As the internet, mobile phones, and electronics in general become embedded into virtually every facet of our lives, connectivity between devices and the additional layer of functionality that that entails is becoming an increasingly important focus of manufacturers, software developers, and technology innovators.
The "Internet of Things" (IoT) is the most recent iteration of a decades-long push towards greater inter-device integration and automation aimed at improving the accuracy, efficiency, and cost-affordability of the devices individuals and businesses use on a daily basis.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things is essentially a network of devices (such as appliances, phones, computers, personal electronics and more) that have internet connectivity built into them, allowing them to send and receive data autonomously. The "things" or connectivity-enabled devices in the IoT all have unique identifiers that allow them to transmit data and communicate with one another without human input.
The IoT extends far beyond laptops and mobile phones, and includes a wide array of devices, appliances, and machinery with built-in internet connectivity and data sharing functions, tremendously increasing their utility and functionality.
The IoT and its vast potential for improving the efficacy and efficiency of the objects we interact with every day has provided the impetus for an explosion in the amount of internet-enabled devices currently being manufactured. Researchers estimate that there are more than 12 billion devices that can currently connect to the internet and that, by 2020, there will be 26 times as many connected things as individual humans on the planet.
A study published by Gartner, an international research firm, estimates that, by 2020, there will be roughly 20.8 billion internet-enabled devices that store, analyze and transmit data to us and one another. In 2016, almost 5.5 million things will be added to the IoT every single day. Many of these objects will be household items that you interact with on a daily basis and many of them are things that you may not even know are already internet-connected and already exist in the IoT.
Light Bulbs — Phillips Hue LED Light Bulbs have a "bridge" that allows you to connect your smartphone or tablet to your LED light bulbs. Users can program their lighting according to their preferences remotely and can fine tune it with remarkable precision.
Whether it's dimming the lights at certain times of the day or automatically coordinating the lighting in your room with the Netflix program you're watching, Phillips IoT-enabled light bulbs allow users ultimate customization via their Wi-Fi capabilities and bridge that connects to users' smartphones.
Shirts — The Polotech Shirt by Ralph Lauren has silver fibers woven directly into the fabric of the shirt. These silver fibers allow the shirt to connect with your iPhone or Apple Watch and receive instantaneous, real-time workout data.
From determining your heart rate to measuring your energy output, IoT-enabled T-shirts are revolutionizing the way people work out and track their athletic performance. Internet-enabled t-shirts and the apps that they use to display the data they aggregate often offer user-specific health advice to improve athletic performance and optimize workouts according to individuals' needs and preferences.
Refrigerators — From specialized tech companies to industry giants such as LG, internet-enabled "smart" refrigerators are the next iteration in food storage technology and are poised to drastically improve the efficiency and ease of food storage.
These smart fridges automatically keep track of food stocks and expiration dates by scanning barcodes and sending the data to an app on the user's phone, letting him or her know exactly what is in the fridge and when it is set to expire. Often, these IoT-enabled refrigerators are programmed to independently determine whenever a particular foodstuff needs to be restocked.
Television Sets — "Connected" TVs are IoT-enabled television sets that have integrated Web 2.0 and internet features. These connected TVs allow users access to internet applications, user-generated content, streaming providers, and interactive services.
While many TVs become IoT-enabled via external machines such as game consoles or digital media players � devices that already have internet and data-sharing capabilities � many television sets currently being produced go farther. These new sets offer integrated internet connectivity and custom operating systems that give users total internet integration in their TV.
Washing Machines — Many newer washing machines come with robust internet integration, providing users with an unprecedented level of control over their washing. Most smart washing machines have built-in Wi-Fi and software that transmits data to downloadable apps on the user's phone.
The apps allow users to remotely control washing cycles, receive finishing alerts, and track water and energy usage to plan washing cycles more efficiently. IoT-enabled machines even have integrated trouble shooting solutions that instantly inform users of any issues that the machine may be experiencing.
Security Systems — Many homes have security systems and with the advent of the IoT, a lot of new security systems have integrated internet capabilities allowing users to have direct control over their home security on their smartphone or tablet device. Most of these security systems have dedicated hubs that connect to a home's router, allowing the hub to transmit all relevant data to whatever device the user prefers.
Air Conditioners — Air conditioners can be incredibly costly and, at the same time, are absolutely necessary in certain climates. IoT-compatible air conditioners feature integrated internet solutions that connect to your home's router and allow users remote control over their air conditioning systems via smartphones or tablet devices. Users can develop tailor-made, totally automatic air conditioning settings based on personal schedules, temperature preferences, and budgeting concerns.
Lawn Sprinkler Systems — Companies like Lono allow users to connect home and business sprinkler systems to the internet and manage them remotely. Users simply install an application onto their phone that connects to Lono's Wi-Fi-enabled hardware and can manage each aspect of their sprinkler system and their lawn care preferences directly from their phones.
Another impressive feature is that Lono's hardware also connects to various weather monitoring services to determine optimal sprinkler settings for the various parts of your property.
Cooking Appliances — Cooking is an inherently time-sensitive task which is why leading manufacturers of cooking appliances are increasingly making their devices internet compatible. IoT-enabled cooking appliances connect to a home's router and can be managed remotely from a user's smartphone, allowing them to adjust heat settings, monitor cooking status, and turn appliances on and off remotely.
Thermostat Systems — Internet-enabled smart thermostats are perhaps the most well-known recent innovation in IoT. Most smart thermostats, the most famous of which is Nest, have integrated Wi-Fi and internet connectivity that relay all relevant information to a device of your choosing.
They are pre-programmable and can be controlled remotely, allowing users to heat their homes according to their exact preferences and adjust settings to maximize the cost-effectiveness of their heat usage.
IoT and the increasing trend of internet-enabling the devices and products we interact with on a daily basis is a rapidly growing economic phenomenon that is affecting every sector of the global economy. Given the increases in efficiency and convenience, as well as the unprecedented level of control that IoT-enabled devices give to users, it is unlikely that this trend will wane anytime soon.
Furthermore, with increased rates of adoption and an ever-growing public enthusiasm for IoT-compatible devices, many of the IoT products that are out of most people's budgets now will become more than affordable for average households in the near future, becoming well-placed to revolutionize the way we work, live, and play forever.