You’ve probably heard about the Internet of Things: examples include home thermostats that you control from your smartphone or lights that you control with your voice commands to Alexa or Google Home. The Internet of Things has been helping humanity in commercial applications longer than you may think, with devices in use to help people in many industries. Everything from environmental science to medicine can benefit from the Internet of Things, and the world of connected devices is expanding every day.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Internet of Things, examples are easy to find in almost any field. Not only are more consumer products gaining Internet connectivity, but there are also many sophisticated commercial uses for devices that are always online. So, let’s start with a brief overview of the history of the Internet of Things: you will notice that it’s been around for quite some time.
Smart devices were conceptualized in the early days of the Internet. One of the earliest connected appliances was a Coke machine on the Carnegie Mellon University campus in 1982! It reported its inventory and could provide a notification when newly-added drinks were cold. Another was a toaster that could be turned on and off over the Internet. Computer scientists were writing about interconnected and automated devices throughout the 90s, and the term “Internet of Things” was finally coined in 1999. The topic began to be actively discussed in the early 2000s, and projects to connect devices to the Internet started to become more common.
It took another ten years until there was a turning point where there were more “things” connected to the Internet than people. In 2010, there were 12.5 billion devices connected to the Internet, while there were only 6.8 billion people on our planet. This giant network of connected devices has only grown since then, and the variety of devices that are connected is bigger than ever as well.
Consumer devices in the Internet of Things
Examples of devices commonly found in homes that can benefit from Internet connectivity include heating and cooling systems, security systems, and media setups. The famous idea of the Smart Home includes these devices and more, all controlled from your phone or with your voice. Virtual assistants like Google Home and the Amazon Echo (with Alexa) can act as hubs for all your devices. This hub is an important part of the smart home, connecting to all of your other Internet-enabled appliances and devices, and then you can say “Alexa, dim the lights” or “Hey Google, turn up the heat” and feel like you’re living somewhere on the movie starship.
Automation has been making people’s lives easier for a long time, and the smart home is the next step on the automation pathway. Today’s thermostats can not only be programmed to come on and off at different times, but they can recognize when you get home by identifying your phone and adjusting your home to your preferred temperature: great for people with irregular schedules. You can also set up your smart home to unlock your door and turn lights on for you when you get home, which is definitely nice if your arms are full.
There are other consumer devices that people use every day and may not even give much consideration to, but they’re part of the Internet of Things. Examples are smartwatches, fitness trackers, and even cars. Cars today connect to your phone or even provide their own connectivity. GPS services, music streaming, and roadside assistance are all available through Internet-connected cars today.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers are wearables, which are among the most popular internet-connected devices. As computing power improves, smaller gadgets can do more, leading to these wearables track steps, monitor heart rate, and sync with your smartphone, or your doctor, and also provide notifications, accept voice commands, etc.
Another category of connected consumer devices includes assisting devices for older people or people with disabilities. Voice activation is obviously very helpful for people with limited mobility. Devices with sensors can detect falls or seizures and contact emergency services just in time. These kinds of devices can greatly improve people’s quality of life, allowing them more freedom and flexibility to live without fear.
Commercial applications in the Internet of Things
There’s more to the Internet of Things than smart homes and wearables. Commercial examples of the Internet of Things can be so impressive, and they vary from medical devices to every aspect of manufacturing. They range in scale from tiny monitoring devices to entire cities with networks of sensors that support parking services, report on environmental conditions, or situational traffic.
The medical field has especially benefited from widespread Internet connectivity. Such Internet of Things examples include smart beds in hospitals that can detect changes in pressure and make adjustments or send alerts as necessary, as well as diagnostic devices that patients can wear both in and out of hospitals. With the use of electronic patient records and diagnostic devices that can transmit live results in seconds, there is a huge potential for effective disease treatment and prevention.
Many agricultural and environmental scientists use the Internet of Things to get valuable live data too. Agriculture may not seem like it’s particularly suited for Internet connectivity, but you will be surprised knowing how today’s farms can benefit from this technology with data about the conditions in the fields: temperature, humidity, wind speed, or rainfall. Even pest infestations can be monitored, and data transmitted quickly so that farmers can deal with problems before they get out of hand. Connected devices can be used to conserve water and improve crop yields by adjusting watering schedules based on rainfall and soil moisture levels.
Networked devices are used in many aspects of manufacturing. Digital control systems make it possible to conduct precise adjustments as necessary. Systems that monitor equipment can help to repair and replace parts before they cause larger problems. All data can be instantly transmitted globally to other subsidiaries and factories around the world. These technological advancements make manufacturing more efficient and also improve safety for workers.
We can find many Internet of Things examples in the transportation industry too. Fleet management and logistics make use of connectivity to track and monitor vehicles in real-time. Accidents can be dealt with faster, drivers can be swapped efficiently, cargo can be continuously monitored (very helpful especially for maintaining perishable cargo), and of course, so many thefts can be prevented.
Environmental issues top the list of many people’s concerns as the effects of climate change are becoming more and more pronounced. Smart environmental monitoring is an important example of the Internet of Things. Sensors can record air and water quality, temperature, atmospheric conditions, soil conditions, etc. Devices can act as early-warning systems for earthquakes and tsunamis (data can be sent to a processing server, and then some calculations get back). As energy efficiency is a crucial factor in reducing pollution, smart devices are able to monitor and track the use of energy live. Smart scheduling is unsure that less energy is used on heating or cooling of empty houses and office buildings.
The future of the Internet of Things can expand in many directions. Connectivity is already changing health care, and it’s easy to imagine that it will continue to improve the ability of doctors to accurately diagnose and treat their patients. Data collection can help cities become more efficient, improving the lives of residents and visitors. We already have digital assistants like Siri and Alexa that help us get things done, and as these devices become more common, the scope of what these digital assistants can do for us will expand to include more aspects of our lives. Self-driving cars are currently being developed and tested, and connectivity is vital to prevent accidents by enabling cars to communicate with each other; this has the potential to significantly reduce traffic jams and slowdowns in crowded cities.
The Internet of Things is much more widespread than most people realize. This was just an overview of the various use cases in popular fields that benefit from Internet-connected devices, and there are new applications for data-driven devices being created every month. Whether your house is as smart as they come with full voice control, or you’ve never worn a fitness tracker, the Internet of Things is present in your life in often-surprising ways.