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Accessible and effective communication are the foundations of innovation. The Internet of Things (IoT) has made it possible for devices to share data seamlessly. In the past, data was passed from device to device via a direct connection. The first telegraphs in the 1800s are an excellent example.

However, the Internet of Things has given us the ability to connect and control devices that aren’t necessarily tethered together by wires and cords. Once the internet was developed in the 1960s, we saw an explosion of innovation in interconnectivity, which has significantly influenced the way we live and work.

IoT use has been skyrocketing in recent years. There were roughly 7 billion IoT devices in 2018. By 2021, that figure had grown over 550% to 46 billion. To truly understand the significance of this growth, it’s worthwhile to look at the evolution of IoT and its history.

What Is the Internet of Things?

As a simple definition, IoT takes a device or object and connects it to a network automatically, meaning no human intervention is necessary. This is an important aspect of IoT because, while your smartphone or computer might allow you to give commands to an IoT device, the device is connected to the network with or without your phone or computer.

IoT devices are varied, and you’ll find some surprising objects connected to wireless networks. Examples include refrigerators, toasters, thermostats, smartwatches, elevators, manufacturing equipment, and airplanes. As more and more devices are given this type of connectivity, the technology becomes more valuable, and its definition evolves. 

Who Invented the Internet of Things?

The idea of connected devices is much older than the term “Internet of Things.” The internet, developed as a government project in the 1960s, was the first significant component of IoT. In the following decades, commercial service providers began promoting public use of the internet, with a combination of landlines and satellites offering the basic communications foundation.

The Internet of Things was officially named as a concept by Kevin Ashton in 1999. Executive Director of the Auto-Id Center at Procter & Gamble, Ashton used the term in the title of a presentation he was giving about RFID in the supply chain. The term stuck, and the rest is history.

History of the Internet of Things

The concept of machines being able to communicate with one another isn’t new, but the modern shape of the Internet of Things has only been in existence for a little over thirty years. Here is a brief history of IoT broken down by decade. 

The 1980s

The first true example of an Internet of Things device is from the early 1980s. Interestingly, it was a vending machine. Programmers added internet connectivity to a Coca-Cola vending machine located at Carnegie Melon University, which allowed remote visibility into the machine’s temperature and drink availability. 

The 1990s

The vending machine experiment was so successful that scientists decided to expand upon the concept. In 1990, San Jose engineers John Romkey and Simon Hackett created the world’s first smart toaster armed with its own TC/IP address. Using the Sunbeam Deluxe Automatic Radiant Control toaster, the pair added connectivity to the device. Specifically, a network would tell the toaster when to power on, lower the toast, raise the toast, and power off.

Even in these early days of IoT, there were security concerns about the new technology. For example, could a hacker take control of the device to start a fire? Who could see the device online? As more inventors became aware of IoT, these issues were simultaneously addressed with various technology solutions.

In 1993, the University of Cambridge created the Trojan Room Coffee Pot, a webcam used to monitor coffee pot levels. It uploaded an image of the coffee pot to the building’s server about three times per minute and was later placed online once a browser was available to show the images.

In 1998, computer scientist Mark Weiser built a water fountain outside his office at Xerox whose height and flow mimicked the price trends and volume of the stock market. In 1999, Kevin Ashton coined the term “Internet of Things,” even though we already had several examples of these connected “things.”

The 2000s

At the beginning of the 21st century, the term “Internet of Things” took hold and was used frequently by media outlets like Forbes, Scientific American, The Guardian, and the Boston Globe.

In 2000, LG Electronics introduced its first internet-connected refrigerator plans. 

Created in 2005, one of the most advanced IoT devices to date was a rabbit called Nabaztag. This was a WiFi-enabled device that could alert and speak to the user about news headlines, stock market reports, the weather, and more.

According to Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, the IoT came of age between 2008 and 2009. Citing the growth of tablet PCs and smartphones, this was the time when there were more “things” connected to the internet than people. 

The 2010s

In 2010, the Chinese government announced it would make IoT one of its priorities in its Five-Year-Plan. The same year, Google began storing data about people’s Wifi networks as it updated its StreetView service.

In 2011, market research company Gartner named IoT to its new (now famous) “hype-cycle for emerging technologies.” The same year, IPv6, a network layer protocol vital to IoT, was publicly launched.

In 2014 the massive Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was themed for IoT. The same year, Google announced that it was purchasing Nest for $3.2 billion.

In the past decade, the IoT and interconnected devices have become commonplace and widespread in our everyday work and home lives. From self-driving cars to connected fitness devices, IoT has found its way into just about every industry.

The Future of IoT Technologies

Given the rapid pace of development and adoption, the IoT market will continue to expand in the coming years. Everything that can be connected to the internet and provide users with additional functionality will be.

By 2025, the number of connected IoT devices is predicted to exceed 75 billion. Factors that will influence this widespread expansion include widely expanding online connectivity, increased computing power, advances in artificial intelligence, lower sensor costs, and reduced data collection and storage costs.

This history of the Internet of Things makes it evident just how wide-reaching this technology has become, from business applications to personal use. Whether you wish to stay connected in your home or automate specific functions of your commercial building, IoT is likely to play a role. Click here to learn more about building automation systems and how they can save your business money!