A Brief History of IoT

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History of IoT

Between the 18th century and now, humanity has witnessed 3 major industrial revolutions. The steam engine kick-started the industrial revolution in the 18th century. Then, developments in science took over the second industrial revolution, and lastly, the rise of technology and the internet caused the third industrial revolution. Now, in the 21st century, we are on the brink of the 4th industrial revolution and one of its leading technologies is the Internet of Things (IoT).  Here’s giving you a brief on the history of IoT.

IoT is an advanced technology that allows physical objects around us to interact and communicate with each other. This has led to a world of possibilities and before we even realized it, IoT has become an integral part of our lives. Today, we have home automation systems, fitness trackers, security systems, and connected vehicles, all being made possible by IoT. Of course, this has not always been the case. In fact, the term ‘Internet of Things’ did not even exist before 1999. So, how did IoT come into being and how has it gained popularity in such a short period of time? To understand this, we need to look at some significant milestones and developments in the history of IoT.

Early vision: 

IoT is a pretty recent technological development. However, the vision of interconnected devices that could communicate with each other started back in the 1800s. In 1832, the invention of the electromagnetic telegraph provided direct communication between two machines through electromagnetic signals. On June 3rd, 1900, the first radio voice transmission took place, marking an important milestone in IoT history and machine-to-machine communication. But, IoT as we know it today did not come into existence until the invention of the internet. Wireless communication over the internet opened new dimensions in object-to-object communication and is solely responsible for the rapid growth and progress of IoT. 

The first connected device: 

History of IoT

As the internet started to gain popularity, people started experimenting with new ways of connecting devices. And, believe it or not, the first-ever fully connected device was a Coca-Cola vending machine. This machine situated at Carnegie Mellon University. One day, David Nicholls, a graduate student of the university, had a sudden craving for Coca-Cola. He was working in his office and realized that the vending machine was too far away. Now, he had two pain points. He had to go all the way to the machine and when he gets there, there was no guarantee that there would be any cans left or if they would be cold enough. This gave him an idea. With the help of a few friends, Nicholls integrated micro-switches into the machine that helped him keep track of the number of available cans and the temperature of those cans from afar. 

Now, this casual invention by a college student paved the way for the research and development of interconnected devices all across the world. 

Increase in connected devices:

After David Nicholls made the first-ever connected machine, the trend picked up and people started thinking of newer and better ways to connect devices. In 1990, the founder of FTP software, John Romkey, connected a toaster to the internet. “It was ridiculous,” Romkey says, “When you put bread into it, it would automatically lower the bread and begin toasting. So all we had to do was control power to the toaster using a big, clunky notebook computer and wire them together. Remember, there was no Wi-Fi. Then we could use the computer to turn on the power to lower and toast the bread, and turn off the power to stop the toasting and raise the bread.”

A year later, scientists at the University of Cambridge got the brilliant idea of using the first webcam prototype to track the amount of coffee that was available in their lab’s coffee pot. Basically, all they had to do was program the webcam to take pictures of the coffee pot every 4-5 minutes and relay the information to the local computers. This way, everyone in the lab could see how much coffee was available at any given point. 

All of these early connected devices became significant milestones in IoT history and brought about IoT as we know it today. 

The most significant year in the history of IoT

The year 1999 is probably the most significant year in the history of IoT. Till this point, people were inventing various connected devices but the term “Internet of Things” was pretty much alien to them. It was in this year that Kevin Ashton, a tech pioneer from Britain, first used this term. He was giving a presentation for Procter & Gamble and it was in this presentation that he first stated the term “Internet of Things”. He described it as a technology that was capable of connecting several hundred devices with the help of RFID tags. 

Ashton believed that if all devices were tagged using radio frequency identification then it would become easy for computers to manage and track them. He believed this could bring about significant changes in supply chain management. Even though Ashton’s idea of IoT using RFID differs from the IP-based IoT of today, his ideas played a significant role in the development of IoT. To this day, we use barcodes, digital watermarking, and QR codes to tag things for inventory management. 

The rise of IoT

After Ashton’s presentation in 1999, IoT slowly started to gain popularity and acceptance all over the world. Large industrial firms started to show interest in IoT. In fact, LG went to the extent of creating a refrigerator that could be connected to the internet to make purchases and video calls online. Another fun product of IoT in the year 2000 was Nabaztag, a rabbit shaped robot manufactured by the company Violet. This robot could be connected to the internet to telecast the weather forecast for the day and read out the latest news and stock market changes. 

History of IoT
Picture credits: https://www.inceptivemind.com/internet-connected-rabbit-nabaztag/12143/

By the early 2000s, popular media outlets like Forbes, Guardian, and Boston Globe started to mention the term “Internet of Things” quite frequently and proceeded to keep a tab on developments in this field. This led to the world’s first conference on IoT, which was held in Switzerland in 2008. Organized by Elgar Fleisch and Friedemann Mattern, the conference saw experts and researchers from over 23 countries come together to discuss the progress and future scope of RFID, sensors, and wireless communication networks. 

Smartphone and IoT

By the year 2010, the number of connected devices had already surpassed the population of the earth. While the population of the world was 6.8 billion in 2010, the number of connected devices was 12.5 billion. Now, this rise can mainly be attributed to the invention of smartphones. Smartphones brought millions of mobile applications, games, image editors, maps, and practically the entire internet into the hands of millions of people. And these very smartphones made it possible for IoT to evolve at such a rapid pace. In fact, most experts believe that the smartphone is the ultimate IoT device. They took connectivity to a whole new level. 

People were now able to make video calls, connect wirelessly to other devices via Bluetooth, and stream content from the comfort of their homes. Major tech giants like Apple, Google, and Samsung had also already started working on interconnected devices like thermostats, smart glasses, and connected cars. 

IoT in today’s world

History of IoT

From 2010 till today, we’ve all seen major improvements in IoT. The rise of the 4G internet made it possible for people and devices to connect like never before. As of today, IoT has already made its way into all the major industries like healthcare, agriculture, defence, pharmacy, and entertainment. Most people these days have at least two to three interconnected devices in their homes that make life easier for them. Companies have automated our homes with the help of IoT and most people also use smartwatches and fitness bands to track their fitness goals. In addition, we’ve also seen the rise of virtual assistance-enabled smart speakers that are designed to control various operations of our homes. The best example of this would be Google’s Chromecast and Apple’s HomePod. 

The future of IoT

There’s a lot of things we can do with IoT today. But, all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. With 5G just around the corner and the number of IoT devices set to exceed 25 billion by 2025, IoT could change the way our very world operates. The data collected by these smart interconnected devices could fight climate change, reduce pollution, provide efficient energy solutions, predict natural disasters, and help build those perfect smart cities that we’ve all been waiting for. Fully connected buildings, factories, and homes could become a real thing. World-class healthcare could be provided to people regardless of location and the security of the world’s citizens could be vastly increased. 

Conclusion:

The Internet of Things, like every other technology, started off very small but is now on its way to global domination. Even though the technology is promising, further progress in this field raises significant cyber security and privacy concerns. If these problems could be solved, IoT has the potential to change the world for the better.

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