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A History of IoT

The ability to control things like home lighting, HVAC and security systems from your smartphone is so commonplace these days that entire businesses are built around installing smart connectivity and controls in both residential and commercial spaces. So how did we get here?

The Internet of Things (IoT) has pervaded the mainstream as a common buzzword associated with things like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. The ability to control things like home lighting, HVAC and security systems from your smartphone is so commonplace these days that entire businesses are built around installing smart connectivity and controls in both residential and commercial spaces. It’s fascinating how the internet, which was largely panned as a passing fad in the mid-90’s, has matured into the communications and connectivity juggernaut it is today. So how did we get here?

 Internet of Things: the networking capability that allows information to be sent to and received from objects and devices (such as fixtures and kitchen appliances) using the Internet.

Source: Merriam-Webster

In the early 1980’s, a good decade before the birth of the modern internet, a Coca-Cola vending machine in Pittsburgh, PA, was - by most accounts -  the very first IoT device. Computer science students at Carnegie Mellon University were able to connect to the machine via the ARPANET to detect if the machine across campus had drinks available and if they were actually cold.

The October 1990 INTEROP Conference featured a toaster that could be powered on and off via the internet. The darkness of the bread was, naturally, controlled by how long the toaster was left on. The following year an internet connected crane arm was added that would drop a slice of bread in the toaster. 

While not a traditional internet connected device, the “Trojan Room Coffee Pot” gained fame in 1993 when students at the University of Cambridge removed the need to physically check the coffee pot by monitoring it with a camera that would snap images of the pot three times per minute and transmit the images from the camera to their internal computer network.

The late, great Mark Weiser, former CTO at Xerox PARC, coined the term “ubiquitous computing” which he described as being able to occur using any device, in any location, and in any format. In 1998, shortly before his passing, he constructed a water fountain outside his office whose flow and height mimicked the volume and price trends of the stock market.


Fast forward to 2008 and hundreds of innovations later and the Internet of Things Era was born when, for the very first time, there were more devices than people connected to the internet.

Today there are approximately seven billion IoT devices worldwide, and that number is set to explode exponentially over the next few years. It is projected that by 2025, there will be in the ballpark of 22 billion IoT devices in use spanning all corners of the globe. By those numbers it is clear that IoT is no fad or boutique offering and, much like the internet itself, is defining a new era of communication and connectivity. 

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