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What is the IoT?

With the IoT, the English acronym for the “Internet of Things”, the great digital network that we have learnt to know and use in every moment of our day thanks to computers, smartphones and tablets, is expanding to potentially include every device. Almost any object can be connected to the Internet of Things, provided it has an identifying address (e.g. IP address), i.e. a numerical label allowing it to be identified uniquely on the Network, and software that gives it the possibility of exchanging data through the same Network without human intervention. The list of things connected to the IoT is enormous and can be continuously updated: you go from car light bulbs and fitness equipment to video cameras, from radios and TVs to air conditioning systems. The things that are part of the IoT are “intelligent” like the machinery we spoke about on the subject of Industry 4.0: constantly interconnected, capable of self-diagnosis and solving the problems that can arise over time. If the “smart manufacturing” model dominates in Industry 4.0, then thanks to the IoT we can enjoy “smart living”, a smart life house or environment where the lights come on by themselves when it gets dark or at our command by remote control and the heating and air conditioning systems start up automatically as the external climatic conditions change. Devices that interact with each other, the outside world and human beings, improving their quality of life and reducing waste and risks.

 

How the IoT was born

Communication between machines (in English Machine to Machine, abbreviated to M2M) is commonly considered as the forerunner of the IoT concept. Put simply, the spread of the Internet and Cloud Computing, the IT “cloud” that Microsoft defines as “the distribution of computing services, such as servers, archiving resources, databases, networks, software, analysis and much more via the Internet” have contributed to the evolution of M2M into the IoT. The key year is 1999, when the British researcher Kevin Ashton, founder of a research group at the MIT in Boston on RFID technology (Radio-Frequency IDentification), uses the expression “Internet of Things” for the first time. The “début” of the IoT came before the top management of the multinational Procter & Gamble, which Ashton met to make aware them of the benefits the could have obtained from the introduction of RFID technology and, more generally, from the connection between the internet and the physical world thanks to a network of distributed sensors. Again in 1999, Neil Gershenfeld, lecturer and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, put to press a book with the title “When Things Start to Think”, published the year after in Italy with the title “Quando le cose iniziano a pensare”. The expression IoT began to take root in the United States a few years later: in 2003-2004, it appears in the headlines of some newspapers and the titles of a few books. In the same period, again in the United States, RFID sensors begin to be become widespread on a large scale.

 

The applications of the IoT

Technological progress has made giant leaps from the first few years of the 2000s to today, bringing the IoT into everybody’s house. But this is only the start: more and more, over the next few years, we will get used to the possibility of domotics and the convenience of a smart city where the lighting, traffic and parking are regulated in an intelligent manner by sensors connected in a network and linked to a cloud. According to the American company Gartner, which specializes in market research and pays careful attention to IoT developments, the number of connected devices will reach 14.2 billion in 2020, breaking through the 25 billion mark in 2021 (“Top Strategic IoT Trends and Technologies Through 2023”). Among the common applications of the IoT, there are the wearables, intelligent wearable objects like smartwatches connected to smartphones, like interactive glasses that allow us to explore virtual reality or the so-called “augmented reality”, like bracelets capable of geolocalization and monitoring human activities, both in free time and at work. Thanks to RFID technology – to stay in the field of wearables – one can simplify and improve the collection of urban wastes, making use of wearable hardware solution that reads the tag on the bag or bin. This is the Partitalia e-Waste solution, already in operation in various municipalities throughout Italy. An example that we will recount from closer up the next time.

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