Today, the Internet -- tomorrow, the Internet of Things?

Anything with an on-off switch will be part of the network and will generate data that takes on a life of its own.

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  • Your refrigerator monitors its contents and makes restocking suggestions. (Refrigerators with connectivity are already on the market, including one from Samsung, but Hilton's sense is that there is currently no market demand.)
  • Your car tracks where it has gone and where it is going, predicts where it will go next and has suggestions ready if you ask for the nearest gas station, using data from the cloud. (Toyota and Microsoft are already building such a service.)
  • Your car additionally monitors its internal functions and offers maintenance advice, as the OnStar remote diagnostics facility already does for General Motors and, now, other makers' cars.
  • Your car's black-box data can be submitted to your insurance company in an effort to get reduced rates, assuming that data constitutes evidence of safe driving. A number of car insurance firms are already offering usage-based policies, sometimes based on data gathered by an instrument mounted on the car, as with the Snapshot program from Progressive Casualty Insurance Company.
  • Your car can send you a notice if your teenager drives it over a certain speed, or through a specified "geo-fence," as can now be done with certain add-on devices.

Other sources predict hospital beds with so much instrumentation that no sensors need to be attached to the patient, as shown in this research.

"After three or four years it will go beyond retail, and after 10 years our whole lives will be different from what we can imagine now," predicts Kneko Burney, strategist at Compass Intelligence, a consulting firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. "In 10 years it will not be strange to have a cell phone earpiece embedded in your ear."

In China, Premier Wen Jiabao has made the Internet of Things a national goal, notes MIT Prof. Edmund W. Schuster, who works in the university's Auto ID Center. "The Chinese see it as fundamental part of a harmonious society, especially as it would make services easier to coordinate in dense cities," he says.

Additionally, the municipal government of Wuxi (also rendered Wu-Shi), a suburb of Shanghai, has announced intentions to build an IoT-based theme park. "It is expected to become a travel destination of [a] new generation for [sic] Internet users, an offline spiritual home, and an entertainment center," according to a press release from city officials.

M2M roots

The IoT got its start about 15 years ago with the idea of using machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies to monitor remote assets, mostly over now-defunct proprietary networks, explains Alex Brisbourne, head of KORE Telematics, an M2M wireless service provider in Atlanta.

The change to the IoT started in 2001, "when we started to see IP (Internet Protocol) offered through cellular networks," he recalls.

"Internet of Things is a slightly newer phrase that means the same thing as M2M," agrees Bill Ingle, an analyst at Beecham Research in Boston. "The carriers have gotten interested in M2M in the last two years as another source of revenue, as the voice market has started to saturate."

Lucero at ABI Research adds that that there is considerable overlap among the Internet of Things, M2M, RFID, smart meters, various sensor networks, building and industrial control systems, and home automation.

The technology

As for the necessary sensor, transmission and processing technologies, "There are no show-stoppers," says Evans. However, it would be advisable to perfect ways for the sensors to "harvest" energy from their environments to avoid reliance on batteries, he adds. The other big enabler will be the spread of IPv6, as that addressing scheme offers enough potential Internet addresses to give every atom on the face of the earth its own address, Evans notes.

"There are no technical barriers," agrees Burney. The limiting factor is the cost of the micro components, the bandwidth of the wireless networks, business strategies and the ability of humans to absorb that much information, he adds.

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