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What is it?

The internet of Things is perhaps best explained in a recent Huffington Post article by Vala Afshar. If you do not yet follow him on Twitter (@valaafshar), do so for a string of fascinating stats, facts and interesting stuff related to the Internet.

Responding to her Friday morning alarm, Stacey gets out of bed. Simultaneously, items throughout her house begin preparing for the day. Although it is cloudy outside, the interior is lighted with tones of a beautiful sunrise, per Stacey's personalized lighting scheme. The water heater makes sure the shower will be to her preference. When she enters the bathroom, her motion starts coffee brewing and breakfast cooking in the microwave.

As Stacey eats breakfast, her caloric intake is monitored. The morning headlines and stories are projected onto the wall next to the table. A green indicator says every device in the house is working perfectly, although she would have been notified before anything had come close to malfunctioning, and a repair order would have been automatically issued. The display lets her know that her trip to work today will take 37 minutes via an alternate route due to heavier than normal traffic on her usual route.

Before she leaves, Stacey thinks about dinner. The display says she should have the chicken tonight or it may spoil. Her phone beeps and tells her that the grill needs a propane tank refill. She hits "auto" to arrange the soonest possible refill delivery based on when her schedule indicates she will be home and able meet the delivery.

Stacey gets in her car which has already been brought to her ideal interior temperature. The car automatically exits her driveway, at the first available gap in traffic. According to the car's display, her trip today will cost more than usual due to the congestion toll on the alternate route. She realizes she could have avoided the extra toll by leaving a little earlier.

When Stacey arrives at work, she glances at her large office display and sees that all plant processes are functioning normally. The display reminds her of the SETI project, but instead of searching for intelligent life in the universe, the programs running behind the scenes are analyzing and displaying rivers of data generated throughout the plant to discover any anomalies, unusual resource needs, overages, or special opportunities.

With the exception of the autonomous car, all the underlying capabilities described above exist today and are part of the Internet of Things. What does not yet exist, though, are the software and services to aggregate and manage the discrete capabilities to make them commercially available.

Defining the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is simply a concept wherein machines and everyday objects are connected via the Internet. Within the IoT, devices are controlled and monitored remotely and usually wirelessly. IDC predicts that the IoT will include 212 billion things globally by the end of 2020. That sounds like a big number, but for context, there are over 10 quadrillion ants on the planet. Although ants are not yet members of the IoT, Wi-Fi-connected bees are now in development to help with pollination. MIT is working on ‘smart sand’ that will be able to move and duplicate 3D objects, and Harvard has already developed 1000-robot swarms. Throw in smart dust motes and IDC's 212 billion IoT device estimate begins to look conservative.

The Depth and Variety of Internet Things

Not long ago, devices on the Internet had to be wired to a fixed location. One of the important drivers behind the Internet of Things is how easy it has now become to wirelessly connect mobile items to the Internet via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or proprietary wireless communications protocols.

Smart IoT devices include everything from structural health monitors for buildings to smart egg trays that know how many eggs you have and how old they are. Home automation devices include Google's Nest, and two competing families of home and healthcare IoT systems: ZigBee and Z-Wave. The Vessyl smart drinking cup monitors exactly what you are drinking, the HAPIfork tracks your eating habits, and the Beam tooth brush reports on your brushing history.

Wearables range from the popular Fitbit athletic tracker to smart watches, smart clothes, and biological embeddables including pacemakers and glucose monitors.

Although cars may not yet be autonomous, new models have many Internet-addressable capabilities including remote start, remote climate control, location tracking, as well as the currently-latent ability to track many of your driving habits. Every time you hear a warning beep, another item of data is recorded.

Almost anything can now be connected to the Internet of Things via wireless sensors, such as the Node+ series, which measures temperature, colour, CO2, and other metrics.

Displaying all the data and video

It is one thing for IoT devices to generate data, but another to store and display it all. Although any Internet-connected display can be used with IoT data, the smartphone may be the most common display and control device, and in many ways is driving IoT innovation. Still, the range and diversity of display devices is exploding in the same way all IoT devices are multiplying. Need a larger display? Switch to Apple TV or Google Chromecast. Need hands-free? Switch to Google Glass or your smart watch or ring. Research is underway to communicate directly to your visual cortex and auditory brain.

After her workday, Stacey gets back home and she feels like getting some exercise. A glance at her phone tells her that during the day she consumed 700 more calories than her Fitbit has recorded her burning. As she gets on her treadmill, it automatically, but safely starts up her workout.

Her phone beeps to remind her that her son is swimming in the Oahu North Shore Open Water swim in 15 minutes. She really wants to watch it live, so she activates her druper app that allows her to rent almost anything, anywhere at any time. She rents and dispatches a drone with a camera from a depot in Oahu and gives it the swim course coordinates. The live image from the drone is projected on a nearby wall.

The phone beeps again, this time indicating a text from her sister, "I've just landed Pearl Jam tickets for tomorrow night, NYC! Meet me at my apartment ASAP." This instantly becomes her highest priority, so she does three things. She requests transportation through an Uber-like service to NYC where her sister lives. She sets everything in her home to "idle" status, and clears her calendar. The latter two operations have been preconfigured and are triggered by a single message. Before she leaves the house, she switches the display of video feed from the Hawaiian drone to her Google Glass, so she'll have an uninterrupted view of her son's race.

As her trip to NYC begins, she receives an ominous warning regarding her diabetic father's glucometer. All readings are normal, but the anti-virus monitor has detected an attack...