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What is IoT?

What does IoT mean/stand for?
“IoT” stands for “Internet of Things,” and refers to any device that connects to another device over a network. Most people are familiar with smart home and car navigation systems, but the Internet of Things also includes lesser-known devices such as soil moisture sensors, heart monitors, and self-repairing mechanisms for manufacturing. IoT has received a lot of attention over the past ten years for its tremendous potential to change the way people conduct just about every part of their lives, for better or worse. 

The central difference between IoT and the regular internet is that on the internet, most users are people. What if, instead of people, data was sent and received by machines? The first device on the Internet of Things was a vending machine built by computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in 1982 that could report its inventory, meaning you could always check if there was a cold soda in the machine before giving it change.

How does IoT work?
IoT works similarly to a computer or smartphone in that it connects to other devices over a network. That does not necessarily mean that the soil moisture sensor, for example, connects over the world wide web. Instead, IoT devices use closed networks, which offsets security concerns. In the case of the soil moisture sensor, the information is collected and irrigation systems can respond to that data, making large-scale farming “smarter” than ever before. Futuristic developments in IoT, like artificial intelligence that can “learn” from the data it is given, appear on the market every year.

What are IoT devices?
IoT devices require tiny chips that allow connectivity. These chips are so small that the possibility of connected contact lenses is not far off in the future. Today it is popular in the US to “chip” pet cats and dogs, so that if they are lost, a quick computer scan will reveal the information of the owner, even if the collar has gone missing. IoT devices collect data through a variety of sensors, which allows analysis over time.

What is an IoT cloud platform?
An IoT cloud platform allows the information collected by the connected devices to be stored in the cloud, instead of on a server or physical drive. The advantage of cloud storage in a nutshell is that managing one’s own server is tricky: building server infrastructure is a complex challenge, even without considering scale. Cloud computing allows for extra space to be purchased quickly and efficiently, and the large companies like Google and Amazon, who maintain many widely used cloud platforms, ensure that the infrastructure is flexible enough to account for any IoT device’s needs.

How can IoT affect the environment?
IoT has already started changing the environment around us, and will surely continue to do so over the next several decades. IoT devices for civil engineering, like red-light cameras, are already commonplace. Industry sectors such as farming and manufacturing make use of more and more IoT devices every year, while consumer products like activity monitors and smartwatches remain popular. 

There are many drawbacks associated with IoT, especially when it comes to standardization and privacy. What kind of data are you comfortable giving away, even if it’s not attached to your name? How should that information be stored? That said, as in the case of smartphones and computers, the convenience and innovative potential outweigh privacy and surveillance concerns, so the way of the future seems to be finding a way to use IoT devices thoughtfully, ethically, and cautiously.

What's the future of IoT?
The possibilities of IoT are endless; think of any science fiction movie come to life. From biometrics and bionics to futuristic rail systems, the most exciting developments in IoT are still ahead of us. IoT is highly responsive to current events, making predictions all but impossible. Two examples of IoT devices no one could have seen coming include smart thermometers for flagging COVID-19 cases, as outlined in an article by NetworkWorld and QR code-based contact tracing systems, which you can learn more about in an article by CTV News. What the future beyond 2021 will bring is anyone’s guess, but it’s certain that the Internet of Things is all around us, and is here to stay.