The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer and operator.
Anyone who follows technology in any capacity recognizes by now that cyberspace has begun to aggressively root itself directly into our physical space. Initially, simply being able to access the Internet from a remote mobile device was a massive step forward. Today, smartphones are just a piece of the puzzle, joined by appliances like refrigerators and television sets that communicate not only with you but also with each other. We call this expansive (and often utility-driven) linking network the Internet of Things.
You want to jump on this IoT bandwagon now, not in 5 years. As you consider the possibilities, use these five facts below that Jason Hope considers "must-knows" to make yourself seem more credible when it comes to the IoT.
1) The IoT isn't coming - it's already here.
Right now, you can control the temperature in your home or the heat settings used by your washing machine with your laptop, tablet, or phone. Fitness trackers like the FitBit measure how long you sleep and how many steps a day you walk, but more finely-tuned health monitoring devices can track things like blood glucose or heart rhythm, enabling patients with chronic illness to make better decisions about treatment and care. Cars, coffee makers, and clothes featuring wearable technology are available in the current market, and more connected devices are on the way.
2) IoT devices can do many things, but they might not do everything well -- at least not yet.
Most health trackers, for instance, monitor only a few specific activities, and many of them aren't optimized to analyze the data collected in the most useful way. Different devices also use different means of talking to the Internet and to each other, so data collection isn't broadly organized under one centralized system. Right now, you may have several IoT networks running through your home at once, controlling individual devices independently of each other.
3) Security risks remain a concern for IoT devices and networks.
With so many devices connected to the Internet, leaks and breaches remain potential areas for concern. One study showed that out of ten devices tested, seven revealed security vulnerabilities ranging from pesky to dangerous. As always, personal information stored in the cloud needs to be well-protected. Know the risks before you start interconnecting.
4) Internet regulation may have a massive impact on IoT devices -- and right now that future is still being decided.
The FCC has proposed to make the Internet a regulated utility similar to gas and electric services. This move would theoretically prevent Internet providers from monopolizing the resource or charging non-premium users for specific content or services (for instance, varying connectivity speeds). Right now, most connected devices don't use significant amounts of data, but that's likely to change as the technology develops.
In a recent Huffington Post article, entrepreneur and philanthropist Jason Hope explained the undeniable connection between Internet regulation and IoT development. "Internet connected devices are in essence what we have dreamed about for decades," said Hope. "From Dick Tracy's watch to the automated home of the Jetsons, IoT is the realization of those dreams, so it's only natural that more and more connected devices be incorporated into our homes and lives in general." Internet regulation will likely have a significant impact on IoT progress, noted Hope, and "because of this, it's silly not to think that the entire IoT movement wouldn't be paying attention to the future of the internet as we know it."
To function as designed, IoT smart devices rely on freedom of data. That freedom also keeps costs to the consumer lower. As Hope explained, "Real innovation and growth comes with opportunity. The idea that what essentially is Internet segregation would somehow drive technology just doesn't make sense." Limited tech resource access means limited progress for the IoT industry, Hope noted: "U.S. technology is driven by start-ups. It's a bottom up industry that requires that access to tools be made as widely available as possible."
5) The technology that powers smart devices is progressing at lightning speeds.
What might not be possible today could be as easy as one tap on a screen tomorrow. Printed sensor technology, for instance, is rapidly accelerating to accommodate data storage needs. Mobile networks, aware of the imminent IoT development boom, are already preparing to make IoT devices more efficient.
Right now, your smartphone might be the only connected device you use. In just a few years' time, however, your entire home, from your closet to your bathroom and home gym, may be inextricably interconnected through IoT networks. Whether it's a stove that cooks your eggs just the way you like them as soon as your alarm buzzes or a personal assistant bot that follows you to the office with your hefty briefcase, we say, bring on the IoT.