Years ago, as a graduate fresh out of university, I remember walking home with a colleague to look at the new computer he had built. As we were walking, he pulled out his phone and said to me, “I’ll just turn on the air-conditioner so that it’s nice and cool by the time we get home.” Since this was the pre-smartphone era, it blew my mind that he could control his air-conditioner with his phone. When I asked him how the technology worked, he laughed and said, “It’s really cutting edge. I just SMS Mum to go into my room and turn on the air-conditioner!”

While amusing at the time, many years later we now live in a world where turning on an air-conditioner via a phone is a very real scenario. This connected world is known as the Internet of Things, and it is as powerful as the industrial revolution.

What is the Internet of Things?

When I first heard about the Internet of Things (IoT), I struggled to understand it. In my mind, the internet was just a computer network that connected people. How on earth did it relate to ‘things’? Did these ‘things’ have their own private internet that we humans only just found out about? Was this the beginning of Skynet?

As I sought answers to my questions, I discovered that IoT is the collective term used to describe devices containing sensors and processors, commonly known as smart devices. The first smart device was a modified Coca-Cola vending machine at Carnegie Mellon University in 1982 that was able to report inventory and the temperature of newly loaded cans.

These days, you can find T-shirts, toothbrushes, and even ice cubes with sensors and communication technology embedded to collect data for optimisation analysis. Some devices also have actuation capability where you can get them to do something, like a slow cooker or light switch, where you can control their functions via a smartphone.

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