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What is the Internet of Things and How Does It Work?

By DeVry University

May 13, 2023
7 min read

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an interconnected network of physical objects that "speak" to one another using sensors and software. These devices connect over the internet and can be used to transmit data, perform data analysis and control one another remotely. 

Let’s explore some common questions related to IoT:

How Does the Internet of Things Work?

To get a sense of how this works, let’s use a smart home as an Internet of Things example. Imagine a home that features interactive voice assistant apps like Amazon’s Alexa, smart devices such as an Amazon Echo™ or a Google Home™1, a smart thermostat, several smart bulbs and a high-tech sprinkler system. Thanks to the Internet of Things, you can control these devices using voice commands. Many of these devices also have the capability to transmit usage data to your phone through an app. That data can provide a clearer picture of things used in the house like water usage from the sprinkler system, electrical demand from your interior lighting and the amount of time your air conditioning or heating unit spends running. The data gained from these devices makes it easier for people to make informed decisions about how and when they use them.

Of course, the Internet of Things isn't just useful for smart homes, there are several industrial and professional uses for IoT connected devices. In this article we'll explore why the Internet of Things is important, how it was developed and how it can be applied to business environments to improve workflow.

Why is the IoT Important?

The Internet of Things is important because of its capability to provide both individuals and companies with useful data and analytics. It also increases ease of use by enabling several devices to be simply controlled through a smart phone or via speech commands.

The key benefits of this network of objects can be broken down into three areas — interconnectivity, communication and automation.

Interconnectivity

This is the core pillar of the IoT. It allows for holistic integration between smart devices and allows the user to control them from one touchpoint.

With an IoT-enabled thermostat, for instance, you can check its status directly from your phone without being in the same room. Interconnectivity is also what allows your fitness trackers, smart appliances, and voice assistants to work and share data seamlessly with each other.

Communication

Communication and interconnectivity go hand-in-hand when it comes to IoT. As interconnectivity is about data sharing, communication takes things a step further by allowing devices to speak to and control one another.

Take for instance our smart device example from earlier. With these devices, you can enable voice control to do a variety of tasks, from adding items to your online lists and shopping carts, to setting reminders on your phone or calendars, to turning on lights and much more, all with one or two simple commands.

At the business level, this inter-device communication helps companies to stay ahead of potential problems. Communication between devices can tell users if a piece of equipment requires maintenance before it breaks, allowing the company to service the equipment before it interrupts workflow. These devices can often indicate the exact part of the equipment that is experiencing issues, which can reduce the amount of time a technician has to spend on site finding and fixing the problem.

Automation

Because devices are interconnected and capable of communicating with one another, they can often be set to perform certain functions in an automatic fashion.

Returning to our smart home analogy, automation can help you complete your morning routine. With the proper smart technology in your home, you can set your coffee maker to brew and your alarm clock to go off at the same time every morning, helping you keep your schedule consistent.

At the business level, automation becomes even more powerful. Some farmers have found ways to use the Internet of Things to improve the efficiency of their greenhouses. Smart greenhouses can help regulate climate, lighting, air movement, and water usage, allowing plants to grow with less human interaction.

What are the Benefits of IoT?

The benefits of IoT applications and their interconnectivity can be seen in many sectors of the global economy, including:

  • Manufacturing

    Companies can reduce operating costs and improve asset performance management with the use of sensors that detect an impending equipment failure or measure, in real time, when production output is diminished.

  • Automotive

    Through the use of information-gathering IoT applications, manufacturers and suppliers can keep cars running and their owners  informed and can optimize the performance of their production lines and supply chains.

  • Retail

    IoT applications allow retailers to manage inventory, optimize supply chain management, improve customer experience and reduce operational costs.

  • Transportation and logistics

    IoT sensor data can allow fleets of trucks, trains or ships carrying inventory to be rerouted based on changes in weather or driver availability. Inventory can be monitored with sensors that use RFID technology for shipment tracking and to keep an eye on temperatures. 

  • Public sector

    Government-owned utilities can use IoT applications to notify users of mass power outages or  interruptions in water or power services. Data collected can enable them to deploy resources more efficiently in their efforts to recover from outages faster.

  • Healthcare

    IoT can be extremely useful to healthcare staff when it comes to keeping track of assets. Sensor-fitted items such as wheelchairs can be used to create a trackable inventory that healthcare staff can quickly locate when they need them. But sensors aren’t the only way IoT can be applied to the healthcare sector. IoT can be used in medical device manufacturing, continuous patient monitoring via wearables and in-home care.

What is the History of the IoT?

The Internet of Things is something that tech companies have worked toward for decades. The whole concept branches from the idea that adding sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) to devices could improve efficiency and expand the range of services a single device could provide.

In 1999, the British tech pioneer Kevin Ashton coined the term "Internet of Things." He had an idea of a future in which devices were connected to one another in much the same way that people and computers connect with one another via the internet. Now, with huge advances in AI and technology, we have reached a point where it’s easier than ever to create a more robust Internet of Things.

IoT Home Uses vs. Industrial Applications

While home IoT can help people in a variety of ways in their own homes, perhaps the greatest demonstration of its power is through industrial Internet of Things applications.

Three ways that industrial IoT helps companies improve their efficiency and gain greater insight into their processes are:

  • Diagnostics

    As previously mentioned, IoT can help companies save time and money by preemptively communicating when there is a problem with their equipment and needs repair. This can save a company time and money, especially when it comes to expensive industrial machines.

  • Safety

    The Internet of Things doesn't just apply to machines. It can also help people make smarter and safer decisions. Some manufacturers have taken to using IoT-enabled devices to monitor personal protective equipment (PPE) for their workers. By measuring the data provided, companies can ensure that PPE is being worn properly and effectively.

  • Smart power grids

    Some utility companies have installed smart sensors within their power grids. These devices can both alert users of outages and service interruptions immediately, as well as point repair crews to the issue faster than without the technology.

Working with the IoT

There are several career opportunities for people who wish to work with IoT, including:

  • Software

    To build a connected product, you need a software programmer who can code for the specific applications of the device. These people help to ensure that the device can communicate with other things on the network, and that the IoT capabilities don't get in the way of the device’s primary function.

  • Networking

    Devices have to be set up and connected in a way that allows them to speak to one another. Much like setting up a computer network, IoT networking requires some particular skills.

  • Hardware

    At the end of the day, the Internet of Things is built from hardware. The industry needs people who can perform repairs on these devices, particularly at the industrial level.

Advance Your IoT Skills at DeVry

If you can see yourself building a career around the Internet of Things, we can help you develop many of the skills you need to start turning your passion into a profession. Our 100% online Undergraduate Certificate in the Internet of Things (IoT) can help you learn how to create smart networks and implement, configure and manage IoT systems with no previous experience required. Coursework in this program can also help you prepare to pursue industry-recognized certifications like CompTIA Cloud + and CompTIA IT Fundamentals. Classes start every 8 weeks.

1Reference in this publication to any specific commercial product, process or service, or the use of any trade, firm or corporation name is for general information purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation or certification of any kind by DeVry University. Persons using such products and services assume responsibility for their use in accordance with the provider’s current terms and conditions.

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