpost/whhttpsat-is-iot-simple-explanation#:~:text=Case%20in%20point%3A%20%22The%20Internet,to-computer%20interaction.%22–[/membership]

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