“Internet of Things”

Origin of the concept of “Internet of Things”

MIT Auto-ID Center

The phrase “Internet of Things” was coined some 20 years ago by the founders of the original MIT Auto-ID Center, with special mention to Kevin Ashton in 1999 2 and David L. Brock in 2001 3 . The term “Auto-ID” refers to any broad class of identification technologies used in industry to automate, reduce errors, and increase efficiency. These technologies include bar codes, smart cards, sensors, voice recognition, and biometrics. But since 2003 the Auto-ID
technology on the main stage has been Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).

The climax of the Auto-ID Center reputation occurred in September 2003, when the EPC (Electronic Product Code) Executive Symposium taking place in Chicago (Illinois, USA) marked the official launch of the EPC Network – an open technology infrastructure allowing computers to automatically identify man-made objects and track them as they flow from the plant to distribution centre to store shelves. The Symposium, supported then by more than 90 major companies from around the world – representing food, consumer goods, retail, transportation and pharmaceuticals industries, among others – highlighted RFID deemed to become a key enabling technology for economic growth in the next fifty years. Considering the Symposium in historic terms, Kevin Ashton foretold a shift from computer information processing to computer sensing.

A few weeks after the Symposium, in October 2003, the MIT Auto-ID Center was rechristened as Cambridge Auto-ID Lab when it was closed and split into a research arm – the Auto-ID Labs – and a commercial arm – EPCglobal, a joint venture between UCC and EAN.

The goal of the Auto-ID Labs is to develop a network connecting computers to objects – not just the hardware (RFID tags and readers) or the software to run the network, but actually everything that is needed to create an Internet of Things, including affordable hardware, network software and protocols, and languages for describing objects in ways computers can understand. It is important to note that the Auto-ID Labs is not seeking to create another global network but rather to develop the elements built on top of the Internet 4 that would enable tracking items and sharing information over the Internet.

When Internet of Things leaves the lab to come in broad daylight

Among the first papers of general interest on the Internet of Things, those mentioned below marked the beginning of a new era for commerce and industry. The Internet of Things is considered then as the mere extension of Radio Frequency Identification where “RFID is kind of the amoeba of the wireless computing world” (Kevin Ashton). But the phrase “Internet of Things” points out a vision of the machines of the future: in the nineteenth century, machines learned to do; in the twentieth century, they learned to think; and in the twenty-first century, they are learning to perceive – they actually sense and respond.

  •  “The Internet of Things”, by Sean Dodson, The Guardian, 9 October 2003.
  • “Toward a Global Internet of Things”, by Steve Meloan, Sun Microsystems, 11 November 2003. It heralded that “With the official release of the Electronic Product Code Network, we are about to see the Internet of Things paradigm enter the big time – the world of main stream commerce”. Sun Microsystems argued of course that with its notion that “The Network is the Computer”, it was uniquely positioned to play a leading role in the Auto-ID revolution, especially with respect to security, scalability and cross-platform compatibility.
  • “A Machine-to-Machine Internet of Things”, Business Week, 26 April 2004.
  • “The Internet of Things”, by Neil Gershenfeld, Raffi Krikorian and Danny Cohen, Scientific American Magazine, October 2004 – “The principles that gave rise to the Internet are now   leading to a new kind of network of everyday devices.”
  • “The Internet of Things: Start-ups jump into next big thing: tiny networked chips”, by Robert Weisman, The Boston Globe, 25 October 2004.

International Telecommunications Union (ITU)

The concept of “Internet of Things” came into limelight in 2005 when the International Telecommunications Union published the first report on the subject . At that time, Lara Srivastava, ITU’s Strategy and Policy Unit, said: “It’s safe to say that technology today is more pervasive than we would ever have imagined possible 10 years ago. Similarly, 20 years from now things will continue in this general direction. That’s what these new technologies are telling us.”

The ITU report adopts a comprehensive and holistic approach by suggesting that the Internet of Things will connect the world’s objects in both a sensory and intelligent manner through combining technological developments in item identification (“tagging things”), sensors and wireless sensor networks (“feeling things”), embedded systems (“thinking things”) and nanotechnology (“shrinking things”). By addressing ICT and nanotechnology together, this report touches on the concept of “convergent technologies” brought up by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in its 2002 report for achieving “a tremendous improvement in human abilities, societal outcomes, the nation’s productivity, and the quality of life”. At the same time, the ITU report identifies the most important challenges that need to be tackled for fully exploiting the potential of the Internet of Things – standardisation and harmonisation, privacy, and socio-ethical issues.

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