For more than a decade we’ve seen specialized computers built into everything from shipping containers to refrigerators. Makes sense after all. Who doesn’t want to know when they’re running out of milk or whether their shipment of shoes is in Texas or California? But what if you didn’t actually need a built-in computer measure the contents of your fridge and track the location of your merchandise? What if all you really needed was some sort of identification or code that could provide the same information when it’s scanned or transmitted to another computer that provides the same sorts of information?
That’s the basis of an increasingly important technology that is loosely dubbed the Internet of Things or IoT
IoT doesn’t require anyone to build a computer into anything. Thanks to modern technology, it just isn’t necessary. Instead, all you need is a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag or any other unique identification system such as bar code labels or even two dimensional shapes that are either attached or imprinted right on the “thing” they’re indentifying. Kind of like an IP address (another form of unique identification) only without the need for a built-in computer.
Of course, you still need some sort of computer to gather, analyze, interpret, and report whatever data possible but that computer isn’t actually built into the device it’s measuring. In fact, all you really need now is some way to connect, transmit, and/or receive data from the Internet. That’s why it’s called the Internet of Things because it basically asserts that anything we can identify (basically everything) can also be used to capture and share information over the internet.
Perhaps most importantly, IoT doesn’t really require any input from humans. An RFID tag determines the geo-location of a shipping container and automatically transmits the information to a satellite where it is then re-transmitted to a ground station and downloaded to a database where it is always available even if it’s never needed. No human interaction necessary but rather things communicating and creating data that may not be important now but might be later so there it is — just in case you need it.
And why not? It really isn’t that expensive when compared to the cost of so-called human middleware which, let’s face it, can be buggy and does make mistakes. While you certainly can’t remove all risk from any situation, RFID and bar codes are generally pretty reliable. That means there really isn’t anything to lose and quite a bit to gain from the Internet of Things and that’s why we’re seeing it pop up in more and more of the most unexpected places.
In the example of a refrigerator, it may be as simple as a bar code reader that recognizes a carton of milk was removed but never returned. As humans, we automatically wonder if the milk was in fact left out on the counter and waste too much time trying to determine its actual status. But a refrigerator doesn’t care; it only `recognizes a missing carton of milk and whatever computer that information is transmitted to then puts milk on the shopping list. If the milk is returned later then that information is also transmitted and milk is removed from the shopping list. No fretting. No analysis paralysis. It just is what it is. Humans aren’t programmed that way because we have to think about it.
These are just two examples to help represent the potential for IoT and why it’s gaining so much attention. Just think about all the information that can be gained from something as simple as a unique identification and, of course, the wonders of the Internet. Now consider how much more might be possible with the still fairly recent introduction of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPV6) which makes it even easier to uniquely identify even more object with Internet-ready IPV6 addresses.
Theories abound but who really knows what’s next. Maybe the Internet of People (IoP)? Now that would sure cut down on a lot of problems but maybe our ability to get lost, make mistakes, and generally act illogical is exactly what makes us human.