What is the Internet of Things?

man with laptop
man with laptop

Self-driving cars, smart appliances, and intelligent streetlights are physical objects made more effective by interconnectivity. The Internet of Things (IoT) is an environment of connected devices using sensor data to complete tasks. This concept has grown from a novelty in 1999 to a $220 billion global market with room to grow.

Future applications of IoT networks will make our hospitals, workplaces, and cities more efficient. The innovators behind the future of the IoT include software engineers responsible for device software and data platform design. We can better grasp the future of connected technology by understanding the origins of the IoT.

Defining IoT

The first application of IoT is credited to a 1999 proposal by Kevin Ashton to track Procter & Gamble products from production lines to stores. Ashton suggested the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for automated tracking. He offered the following definition of IoT in a 2015 interview:

“The IoT integrates the interconnectedness of human culture - our "things" - with the interconnectedness of our digital information system - "the internet." That's the IoT.”

The IoT refers to networks of connected devices communicating with each other. We’ll use intelligent thermostats as an example of a typical IoT network. Intelligent thermostats - like other IoT devices - are made possible by four components:

  • A sensor capable of measuring real-time temperature and humidity
  • A reliable data connection between the sensor and the cloud
  • An analytical platform for turning raw data into actionable insights
  • A user interface like a mobile app for review and action

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Examples of IoT

The number of IoT-connected devices throughout the world is expected to grow from 13 billion in 2022 to 29.4 billion in 2030. The Internet of Things can be found in almost every aspect of our lives. We can find examples of IoT use in our homes, workplaces, and communities.

Smart Homes

The IoT makes it possible for smart refrigerators to monitor food freshness and video doorbells to monitor suspicious activity. Voice-activated assistant devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home connect compatible devices throughout the home. Your assistant or your smartwatch can change the channel on a connected TV, adjust heating or cooling levels, and turn on the lights.

Smart Cities

Local governments increasingly work with designers and tech companies on streamlining operations through IoT networks. The Internet of Things provides promising solutions to long-lasting challenges including public safety, traffic management, and water treatment. The following IoT applications in cities show the positive impacts of technology on community life:

  • Real-time sensor monitoring of water quality in Buffalo;
  • Sensor deployment for wildfire detection and suppression in Oakland;
  • A smart camera network for street and parking lot monitoring in Chicago’s suburbs.
  • Wrong-way detection sensors on state highways in Irving, Texas.

Smart Facilities

The Internet of Things began as a method for reducing costs and improving efficiency for a major manufacturer. Current industrial IoT applications include connected production equipment, remote-monitored cleanrooms, and automated quality control measures. All of these features turn sensor data into safer work environments, well-maintained machinery, and better products.

Smart Hospitals

An aging patient population and increasing costs of health care paved the way for IoT applications in medical settings. Smart beds monitor patients for falls and vital signs, while wearable devices track patient sleep and movement patterns. Additional applications of IoT devices in hospitals and clinics include:

  • Augmented reality staff training in a digital twin created by sensors
  • Robotic automation of basic care tasks like dispensing medicine
  • Tagged medical devices for real-time monitoring of equipment locations

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Benefits and Challenges of IoT

IoT networks and devices are recent additions to the tech world. We haven’t fully grasped the positives and negatives of the IoT in its early stages. IoT innovators will need to find ways to maximize the following benefits while overcoming the biggest challenges.


Sixty-one percent of businesses and organizations surveyed in 2019 adopted IoT platforms. Executives are committing resources to the Internet of Things because of its impacts on productivity. IoT investments will yield productivity improvements through:

  • Process improvements identified in data analytics
  • Higher employee satisfaction by automating repetitive tasks
  • More equipment uptime due to predictive maintenance


The Internet of Things automates many of the small tasks and decisions we encounter in our homes. IoT networks can also be used for contactless payments, parking pass verification, and electronic toll collection. The various IoT networks in our lives reduce the headaches caused by repetitive actions and processes.

IoT Standardization

The quick growth of IoT networks and devices has not been accompanied by industry standards or regulation. Companies have flooded the global market with IoT components featuring different protocols and formats. The absence of standardization creates potential incompatibility of IoT devices. Connected devices that can’t speak to each other are incapable of achieving the promise of the Internet of Things.

Data Security Concerns

IoT networks present data and privacy concerns if not properly designed and secured. A lack of encryption, poor password health, and API vulnerabilities mean malicious actors can access data flowing through the Internet of Things. Our exposure to these threats will only grow as more connected devices create opportunities for breaches.

Future IoT Applications

Advancements in artificial intelligence will make IoT networks more responsive in the future. AI-enabled devices will not only gather data but make decisions based on programming and past analytics. Potential applications of AI in the Internet of Things include self-driving public transit fleets, fully automated factories, and homes that anticipate inhabitant needs.

Improved connectivity and blockchain technology will strengthen the foundations of the Internet of Things. Rapid rollouts of 5G infrastructure will create faster and more reliable communications between IoT devices. The incorporation of blockchain technology into IoT networks may counter data security threats.

IoT networks have become more common in recent years but there are still industries that would benefit from additional investment. For example, farms can reduce costs in a low-margin industry through automated watering and crop monitoring. The expanded use of IoT will help the following industries in the near future:

  • Advertising
  • Hospitality
  • Retail
  • Utilities

New IoT applications and advancements in existing technology rely on well-designed software. Data collection, user interfaces, and analytical platforms are designed by skilled engineers across a growing list of industries. Future experts in the Internet of Things build strong foundations for their work at Baylor University.

Learn more about Baylor's Online Master of Computer Science program

Become an Expert with a Baylor University Degree

Baylor University produces experts in software engineering areas including IoT through its Online Masters in Computer Science. This entirely online degree offers a software engineering track designed for future IoT innovators. Aspiring software engineers build on their undergraduate degrees in STEM fields with courses in:

  • Advanced Object-Oriented Development
  • Advanced Software Engineering
  • Distributed Systems
  • Software Verification & Validation

Experienced faculty members encourage creative solutions and ethical decision-making in every course. Students in the software engineering track also benefit from one-on-one assistance from enrollment through graduation. This innovative program prepares graduates for in-demand careers in IoT and other software engineering areas.

Learn more about Baylor’s Online Masters in Computer Science by downloading a program guide.