What is the Internet of Things?


Internet of Things definition

The Internet of Things, a translation of the original term Internet of Things, or IoT for short, is a very young technology. The name Internet of Things is to be understood literally and means that objects are equipped with processors and sensors so that they can be individually identified via an IP. Machine-to-machine communication is established via an Internet connection, which enables them to communicate with one another and with the outside world.

This means that everyday objects and machines become “smart” and thus carry out tasks in a self-aware manner and learn from different scenarios based on experience and apply their knowledge and skills accordingly.

One of the goals of the Internet of Things is to make everyday life and work easier through automatic processes without human intervention. In contrast to computers, once they are in operation, they no longer require any control or input from users.

The effects of the Internet of Things can already be felt: More and more objects have an Internet function, even coffee machines and vacuum cleaners are now equipped with it. Ultimately, every internet-enabled object that is operated with an app or can be connected to it is part of the IoT.

In the long term, this communication should be intensified and objects should not only be networked with apps, i.e. with the help of a smartphone, but also independently with one another, thus enabling internal exchange. Approaches to this are already noticeable in smart home technologies, for example.

A “thing” within the IoT network does not necessarily have to be an object or a machine: animals with implanted chips or even people with pacemakers can be part of it.

History of the Internet of Things

While the term has only been gaining popularity and being used in recent years, the idea of ​​networked things has existed since the 1970s, well before the commercial use of the Internet. The Internet of Things was originally called “Embedded Internet” and “Pervasive Computing” (pervasive computing) or “Ubiquitous Computing” (invisible and ubiquitous computing). Ultimately, all of these factors are contained in today’s Internet of Things. The underlying idea is a technology that disappears from human consciousness and no longer requires any interaction.

The first internet-capable device that worked according to the IoT principle existed as early as the 1980s: a Coca-Cola vending machine at a university in Pennsylvania was able to view the drinks inventory over the web.

The term Internet of Things was first time introduced in 1999 by Kevin Ashton. He gave a presentation on RFID chips. RFID stands for radio frequency identification and is a technology that enables objects to be automatically and contactless identified and located by equipping them with chips.

Neil Gerstenfeld also described his vision of the IoT in his publication “When Things Start to Think” in the same year, even if he did not use the same term.

In the years that followed, the Internet of Things developed from an interplay of wireless technologies, microelectromechanical systems, so-called MEMS, microservices and the Internet. It can also be seen as a further development of SCADA software. SCADA, short for supervisory control and data acquisition, is used to monitor and control technical processes. Hardware components collect data and pass it on to the software, which processes it and outputs it again.

The Internet of Things was best known for its popularity in 2010 when the Chinese government integrated it into its five-year plan.

How the Internet of Things works

While websites and other Internet-based products run with HTTP, the most common protocol, the MQTT is becoming more and more established for the IoT. This abbreviation stands for Message Queuing Telemetry Transport and is an open protocol for machine-to-machine communication.

The different components of an IoT system mostly work without human intervention but can react to interaction, for example when settings are made, commands are given or data is accessed.

The Internet of Things can be seen as an ecosystem. This system consists of a (measuring) instrument, a node, and a device or user interface.

The instrument is internet-enabled and smart and has processors, sensors, and communication hardware. This can for example be an antenna, a microcontroller, or a one-chip computer system. It collects data from the environment and forwards it to the node, which is also known as a gateway or hub. This processes the received data either directly or transmits or sends them to the cloud or an interface, for example, a smartphone. As the last component of the IoT system, the device or the user interface, which can also be a computer or an application, for example, can be operated by the user and receive commands. The collected data is processed here and, if necessary, visualized.

Artificial intelligence

There have been great leaps in software development in recent years. One of their greatest achievements is artificial intelligence. The concept of artificial intelligence, AI for short, or AI from Artificial Intelligence, is often mentioned in connection with IoT and is an essential component since IoT things are often artificial intelligence. It can be machines or objects that collect data on routines and habits, learn from them and act accordingly or adapt and further develop their behavior in order to meet individual needs and requirements even better in the future. For example, voice assistants save the commands they issue in the cloud. In this way, no further human programming is necessary, as the machines learn and develop on their own.

Application areas of the IoT

The Internet of Things is already omnipresent in its essence and therefore affects almost all areas of life: Services, production, supply, research, marketing, and many others are affected.

For consumers

For consumers, products from the area of self-optimization or nutrition and health are primarily affected. A variety of fitness apps with various wearables such as smartwatches, heart rate monitors, blood pressure monitors or chest straps can be found here. There are also countless trackers that record sleep, the food and calories consumed, the mood, or pain. For mental health, for example, there are meditation apps and for physical medical apps, which like Ada, for example, allow the input of symptoms and suggest diagnoses, or other apps that use the camera to detect skin changes, among other things.

IoT systems are also hidden behind smart home technologies. Thermostats, heating and air conditioning systems can either be planned according to the time of day or they can be intelligently adapted to the habits of the occupants, switch off when the home is currently uninhabited and warn of errors and defects.

The electricity is already crisscrossed by the Internet of Things: smart sockets can be manually or automatically controlled; it can purchase and shutdown automatics or plans created and the power consumption can be measured.

In a wide variety of lighting systems, the Internet of Things is reflected in light that can be controlled via apps, as well as automatic switch-on and switch-off functions or plans, dimmers, color temperatures, and play of colors. As a security measure, the light can even be controlled from outside in the absence and switched on to protect against break-ins.

In addition, when it comes to security, alarm systems, cameras, and other surveillance systems can also be activated and viewed externally.

For the productivity there as a consequence of the IoT different time management and project planning tools and even a calendar with reminders that help can be switched from GPS.

For companies

Similar to how smart home systems are used in private households, the same technologies for heating, electricity, light, and security can also be used in the workplace. The automatic switch-on and switch-off can be adjusted here based on employee plans, room bookings, meetings, and conferences as well as customer discussions.

In addition, the Internet of Things makes work easier because the same tasks can always be given to smart systems. In this way, more efficient personnel and material management can also take place.

For production and industry

In logistics, for example, postal and parcel services use IoT-based logistics systems. These include warehouse management, automated dispatch, and dispatch tracking in real-time with a partially global supply chain. This is made possible by data entry carried out manually by workers and automatic data input by devices and machines, by GPS positioning of the vehicles involved, sensors in shipping containers, and a wide variety of security measures.

In agriculture, even agricultural machines are becoming smart: Automated seeding, planting and irrigation systems, self-driving harvesting vehicles and animal feeding relieve farmers of the work that was previously carried out by hand. This has a far-reaching influence on the food industry and thus also on nutrition.

In the production efficiency and the production of accurate demand are possible by smart systems, whereby the material and machine is predictable and can be produced so automatically sustainable.

Benefits of the Internet of Things

For companies

The biggest advantage of the IoT for companies is the time and cost savings that result from the automatic completion of routine tasks and the automatic documentation of processes. This also results in greater productivity among employees, which ultimately results in more profit.

The Internet of Things also ensures that errors are avoided, as smart systems collect data more precisely and with fewer errors and, unlike humans, are always equally efficient and alert.

The Internet of Things also enables more precise monitoring of work processes. Errors can be tracked and documented in a log.

Even customer satisfaction is affected, as automatic e-mail replies and personal or tailored advertising improves customer communication and customers feel more noticed. The technologies used also create greater trust in the company, as it complies with current standards and appears progressive.


The disadvantages of the Internet of Things mainly relate to the aspect of security. The more data points created by these technologies also result in a larger attack surface. As a result of big data, for example, in the event of a hacker attack, the same amount of data is affected. In addition, the systems are characterized by close connectivity, which is very beneficial for functionality but also increases the risk of being able to access the entire system through just a single security gap.

The IoT systems are often very individually tailored to the user, but this is only possible by entering or independently collecting personal and therefore very sensitive data.

Even if Internet-of-Things systems in theory no longer require human intervention due to their self-learning properties, as soon as they are in operation, they must be constantly updated. This mainly applies to security updates, without which the systems become more vulnerable and insecure in the long run.

With the decision for IoT technologies, there is also a great responsibility for companies that use IoT systems either in their everyday work and customer handling or distribute them to end-users: They collect a large amount of customer data, which is why it is a matter of trust that this not passed on to third parties or even sold.

A point similar to that machines can get smarter than humans is data interpretation. The systems used to collect an enormous amount of data, but because of the sometimes-large volume, a comprehensive interpretation by humans is hardly possible, even if this would be more intelligent or more sensitive in some cases. After all, despite the artificial intelligence of smart technologies, misinterpretation is possible.

A large amount of data also represents great potential, which, however, often remains unused. Sometimes only small percentages of the collected data are actually used.

The Internet of Things is a complex system that, precisely because of its ubiquity, cannot be understood and used equally well by all people who come into contact with it. However, misuse is a major technical and security risk, so that employees should be adequately trained, especially in companies in which new IoT-based systems are being introduced.


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