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What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?


The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects that are fitted with sensors, software and other technologies. Connected to the Internet, these ‘things’ are able to exchange real time data with other connected devices and systems over networks. These connected devices combine with automated systems to gather IoT data that can be analysed to assist with tasks or learn how to improve a process.

Some people argue that just because an object can connect to the Internet and share data, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it should. However, despite this, an increasing number of objects are joining the Internet of Things in order to provide information, improve the industrial efficiency of applications, saving time and emissions, a improve how services are delivered to the public.

Despite the many positives provided by the IoT, there are also concerns over privacy and the security of data sets, IP addresses, and more. Industry and governments are working to address these concerns through the development of international IoT standards.

IoT Definition

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a network of physical objects that are connected to the Internet so that they can exchange data and information in order to improve productivity, efficiency, services, and more.

IoT technology can be found in a growing number of places, including industry, enabling the concept of a smart home to become a reality, and even to assist the infrastructure of an entire smart city.

How does it Work?

The Internet of Things has been made possible due to the development and coming together of a range of technologies, real-time analytics, IoT sensors, embedded systems, wireless systems, automation, control systems and machine learning.

The IoT works through devices and objects with built in sensors that connect to the Internet and share data to a platform that applies analytics and shares the information with applications designed to address specific needs.

IoT platforms are designed to determine which data is of use and which can be discarded in order to detect patterns, make recommendations and find problems, often before they occur.

This all allows processes to become more efficient as well as allowing certain tasks to be automated, particularly those that are repetitive, time consuming, or dangerous. For example, if you are driving and see the engine fault light turn on, your connected car can check the sensor and communicate with others in the vehicle before sending data to the manufacturer. The manufacturer can then offer an appointment to fix the fault at your nearest dealer and ensure that the required replacement parts are in stock ready for when you arrive.

The Internet Of Things (IoT)


Who Invented IoT?

The idea of a network of smart devices was first discussed in 1982, with a modified Coca-Cola vending machine at Carnegie Mellon University becoming the first Internet-connected appliance. This machine was able to report on its stock and whether newly loaded drinks were cold or not.

However, it was Mark Weiser’s 1991 paper, ‘The Computer of the 21st Century,’ as well as work at places such as UbiComp and PerCom that produced the contemporary vision of the Internet of Things.

This vision was expanded upon through the 1990s before the term ‘The Internet of Things’ was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton who worked at both Procter and Gamble and MIT’s Auto-ID Centre. Although he actually preferred the term, ‘The Internet for Things,’ Ashton believed that rado frequency identification (RFID) was essential for the IoT, in order to allow computers to manage each device or object.

While the IoT was not fully realised until around 2008-2009 (see below), it could be argued that it was conceived of by Weiser and Ashton, building on past work such as the Coca-Cola machine, even if they didn’t fully ‘invent’ it.

When was it Created?

As mentioned above, the Internet of Things was created based upon a series of earlier developments and breakthroughs. While the Carnegie mellon University’s vending machine was installed in 1982, this can’t really be called the start of the IoT as a whole.

The notion of the IoT was created in 1991 and further developed through the 1990s with Reza Raji describing the concept at the IEEE Spectrum in 1994. Several companies proposed IoT style solutions between 1993 and 1997 before Bill Joy envisioned device-to-device communication as part of his ‘Six Webs’ framework at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1999.

The actual term ‘the Internet of Things’ was created by Kevin Ashton in 1999, although the time when objects were connected directly to the Internet really began between 2008 and 2009.

What is it Used For?

IoT technology is used for a wide range of applications, from domestic uses such as home security, thermostats and lighting fixtures, to industrial uses for manufacture, defence applications, and more. These various applications can broadly be split into commercial, consumer, industrial and infrastructure uses.

Here are some common applications for IoT technology:

1. Consumer Applications​

There is a wide range of consumer uses for IoT, including connected vehicles, connected health, home automation (such as lighting and speaker systems), wearable technologies, and appliances the include remote monitoring capabilities, such as remote video-enabled doorbells. Many of these are also part of the smart home.

2. Smart Home Applications

Lighting, heating and air conditioning as well as media and security systems are all part of an IoT-enabled home. These can provide energy savings by turning of devices that are not needed. Many smart homes are based around a central platform or hub that connects with smart devices and appliances. These are usually controlled from a smartphone, tablet or other device, sometimes without the need for a Wi-Fi bridge. These systems can be linked to standalone platforms such as Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod, or use an open source ecosystem like Home Assistant or OpenHAB.

3. Care Applications

Internet-enabled devices can also deliver invaluable assistance for the elderly or those with disabilities, providing a better quality of life. For example, voice controlled devices can assist users with sight or mobility limitations and alert systems can be connected directly to cochlear implants for hearing impaired users. Sensors can also monitor for medical emergencies such as falls.

4. Medical and Healthcare Applications

The IoT can be used for a number of different medical and healthcare purposes including data collection and analysis for research and patient monitoring. When used in such settings, the IoT is referred to as ‘The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).’

The IoMT, also known as ‘smart healthcare,’ connects resources and services to provide a digitised healthcare system able to monitor health and emergency notification systems including blood pressure and heart rate monitors, pacemakers, and advanced hearing aids.  Taking this further, some hospitals have installed ‘smart beds’ that can detect if they are occupied and if a patient is trying to get up. These beds can also be adjusted to ensure the correct pressure and support is automatically provided to the patient.

On a smaller scale, advances in electronic fabrication means that low-cost, disposable and portable IoMT sensors can be placed on paper or fabric to provide point of care medical diagnostics.

IoMT can also be used to manage, control or prevent chronic diseases via remote monitoring. Using wireless solutions, this allows health practitioners to capture patient data and apply algorithms for health data analysis.

Other healthcare applications include consumer devices designed to encourage a healthier lifestyle, such as connected scales or fitness monitors.

Outside of healthcare settings, IoMT is also now being used in the health insurance industry, including sensor-based solutions such as wearables, connected health devices, and mobile apps to track customer behaviour and provide more accurate underwriting and pricing models.

5. Transport Applications

The Internet of Things has numerous applications for transport, for example with inter-vehicular and intra-vehicular communication, smart traffic control, smart parking, toll collection, logistics, fleet management, vehicle control, safety and road assistance. Bringing together vehicles with the transport infrastructure, IoT can also deliver vehicle-to-everything communication (V2X), vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure communication (V2I) and vehicle-to-pedestrian communication (V2P). These IoT communication systems are paving the way for autonomous driving,connected cars and connected road infrastructures.

6. Building Applications

IoT devices can monitor and control aspects of various types of building, including mechanical, electrical and electronic systems. The integration of the Internet with buildings create smart buildings that can help reduce energy consumption and monitor occupant behaviour.

7. Industrial Applications

Industrial Iot (IIoT) devices allow for data from equipment, technologies and locations to be collected and analysed. The IIoT also allows for automated updates for assets to maintain efficiencies and prevent lost time and money for repairs and other situations.

8. Manufacturing Applications

The IoT can connect manufacturing devices to allow for network control and management to deliver smart manufacturing processes. These systems allow for the optimisation of products, processes and supply chains as well as responses to product demands. The IoT can help deliver enhanced safety and reliability via predictive maintenance, statistical evaluation, and measurements to maximise reliability.

9. Agriculture​ Applications

Agricultural IoT applications include data collection for weather conditions, soil content or pest infestation. The data can help automate farming techniques, inform decisions, improve safety, reduce waste and increase efficiency. Using artificial intelligence and specific computer programmes can improve everything from soil maintenance to fish farming.

10. Infrastructure Applications

IoT can be used to monitor and control sustainable urban and rural infrastructure, including bridges, railway tracks or wind farms. Maintaining assets and minimising risk, data collection can allow for structural conditions to be monitored to introduce safety and productivity improvements, cost savings, time reduction and more. Real-time analytics can help schedule repair and maintenance.

11. Metropolitan Applications

Entire cities can be managed with the help of the IoT, to create a smart city that offers a range of benefits for residents. These benefits include everything from parking space location, environmental monitoring, traffic management, reduced pollution, security systems, lighting, digital signage, pubic Wi-Fi, paperless ticketing, waterway management, smart bus stops, smart kiosks, and more. 

12. Energy Management Applications

Internet connectivity can provide energy consumption management for lamps, household appliances, industrial assets and more. Energy consuming devices can be managed remotely to save energy when they are not required. As a side application, the smart grid can collect data on energy use to improve efficiencies and electricity distribution.

13. Environmental Monitoring Applications

Monitoring air or water quality is another way in which IoT-enabled sensors can change our world. The IoT allows for data to be collected on wildlife movements, soil condition and more. The IoT can also monitor for natural disasters like tsunamis or earthquakes, helping streamline emergency response and damage limitation. This also includes the ‘Ocean of Things’ project that collects, monitors and analyses environmental and vessel activity in the seas.

14. Military Applications​

The application of IoT technologies for military purposes has created the Internet of Military Things (IoMT). Applications in this area include reconnaissance, surveillance, and more to deliver battlefield data. This can include the use of sensors, munitions, vehicles, robots and wearable technologies to create a joined-up and data efficient military.


Why is it Important?

The Internet of Things is already helping to automate and simplify many daily tasks for business, industry, and in the domestic arena. Lowering costs, increasing productivity and safety, enhancing customer experience, and generating new revenue streams, the IoT can help us make better decisions.

There are several benefits of IoT for business too, including the ability to access and analyse data, removing the need to external data analysts or market researchers. IoT systems are able to cope with big data analytics in real time, demonstrating how products and services are performing in the real world, and creating a situation where improvements can be made rapidly. This data also opens up a better understanding of customer behaviours so that businesses can meet their needs while also reducing operating costs by managing energy usage and resources. Finally, the Internet of Things can enable remote working by collating and sharing data with employees regardless of where they are based.

Who owns the Data?

Data is central to the Internet of Things, but who owns the data? The answer is that nobody owns the data, although the actual collection of the data can be owned by an individual or company. Understanding who is able to exploit such data is important, although there may actually be several bodies involved in data collection, including app developers, database designers or hardware manufacturers.

Database rights determine who is able to use the data and manage the storage ad processing of data. Database rights depend on three criteria being met:

1. Database Definition

A database must be defined and collected in an organised manner to allow for retrieval. However, in the case of much of the real time data associated with IoT there is unlikely to be a collection of data on a database.

2. Data Gathering

In order to claim database rights, there needs to be investment in the gathering, verification and presentation of the datasets. As connected devices pull together big data the collection and arranging of the data is an important part of determining rights.

3. Economic and Business Connections

In Europe, for example, database owners need to have an economic and business connection to an EEA state in order to gain the relevant database rights.

Should these criteria be met, the database owner is usually the one who takes the initiative and takes the associated risks to obtain, verify and present the data. Exceptions to this would include where a subcontractor is used to collect data on behalf of another entity.

Database rights can also be given in a contract, which can help prevent later disputes over ownership.

IoT Security

Security is a real issue for the IoT, with flaws in software leaving datasets and systems vulnerable, leading many to wonder if their data is secure and where it is stored. 

Hackers can directly target smart devices due to an inherent lack of security in many of them.

Webcams are a good example of devices that have had substandard security measures, leaving them open to hackers to exploit. Governments are trying to address these problems through guidelines for IoT devices, recommending encryption, password protection and regular security updates.

Security issues will continue to grow as the market for IoT devices increases, with industry being an area of concern. Industrial espionage or a malicious hacking attack on critical infrastructure poses very real risks. These risks are evident when applied to real world consequences, such as should someone be able to remotely take over control of a driverless car.

The connectivity between IoT devices means that hackers can exploit just one vulnerable area to gain access to data, including personal information such as names, addresses, contact details and more. This personal data could also be mined and sold on by unscrupulous companies who manufacture and distribute consumer Iot devices.

In order to prevent such attacks, it is important to make sure devices are updated regularly with the latest security systems. 

Advantages and Disadvantages

The Internet of Things offers several benefits to industry, including:

  • Ability to monitor and ensure the smooth running of processes
  • Improved automation of processes, reducing faults, failure and the need for human intervention
  • Time and cost-savings due to improved efficiencies and data-sharing between devices
  • Enhances overall productivity, including employees
  • Enables improved business decision-making
  • Collection and integration of datasets from multiple sources to allow for improvements, business modelling, and analysis

However, there are some drawbacks to the IoT that need to be considered, particularly with regards to security:

  • Increased numbers of connected devices creates more pathways for hackers to infiltrate a network and steal confidential information
  • Connected devices could corrupt each other should a bug enter the system
  • More IoT devices means more data is produced, leading to a requirement for more (and possibly unnecessary) data management
  • Without a standard in place for IoT devices, there is a risk of compatibility issues between devices from different manufacturers

Examples of IoT Devices

IoT devices come in a wide range of types for applications spanning domestic use, industrial processes, manufacturing and more. With billions of different devices connected to the Internet of Things around the world, there are too many to lit here. However, some common examples include:

  • Autonomous farming equipment
  • Biometrics
  • Connected appliances
  • Cybersecurity scanners
  • Health monitoring
  • Home security systems
  • Logistics tracking
  • Smart factory equipment
  • Ultra high speed wireless internet
  • Wireless inventory tracking


The Internet of Things offers a wealth of benefits for applications ranging from day-to-day domestic uses to industrial monitoring, manufacturing and even those for entire smart cities. Improving safety, efficiency and time management are just some of these benefits, although there are still concerns around IoT security for connected devices.

Despite this, the IoT looks set to become an increasing part of our everyday lives as connectivity grows and billions of devices start to connect our lives like never before. From smart home devices, like smart thermostats, to those that enable joined-up, digital manufacturing, smart objects and internet connected devices are changing how we work, live and play.

TWI has worked with our Industrial Members to provide expertise and guidance for Internet enabled devices and processes. Contact us, below, for more details.

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