You’ve probably heard a term called the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s not something you can buy in a store – it’s not a product, a single idea, piece of technology, or owned by one company. The IoT involves embedding the Internet into devices through sensors. These sensors don’t just collect data – they send it across the Internet to the cloud, where it’s usually merged with more data. The cloud is what makes the IoT so useful because it’s where powerful new insights are discovered. The cloud has the ability to collect data from different sensors and from totally separate online data sources. As a result, we can be better informed, waste fewer precious resources, and make smarter decisions.

Although the IoT is a relatively new term, the concept itself is not. Machines in factories and industrial plants have been connected to one another for many decades. However, such systems have been stand-alone examples, and not connected to the outside world.

Clearly, the IoT is quickly changing how modern society works. Let’s look at a few examples to understand how it works and affects our lives.

Examples of the IoT

You’ve probably noticed the rise of smart homes. The IoT connection is being implemented across domestic appliances such as TVs, thermostats, bulbs, plugs, home security cameras, and baby monitors. Through the IoT, you can connect your smartphone to these smart devices, allowing you to remotely operate your home appliances. For instance, your home may one day connect to your car, know when you’re driving home from work, and perhaps preheat the oven and switch on the air conditioning. As you arrive home, the door may open automatically, and the hallway lights may switch on. That’s intelligent automation – and it’s why people are so excited about the IoT.

The IoT can help us keep an eye on the health of our environment. For example, sensors have been placed on roads to count cars and on buildings to monitor the air quality in cities. The data collected is sent to computers to analyze and make necessary adjustments to improve our public health.

Similarly, the IoT allows farmers to react to real-time data in order to properly manage crops without wasting resources. Take the case of a farmer who may have sensors in the field to monitor the moisture of the soil, which trigger an automatic irrigation system when the data indicates the soil is dry. However, because the sensors are reacting to real-time data, the irrigation system won’t turn on if meteorologists are predicting rain later that day. As a result, the farmer can save water, without his crops suffering.

The IoT offers valuable insights based on its tracking capabilities when mobile sensors use GPS to record the geographical locations of things. Examples include sensors attached to airplanes, vehicles, and ships, enabling computers to accurately keep track of them while they’re traveling around the world.

That same IoT tracking technology is also being used to gain new insight into the movements of endangered species. For example, a rhino tracker can digitally map the location of the animals in a park, allowing antipoaching staff to take positions close by. Used with a system of cameras, that real-time data could also allow staff to remotely open and close gates to keep animals away from where poachers are spotted, or are known to operate.

With the help of the IoT, the Internet has become a network of not just computers, but things. And if you’re carrying a smartphone, that includes you.

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Jamie Carter

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Jamie Carter

Jamie Carter is a science writer specializing in emerging technology. His work has appeared in many international publications including TechRadar, Scientific American, Sky & Telescope, the South China Morning Post, The Telegraph and The Guardian. He tweets at @jamieacarter.

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