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Internet of Things: 20 Years from a Term to a Tenure

By January 21, 2019No Comments

The Internet is the most pervasive worldwide communication network. For many business and consumer users, the Internet’s primary function is to act as the pipe through which to send and receive information from personal computers, tablets, and mobile devices. Beyond the dissemination and consumption of materials (“information” and “knowledge” not always being accurate terms for what we find on the Web), the Internet has sprouted and grown a new branch that connects not only people, but also devices. Further, it has risen above being a repository and conduit for data to a mechanism for data analysis and automated responses. Technological advances in areas such as IT, voice recognition, biometrics, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, and robotics have taken Internet applications from lateral search-and-retrieval exchanges to multi-dimensional interactions between users and digitized machines.

Over the past 20 years, this is what we have come to know as the Internet of Things (IoT). The technology pioneer, Kevin Ashton, coined the term in 1999. Internet of Things describes the concept of using the Internet to access a network of physical objects. At a high level, access between the physical and electronic worlds is facilitated with a device(s) that includes sensors, a processor, and a wireless transceiver coupled with the processor. This connectivity enables devices and computers to communicate in what is referred to as a smart world. Today, smart technology is a common term and its features are becoming expected, if not demanded, in advancements in almost anything a consumer – personal, business, municipal – touches.

Twenty years from its inception, IoT is an integral part of forward-moving industries. It is becoming the key to efficiency and fine-grain control. IoT systems can help you monitor your blood pressure and heart rate as readily as they can manage the water pressure in a massive industrial irrigation system. Many of us are aware of the technology in a hyper-focused sort of way: we wear our fitness trackers and speak to our televisions, we are excited because our refrigerator can tell us what to put on our shopping list. But the reach of IoT is huge and continuing to grow. Here are some of the areas where smart technology is embedding itself:

  • Home automation
  • Home appliances
  • Home energy management
  • Home security and safety
  • Health and fitness
  • Medical device
  • Information and entertainment
  • Automotive
  • Travel
  • Agriculture

In 2019, we can see that IoT and smart systems have taken hold in our way of life and have an irreversible position in our future. It’s got its own related vocabulary, as evidenced in The Ultimate Guide to IoT Terminology [1]. And, obviously, as more data is distributed through Internet channels, data security is a critical issue. Inventors work to keep pace with each other; almost as one invents a new method of access another must address its integrity.

For example, as recently as six months ago, PKWARE, Inc. of Milwaukee, WI published a patent for Systems and methods for Smartkey information management (US10015150). The brief abstract states: “A system and method are provided for the secure sharing of information across and open network and for performing management of keys used for encrypting and decrypting data” [2].

Another data-related issue is volume. Big Data is now excessively big, and new systems and methods are needed to manage and mine the unwieldy collections. C3 loT, Inc. (Redwood City, CA) applied in 2018 for a patent for “Systems, methods, and devices for an enterprise ai and internet-of-things platform” (US20180191867). Their invention addresses “Systems, methods, and devices for a cyberphysical (IoT) software application development platform based upon a model driven architecture and derivative IoT SaaS applications…” [2] A map of the cyberphysical platform is below.

Figure: Schematic block diagram illustrating a concept map for a cyber-physical system

cyber physical map IoT

It is unlikely that such a schematic existed for IoT in 1999. This illustrates not only the complexity of IoT platforms, but also the potential for integrated systems to collect, analyze, and utilize data.

The IoT becomes more truly about “things” when human intervention is no longer required to respond to data input. Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technologies are another way to control and streamline mechanical and technical processes. For example, as the number of sensors established in an environment increases, the types of data varies, and the quantity of data increases. A method is needed to, in essence, corral this incoming data and redistribute it for analysis and application. In a 2018 EPO patent application, “Group-based data transfer in machine-to-machine systems” (EP3391679A1) [2], the inventors aim to provide a device “with a communications module to receive signals of a plurality of devices within range of the particular device and further [provision it] with grouping logic.” The novel system automatically identifies appropriate data subsets and accordingly converges data into those subsets. Ultimately, the M2M solution can make it easier for a user to consume the information.

Prior to 1999, Kevin Ashton was a leader in radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and methods for applying it in supply chain management. His innovations gave rise to the Internet of Things. Twenty years later, managing the supply chain is less about shipping goods and more about trafficking the data supply through the Internet to meet the demands of information consumers. The supply is never-ending, and it looks like the IoT is everlasting.

NOTE: To identify the example patents above, the writer performed natural language, plain text searches using InnovationQ. The writer first searched for relevant information using a common Internet search engine. From the resulting set of articles, the writer selected key phrases that represented the concepts for which patents were sought. Simply copying those phrases from the document and then pasting them into the query entry field in InnovationQ produced multiple significant results in a matter of seconds. The writer selected the most recent patent and application examples for this blog post.

[1] https://www.link-labs.com/35-top-iot-terms-you-need-to-know

[2] IP.com InnovationQ search results.