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The Things Have Eyes: An Introduction to IoT

January 22, 2020

A moment, if you will, to appreciate that name, the “internet of things.”

Our tech gods have spoken. 

In the era of digital transformation and innovation, the internet of things (IoT) has carved an express path to prominence. It’s an honest-to-goodness phenomenon, heralding the next industrial revolution and untold transformations in the way we live and work. It was recently ranked the most important technology initiative by senior executives, even ahead of artificial intelligence (AI).

It has managed these feats, somehow, while sporting that ridiculous name. Internet of things? The gall.

Not since Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie has a detail seemed so absurd, but so fitting of the moment. Enterprise companies and brands are tripping over themselves to prioritize IoT. Budgets are siphoning into connected devices at an obscene rate. While estimates are only estimates, these devices that already outnumber the human population are expected to multiply next year, and again the year after that.

The internet of things was named in a hurry, but its runaway success is due to the casual hilarity of the concept. Our stuff is communicating. Our things have eyes. To paraphrase the prophet Xzibit—or rather, an Xzibit meme—we heard you like things, so we’re putting things in your things.

The name says it all, and is easy enough for a baby to learn. It’s not hyperconverged infrastructure, or biometric authentication, it’s the internet of things, dude. However silly it all seems, the technology and its implications are as serious as a coronary. Yes the name is ridiculous, but no more so than than people having conversations with their fridges; we accept the name and the proposition in unison, with open arms and appreciation. 

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It’s the stuff of legend, and we’re thrilled to cover its continuing rise with a dedicated series on the G2 Research Hub

Defining the internet of things

Technology is not a competition. But if it were, the internet of things (IoT) would be cleaning up right now. Global spending on IoT is projected to surpass $1 trillion by 2022, nearly doubling spending from $646 billion in 2018. Depending on how you define an IoT object—and whom you ask—the total number of connected devices will hover anywhere from 20 billion to 200 billion in 2020. 

To what do we attribute this stark-raving madness? And are we all talking about the same thing(s)? 

IoT does not describe one software or gadget, but a collection of appliances and systems that work and communicate in harmony to collect information. A significant portion of these assets consists of devices that have been around for decades (e.g., thermostats, conveyor belts), but upgraded with intelligent sensors.

MontyRedPromoSquare

In the broadest sense, IoT is not just a new technology.

It's a new philosophy. 

 

If there’s an embedded, internet-ready sensor in a place it previously wasn't—whether that’s a consumer product or a massive chunk of machinery—one could argue it fits under the IoT umbrella. This is regardless of how the sensor is eventually put to use, and the role each device plays in the larger network of objects. This gray area helps to explain the disparity between IoT projections. 

Despite the varying perspectives, few will argue that the IoT is scaling fast, and that the speculative benefits are sui generis.

Scenario: In the year 20XX, your car brings you home from a hard day’s work. It talks with the other cars on the road, the stop lights, and the traffic satellites to safely navigate the most efficient route. At different points, it communicates with your oven to start dinner and your garage door to open. All these devices and appliances work together on the internet, signaling each other and exchanging data. Thanks to this data, they can perform their jobs better tomorrow.

Now picture a manufacturing plant. Now picture a logistics company.

On a micro scale, smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home are already a fixture in our personal lives. These small devices are IoT on full display. As our homes march toward their smart futures, Alexa and Siri will serve as the HAL 9000s of our lives, commanding our connected devices at our direction. 

RELATED: Learn successful strategies for integrating voice assistant technology in devices, here

The pieces are in place; smart speaker ownership rose 44% in 2018. More than a quarter of adults in the United States own some variation of the technology. Granted, many only use them as fancy egg timers or music shufflers, but the endless variety of use cases of these devices will be realized in the coming years. In the grand scheme of (smart) things, it doesn’t matter that we’re not yet experts on the technology; what matters is that the technology is there, in our living rooms, garages, and leisure caves. Now that it’s there, this accessible form of AI can gradually teach us how to make the most of it, as it bridges the gaps between our belongings and daily routines.

On the macro side, entire cities are adopting IoT devices and principles—among other advancements—and graduating to smart cities. Today’s urban development strategists have no choice but to consider the possible benefits of IoT devices. Connected devices, roadways, and buildings can help cities run more efficiently and improve safety. Traffic management, energy preservation, and emergency response affect public safety, and are just a few areas IoT can help address. And who could forget our drone friends, that will autonomously deliver packages and survey land space with help from real-time data?

A recent study by Smart City Index ranks cities by their current implementation of smart technologies and how they improve the lives of locals. Singapore and Zurich are leading at the moment, but the bigger story is how many cities make the cut right now. If your city isn’t smart yet, it may be well on its way. 

According to tech industry lore, the first proper IoT device was a Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon. A few students sought to simplify their soda trips, and see if the machine was stocked with cold ones from afar. Little could they have known the potential for this concept, and how it would unify humble homes and enterprise corporations through the shared wonders of the internet. Homeowners are realizing the potential for these devices along the same timeline as city governments and Fortune 500 companies. While the use cases are extremely varied, the macro and micro in IoT have more in common than not.

From your sidewalk to your toothbrush, no object or device is off limits in IoT. The diversity of solutions, both current and imminent, make the internet of things tricky to define. The combined markets of IoT comprise modern devices, sensors used to upgrade existing devices, and the smattering of IoT management software across the IoT landscape handles development, configuration, reporting, and more. On the whole, these markets will surpass a trillion dollars in the next couple years, as the possibilities and outcomes of IoT continue to evolve.

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Discussing the internet of things

Like other trends in digital transformation, IoT cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. It’s a continuous story, covered by major publications on a daily basis. Just as the OG internet rewrote (and is still rewriting) history, the IoT is making bigger waves than anyone imagined. And like the internet before it, IoT will slowly pervade our personal and professional lives—whether we’re ready or not.

Everything, and every thing, is poised to change.

“The opportunity we have is to build a secure, intelligent platform that solves some of the world’s greatest problems at scale. That’s what’s possible with hundreds of billions of connections and the capabilities that we can deliver together.”

Chuck Robbins
CEO, Cisco

As the leader in B2B technology insights, G2 is joining the conversation to offer timely analysis of all things IoT. Our research analysts will continue to touch on new breakthroughs, big releases, and inevitable drawbacks and hurdles in this revolutionary space. (Buckle up for IoT security, cybersecurity folks.)

It’s important to mention artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and blockchain. These three buzz terms are on every business owner’s lips. In a way, the fates of these technologies are interwoven. AI will make IoT more intelligent, while blockchain will make IoT more secure. Industrial robots will communicate via IoT to learn their surroundings, make decisions, and plan their eventual takeover. All in due time. 

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As we consider the IoT from different angles, this synergy will be a common talking point, as progress in one arena greatly affects others. The things of tomorrow are here today. No matter the size of your business, the IoT is likely to change the way you work, and your life outside the office. We hope to provide solid resources to understand, prepare for, and make the most of this unprecedented movement.

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