The history and future of the Internet of Things

6 min.

The internet of things has recently become ingrained in our everyday life. It surrounds us everywhere: connected cars driving on the street, home automation devices located in the house, smart office sensors embedded at the workplace, and fitness trackers worn on the human body. Taken together, they create a large ecosystem of 17 billion connected things that influence societies and economies worldwide.

Apparently, it wasn’t always like that. Until 1999, the term “the internet of things” didn’t exist. How did IoT evolve so fast to become a buzzword and what milestones marked the global spread of IoT? To answer these questions, let’s go back to the roots of this technology.

The brief history of the internet of things

The concept of connected devices dates back to 1832 when the first electromagnetic telegraph was designed. The telegraph enabled direct communication between two machines by sending electrical signals. However, the true history of the internet of things started with the invention of the internet—its major component—in the late 1960s and was developing rapidly every decade.

The 1980s

It’s hard to believe but the first connected device was a Coca-Cola vending machine situated at the Carnegie Melon University and operated by local programmers. They integrated micro-switches into the machine and used the internet to see if the cooling device kept the drinks cold enough and if there were available Coke cans. The invention fostered further studies in this field and development of connected machines all over the world.

The 1990s

In 1990, John Romkey connected the first toaster to the internet with a TCP/IP protocol. One year later, scientists from the University of Cambridge came up with the idea to use the first web camera prototype to monitor the amount of coffee available in a coffee pot located in a local computer lab. The webcam took pictures of a coffee pot three times a minute and sent the images to local computers, thus allowing everyone to see if there is coffee in it.

The year 1999 was one of the most significant for the IoT history, as Kevin Ashton coined the term “the internet of things”. Being a visionary technologist, Kevin was giving a presentation for Procter & Gamble where he described IoT as a technology connecting several devices with the help of RFID tags for the supply chain management. He used the word “internet” in the title of his presentation to draw the audience’s attention since the internet was a big deal that time. Although his idea of the RFID-based device connectivity differs from the present-day IP‑based IoT, Ashton’s breakthrough played an essential role in the internet of things history and technological development.

The 2000s

As the 21st century began, the term “the internet of things” has come into widespread use in the media like The Guardian, Forbes, and the Boston Globe. The interest in the IoT technology was steadily increasing and led to the 1st International Conference on the Internet of Things held in Switzerland in 2008, where participants from 23 countries discussed RFID, short-range wireless communications, and sensor networks.

Several developments fostered the IoT evolution. One of them was an internet-connected refrigerator introduced by LG Electronics in 2000, which allowed its users to do online shopping and make video calls. Another essential development was a small rabbit-shaped robot named Nabaztag created in 2005 and capable of telling the latest news, weather forecast, and stock market changes.

Already at that time, the number of connected devices surpassed that of people on Earth, according to Cisco.

The 2010s

The IoT boom is supported by a hit to the Gartner Hype Cycle for emerging technologies in 2011.

In the same year, the public launch of IPv6—a network layer protocol that is central to IoT—took place.

Since then, connected devices have become widely used in everyday life. Global tech giants like Apple, Samsung, Google, Cisco, General Motors focus on the production of IoT sensors and devices—from connected thermostats and smart glasses to self-driving cars. IoT finds its way into almost every industry: manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, oil & energy, agriculture and many more. All these make us believe that the IoT revolution is right here, right now.

As of today, IoT platforms hold their position among top trends in this year’s Gartner Hype Cycle, along with virtual assistants, connected homes, and level 4 self-driving cars. The technology will reach its plateau of productivity in 5–10 years.

A peek into the future of the internet of things

Given such a rapid pace of development, IoT will soon gain the world. Gartner predicts that 95% of new electronics products will contain the IoT technology by 2020. Everything that can be connected will be connected, thus forming a comprehensive digital system where all devices communicate with people and with each other.

Here are several important factors spurring the IoT expansion:

  • Falling costs of sensors
  • Falling costs of data collection and storage due to cloud solutions
  • Widely expanding internet connectivity
  • Increasing computing power
  • Increasing smartphone and tablet penetration

No doubt, the rapid growth of IoT will change the world we live in. Imagine that a connected car will access your work schedule and notify colleagues about your being late to the meeting if it hits a traffic jam on the way to work.

Connected future will definitely bring a lot of value and exciting opportunities to people. However, it will have its own challenges too. Let’s see what experts think about the future of the internet of things and emerging industry trends.

IoT will become more industry-specific

In the near future, IoT manufacturers will focus on designing solutions for particular industries and segments rather than for general needs. There is a growing demand for specific use cases that help to resolve industry-specific challenges, for example, IoT solutions for remote patient monitoring to reduce costs and improve the quality of patient care. The global market for remote patient monitoring is expected to reach $2,130 million by 2022.

New areas appear at the intersection of the connected technology and the industry:

  • Internet of medical things
  • Industrial internet of things
  • Automotive internet of things
  • Smart cities and smart buildings
  • Smart agriculture
  • Smart retail

IoT will merge with other technologies

Whatever powerful the IoT technology is, it provides more opportunities when combined with other technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, AR/VR, cloud and edge computing. In the future, there will be more such blended solutions.

For example, the application of blockchain in IoT will help to decentralize networks and ensure more secure data transmission between connected devices. Blockchain is already among top IoT trends, and we are looking to see more value from merging these two technologies together.

The future of IoT is closely linked with AI and machine learning as well. The application examples include predictive maintenance of connected devices, self-optimization of production processes, and smart home devices that learn your preferences. In the near future, IoT devices will not only report information but also make autonomous decisions and become smarter by deploying machine learning techniques.

Cloud and edge computing will continue to be integral to IoT data storage in 2019 and beyond, with the experts’ predictions that edge computing will gain more popularity soon.

Security will remain a blind spot

Despite numerous efforts by governments to strengthen regulations on IoT security and improve protection mechanisms for connectivity, data security and privacy problems never get smaller. Conversely, the number of IoT-based cyberattacks were up 600% in 2017, and that trend will continue. Cybercriminals use more and more sophisticated tactics to find vulnerabilities in connected devices and get access to private information. As a result, consumers and organizations are increasingly concerned about IoT security and name it the leading barrier for IoT adoption.

Some people think we have learned how to make systems completely secure, and that the IoT can avoid the issues plaguing the Internet today. But we should discount such optimism as unwarranted, and even dangerous in creating complacency. The real take-away is that attacks are inevitable. In 10–15 years, expect IoT security to be something that we still talk about.

Jonathan Penn

Finding solutions to ensure IoT security and data privacy will be the main objective in the future.

Final thoughts

Having outlined the past, present, and future of the internet of things, we’ve come to the conclusion that connected technology is evolving swiftly despite cybersecurity challenges on its way. IoT solutions promise to advance in the years ahead to change the way we live and work for the better.