What does it really mean to have all these devices connected to the Internet? Is there any real value involved? Just because you can, does it mean that you should?
Hang around the Web long enough and you’ll see more than your share of cartoons mocking the Internet of Things. (I refer, of course, to the collection of uniquely identifiable devices that are connected to the Internet and are capable of transmitting and receiving data over that connection.) “We have to go out for dinner,” runs one typical caption. “The refrigerator isn’t speaking to the stove.” It’s easy to poke fun at gadgets such as video-enabled toothbrushes and smart tampons, but don’t let these facepalm-worthy devices distract you from the serious side of IoT. Market research firm Gartner predicts that over 6 billion IoT nodes will be connected this year, while a report from DHL Trend Research and Cisco [PDF] Consulting Services puts the number at 15 billion. That’s a lot of “things,” and the only trend everyone can agree on is that these numbers are going to get bigger. The good news for language watchers is that as the IoT grows, so does the lingo surrounding it. A full glossary of IoT-related terms would fill a year’s worth of columns, so I’ll just spend the rest of this column looking at a few noteworthy coinages.
A big chunk of the Internet of Things consists of wireless transceivers combined with sensors, which can reside in appliances, devices, clothes, machinery, buildings—just about anything physical. Of course, the phrase “wireless transceiver combined with sensors” is unwieldy, so such a node of the IoT is called a mote (short for remote). Evcery mote worthy of the name needs to have addressability, the condition of being not only uniquely identifiable but also findable. The system that manages addressability is called the Identity of Things (IDoT).
IoT in an industrial setting is called IIoT (Industrial IoT), which often consists of cyberphysical systems that combine networks and mechanical components. When the network in question is the cloud, the system that manages the delivery of services and data is called Things as a Service (TaaS).
Our cars, already jammed with thousands of sensors, will communicate not only with the mother ship (the manufacturer) to check for updates but also with each other (V2V, or vehicle-to-vehicle), with the driver (V2P, or vehicle-to-person), and with their surroundings (V2I, or vehicle-to-infrastructure), thus creating the Internet of Cars (or, more generally, the Internet of Vehicles). We’ll have our e-health monitored minutely, thanks to the army of external and internal physiological sensors that make up our own body-area network (BAN).
This likely means that those IT departments that are only now getting comfortable with the idea of BYOD (bring your own device) will soon have to gear up for BYOW (bring your own wearable). These might have to be COPE (corporately owned, personally enabled) devices, where the user controls the data but IT controls the security.
Allegedly smart TVs and refrigerators are only a hint of things to come on the home front. Soon our residences will be bristling with domotics (domestic informatics), including Internet-connected security systems, automation systems, robots, and more. We’ll also be in constant contact with the Social Web of Things (SWoT), the social-network-aware component of IoT. Want to watch a TV show or go to a restaurant? Now you’ll know which of your friends did the same thing and whether they liked it. This is a subset of the larger idea of crowdsensing, which refers to obtaining information about an environment by accessing the sensor data generated via the smartphones and other devices used by a large number of people in that environment.
You can see where all this is going. Eventually, we’ll end up with the Internet of Everything (IoE), which takes us beyond the M2M (machine-to-machine) nature of the Internet of Things to include people in the equation, making it M2P (machine-to-person). So now that our toothbrushes and tampons are motes on the network, soon we will be, too. Welcome to the machine.
This article appears in the October 2016 print issue as “The Internet of Word-Things.”