Is IoT A Fad?

Is the Internet of Things a fad? If you want the “Too Long, Didn’t Read” version: No. It’s actually been here a while and the concept won’t be going away any time soon, although it will undoubtedly change form as technology changes (and may even change it’s name to something else if history is any indication).

It’s not that difficult to get things talking to each other over an internet in theory. You just have to have a few things in place:

  • A sensor on a machine to measure some sort of thing that needs to be communicated.
  • A processor on that machine to process that measurement.
  • Code running on the processor to calculate the measurement.
  • A modem connected to an internet to transfer that measurement to a listening machine.
  • A machine (may be a computer or server) “listening” for that measurement and doing something with it.

This list probably looks quaint to you now, but it was actually a pretty cool concept when it was put out there. When was that, exactly, though? The concept has been around since the early 1980’s and was put into application by students at Carnegie Mellon University when they connected the Coke machine to the internet to inform people if the soda was cold – and you could check it anywhere in the world. Of course, the “other machine” was a server that just sent that data visually when queried, but I still think this fits the bill. The story is actually pretty fascinating.

They installed micro-switches in the Coke machine…the switches were hooked up to CMUA, the PDP-10 that was then the main departmental computer…people could check the Coke machine from any CMU computer.

Industrial machines later in the 1980’s started to build on this concept. It even got a name, it was called Machine to Machine communication (or “m2m”), and gosh darn it, we liked it that way. Remote monitoring was likely the most used application, making it so temperatures, humidity, etc. could be checked from yards or even miles away. Many of these devices back in the day were intranet devices, on a closed network only available to a single corporation, so depending on how loose your definition of IoT is or how liberal you want to get with what the “I” stands for, these examples may not hold up.

As with any tech history, ideas build on each other, so saying when the first true Internet of Things device came online may be tricky. Throughout the course of the 90’s and 2000’s, devices got smaller and started getting the ability to wirelessly communicate, not only to terminals and computer screens but to each other. Within the past few years, hardware has has become extremely cheap and small (hello $5 Raspberry Pi Zero), cloud computing so accessible, and wireless technology so robust, that there is a perfect storm for a new wave of IoT devices and hype.

Is this hype warranted? I think so. Even if this wave of hype dies down, hardware is only getting smaller, wireless technology better, and computing cheaper. IoT is not a fad, it’s been around a long, long time, and I believe it will only get more prevalent.

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