The Internet of Things (IoT) is a scenario in which every thing has a unique identifier and the ability to communicate over the Internet or a similar wide-area network (WAN).
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The technologies for an Internet of Things are already in place. Things, in this context, can be people, animals, servers, applications, shampoo bottles, cars, steering wheels, coffee machines, park benches or just about any other random item that comes to mind. Once something has a unique identifier, it can be tagged, assigned a uniform resource identifier (URI) and monitored over a network. The Internet of Things is an evolutionary outcome of the trend towards ubiquitous computing, a scenario in which processors are embedded in everyday objects.
Although the concept wasn't named until 1999, the Internet of Things has been in development for decades. The first Internet appliance was a Coke machine at Carnegie Melon University in the early 1980s. Programmers working several floors above the vending machine wrote a server program that tracked how long it had been since a storage column in the machine had been empty. The programmers could connect to the machine over the Internet, check the status of the machine and determine whether or not there would be a cold drink awaiting them, should they decide to make the trip down to the machine.
Kevin Ashton, cofounder and executive director of the Auto-ID Center at MIT, first mentioned the Internet of Things in a presentation he made to Procter & Gamble. Here’s how Ashton explains the potential of the Internet of Things:
“Today computers—and, therefore, the Internet—are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information. Nearly all of the roughly 50 petabytes (a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes) of data available on the Internet were first captured and created by human beings—by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture or scanning a bar code… The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy—all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world… If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best.”
IPv6’s huge increase in address space is another factor in the development of the Internet of Things. According to Steve Leibson, who identifies himself as “occasional docent at the Computer History Museum,” the address space expansion means that we could “assign an IPV6 address to every atom on the surface of the earth, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths.” In other words, we could easily assign an IP address to every thing that we wanted to monitor.