The Internet of Things (IoT) is how analog systems (people) will thrive in a digital world. People are amazing creatures. Our analog brain is wired for all sorts of human things. Often we can recognize loved ones with just a word or a single movement. We can tell if people are being honest or deceptive by quickly analyzing complex facial and body movements. We are constantly monitoring our environment and respond quickly to subtle changes. We receive continuous input from our senses, organize vast amounts of sensory data and make continuous decisions based on millions of pieces of analog data. We are miraculous, wonderfully analog but have trouble in a digital world.
The term The Internet of Things coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 has become a widely-used to describe things that can be cataloged by computers. Digital systems use discrete data in processing. In computers, we describe this as storing a zero or a one. Another example is a beacon that conveys information because it is off or on. Digital systems are good at storing large amounts of data. As long as you have storage space, you can keep adding data.
Analog systems use a range of data in processing. Usually the data ranges from a minimum to a maximum like brightness, volume, pitch, color, pressure. Think about our senses and how there is a minimum for perception and a maximum for overload.
With enough data, digital technology can imitate analog technology. Two good examples are digital music and digital photography. Music and photography are analog because the output is delivered over a range of sound, volume and pitch or brightness, color and hue. With enough digital data, we can create an analog experience. In fact, we can create a superior experience with digital because we can add detail in smaller and smaller pieces creating more intensity or fidelity. But with too much data, people get overloaded and stop processing eventually leading to a system shutdown.
Processing the vast amount of data comprising the Internet of Things is valuable to people because people are the creators of the things. The things are physical objects that will be represented virtually, in the simplest case, like pictures on a webpage. The things can also be represented by information about them – lots of information. Just like all things in our human world, the Internet of Things is made up of collections that can be possessions, inventories, communities and environments to name just a few.
The Internet of Things in your home can be made up of all the contents from clothing to furniture to appliances to environment. Tags on clothing can provide detailed information on what it is and where it is. In your child’s room, you could monitor the number of pajamas in the dresser draw or on the floor. You could not only see the internal temperature of the refrigerator, but the temperature of the milk in the refrigerator and how much energy the ‘frig had consumed in getting to that temperature. And you could see all this from your smartphone – anywhere, anytime.
The Internet of Things is also all the inventory of a department store. It will keep records of all the items being stocked and sold. It will keep detailed records of every transaction down to the tiniest fractions effortlessly. Properly analyzing data will increase efficiency, reduce waste and generate profit.
By using radio-frequency identification (RFID) and near field communications (NFC) that will identify objects and allow real-time processing of the tagged data, many human tasks will be done digitally. For instance, you will be able to check out of the grocery store by walking through a scanner that will capture every item in your cart and you’ll pay by “bumping” your phone to the register. When you walk in a store, it will capture the tags on your clothing and make recommendations on your style and color choices. Just-in-time inventory control will be the new standard for even small manufacturers and retailers as a local Internet of Things processes zetabytes of data effortlessly and economically.
The Internet of Things applies to all groups and all things real or virtual. It is personal and global, small and large, whimsical and serious. It scales easily and is only limited by the imagination and industry of the human mind.