The IoT: The Internet of Things

Paula LaBrot

Words are symbols for objects and concepts. We hear the word, dog, and we have an immediate understanding of what the word means. So, what the heck does Internet of Things (IoT) mean?

It’s a popular term, but not a lot of folks have a sense of what it really is.

In laymen’s terms, the IoT is connected devices that use embedded sensors—sensors within the device—to collect and exchange information back and forth on the internet. By 2020 there could be 26-100 billion “things” connected to the internet.

What kind of “things?” Everything. And everybody. Including you.


Let’s start with a smart house. A smart home is equipped with internet-connected products that link to remote control dashboards on a phone, tablet or computer. Two things are needed to make homes truly “smart,” writes Ira Brodsky in Computerworld. 

“First are sensors and actuators (controls that cause something to happen) on the appliances that provide information and obey commands.” These devices are already present in digital appliances like a refrigerator or in security systems.

“Second are protocols and tools that enable all of these devices, regardless of who makes them, to communicate with each other.” So, you may scan your grocery receipts, and your Samsung smart fridge will analyze its own contents and begin creating shopping lists, menus based on your taste and/or health issues, and sending food expiration date warnings to your phone while your Nest security system informs you something unknown has come in the dog door and it’s not the dog.

The IoT makes it possible to manipulate devices in real time like thermostats or sprinkler systems. It even allows devices to talk to each other and make decisions without your input, like when to turn up the heat or when to water, based on sensors scanning weather or soil conditions. The GPS in your car can “talk” to your thermostat when you are 10 minutes out from arriving home and have the house warm for you when you walk in the door. Your favorite music is playing on your Bluetooth speaker.



M2M (machine to machine) technologies are also transforming agriculture. reports, “Precision farming is a process by which data is gathered and managed by multiple technologies such as in-field, in-building, or in-animal sensors and remote (satellite and drone) sensing systems.” Sensors and actuators can “talk” to irrigation sources or automatic fertilizing machines, telling them exactly when and how much to deliver. They can activate robotic pickers when a crop is just perfectly ripe. The IoT will increase production, cut waste, cut labor costs and up food production 70 percent by 2050, transforming farming all over the world.

The IoT in business has limitless applications. An Information Value Loop is a framework that captures the series and sequence of activities by which organizations create value ($) from information. Sensor-driven business models can create superior value. Problems can be solved before they become a problem. For example, in a supply chain, data collection can provide information on when supplies are high or low, activating machinery only when necessary, avoiding over- or under-production.

In insurance, premiums will be linked to sensors in cars, measuring driving behavior and charging accordingly. Airplane manufacturers are building airframes with networked sensors that send continuous data on product wear and tear to their computers, allowing for proactive maintenance and reducing unplanned downtime. Billboards in Japan analyze passersby, assessing how they fit consumer profiles, instantly changing displayed messages based on those assessments. The applications of the IoT are endless.

A “Thing” on the Internet of Things does not have to be an object. It can be you, a person. A sensor is a sensor; it’s not picky about the “thing” from which it is collecting data. The IoT-MD (medical) collects vitals and transmits them to a secure platform (Hmmmm. We’ll see about that security).

Medical conditions and medical devices can be managed in real time. Pacemakers and insulin pumps can be controlled remotely. There are smart heart rate monitors, blood pressure cuffs, asthma inhalers and pill bottles. However, this sector of the IoT has especially inherent vulnerabilities. Starting with battery failure and ending with the hacking of someone’s pacemaker, the possibilities of things going wrong are not to be ignored. (There’s a film script in here somewhere.)

“The IoT offers endless opportunities, many of which we cannot fully understand the impact of today,” says Futurist Jacob Morgan. I say, beyond the wonderful, chaotic adventures and advances the IoT will give us, some future soul will still want to have a little, organic, family-run creamery to produce an artisan (hand-handled) product. Someone will want to sail by the stars, just for the heck of it. And someone will want to sleep, unwired, unconnected, with a devoted dog by their side.    

Vamos a ver!


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.

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