What is the Internet of Things (IoT)? With Examples

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Find out how the internet of things works and why it’s important.

[Featured Image] A glowing blue abstract depiction of data points connecting to represent the internet of things

What is the internet of things (IoT)?

The internet of things, or IoT, is a network of physical devices. These devices can transfer data to one another without human intervention. IoT devices are not limited to computers or machinery. The internet of things can include anything with a sensor assigned a unique identifier (UID). The primary goal of the internet of things is to create self-reporting devices that can communicate with each other (and users) in real time. 

How does IoT work?

Here are a few components that make the internet of things work:

  • An internet of things platform. An IoT platform manages device connectivity. It can be a software suite or a cloud service. The purpose of an IoT platform is to manage and monitor hardware, software, processing abilities, and application layers. 

  • Sensor technologies. IoT sensors, sometimes called smart sensors, convert real-world variables into data that devices can interpret and share. Many different types of sensors exist. For example, temperature sensors detect heat and convert temperature changes into data. Motion sensors detect movement by monitoring ultrasonic waves and triggering a desired action when those waves are interrupted. 

  • Unique identifiers. The core concept of the IoT is communication among devices and users. Unique identifiers (UIDs) establish the context of a device within the larger network to enable this communication. Identifiers are patterns, like numeric or alphanumeric strings. One example of a UID that you might be familiar with is an internet protocol (IP) address. They can identify a single device (instance identifier) or the class to which that device belongs (type identifier).

  • Connectivity. Sensors can connect to cloud platforms and other devices through a host of network protocols for the internet. 

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Natural language processing (NLP) in IoT devices makes it easier for users to input information and interact with devices. One common example of an IoT device that utilizes NLP technology is the Amazon Alexa. Machine learning also enhances the analytical capabilities of IoT devices.

IoT applications

Billions of devices are connected to the internet, collecting and sharing information with one another. They range from smart home setups like cooking appliances and smoke detectors to military-grade surveillance equipment. The list below outlines a few of the most common types of IoT applications.

  • Consumer IoT. Consumer IoT refers to personal and wearable devices that connect to the internet. These devices are often referred to as smart devices.

  • Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The IIoT is the system of interconnected devices in the industrial sector. Manufacturing machinery and devices used for energy management are a part of the industrial internet of things. 

  • Commercial IoT. Commercial IoT refers to the tools and systems used outside of the home. For example, businesses and health care organizations leverage commercial IoT for auditable data trails and consumer management. 

Internet of things examples

As mentioned above, the internet of things has many different applications. You likely use IoT devices every day. A few IoT devices that you may be familiar with include smart thermostats and kitchen appliances, fitness tracking watches, self-driving cars, and home security systems. Personal medical devices like pacemakers are also IoT devices. You can learn more about IoT networks and devices and even build your own with the University of Colorado Boulder’s online specialization, Hands-On Internet of Things.

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Hands-on Internet of Things

Gain real-world experience with IoT. Techniques and Concepts of Internet of Things

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INTERMEDIATE level

Average time: 4 month(s)

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Skills you'll build:

Python Programming, Device Programming, Raspberry Pi, Machine Learning, Internet, Internet Of Things (IOT), Wireless, Front And Back Ends, Service Discovery

IoT jobs

Many different career paths exist for someone who wants to work with the IoT. Explore a few of the most common job titles with the list below.

  • Technical IoT project manager. Technical IoT project managers provide organizations with technical expertise and team leadership. They also design and implement new methods to increase efficiency.

Read more: What is a Technical Project Manager + How Do You Become One?

  • IoT architect. IoT architects design and create IoT solutions to solve business problems. 

Read more: What Are Embedded Systems (+ How to Work with Them)

  • IoT engineer. IoT engineers develop and manage IoT hardware, software, platforms, and systems. 

You can learn more about IoT development and prepare for a career in IoT with An Introduction to Programming the IoT specialization from the University of California, Irvine.

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An Introduction to Programming the Internet of Things (IOT)

Create Your Own Internet of Things (IoT) Device. Design and create a simple IoT device in just six courses.

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BEGINNER level

Average time: 6 month(s)

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Skills you'll build:

Arduino, Python Programming, Internet Of Things (IOT), Raspberry Pi, Microcontroller, Embedded System Design, Wireshark, C Programming, Debugging, Computer Programming, Application Programming Interfaces (API)

Why are IoT solutions important?

The IoT is essential to business. It makes it possible to collect and analyze massive amounts of data in real time. IoT devices also enable automation. They allow people to gain more control over their environments, health, and even safety. For example, smart home security systems can automatically assess threats like burglary or carbon monoxide poisoning and call for help. 

Personal medical devices like glucose monitors continually track glucose levels. This eliminates the need for traditional record keeping and protects patients with alerts when glucose levels become problematic. If you want to learn more about IoT networks and emerging technologies, you can earn a certificate from the Yonsei University in IoT Wireless & Cloud Computing Emerging Technologies.

Pros and cons of the internet of things

Pros of IoTCons of IoT
Automation. Removing the need to perform mundane tasks like turning the thermostat on and off or locking doors increases efficiency and quality of life.Privacy. It can be challenging to protect the data mined by IoT devices. Increased tracking threatens the confidentiality of the information we share over the internet.
Conservation. Automation makes it easier to manage energy consumption and water usage without human oversight or error.Security. Individual device security is left up to the manufacturers. Network security could become compromised if manufacturers do not prioritize security measures.
Analytics. Information that was previously difficult to collect and analyze can be tracked effortlessly with the internet of things.Bandwidth. Too many connected devices on a shared network results in slow internet speeds.

Learn more about the internet of things with Coursera. 

Ready to learn more about the internet of things and its applications? Enroll in the online course Introduction to IoT and Embedded Systems.

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Introduction to the Internet of Things and Embedded Systems

The explosive growth of the “Internet of Things” is changing our world and the rapid drop in price for typical IoT components is allowing people to innovate ...

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