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

Written by Jessica Schulze • Updated on

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 that is assigned a unique identifier (UID). The primary goal of the IoT is to create self-reporting devices that can communicate with each other (and users) in real time.

Who coined the term Internet of Things?

The IoT was named by computer scientist Kevin Ashton in 1999.


Internet of Things examples

You likely use IoT devices every day. The list below outlines a few IoT devices that you may be familiar with:

  • Smart home devices. Smart devices are interactive electronics that use wireless connections to understand user instructions. To an extent, smart home devices like thermostats and home security systems can work autonomously to assist with daily tasks. For example, you may program your smart thermostat to adjust automatically to a cooler setting before you arrive home from work. Or, you may receive a security camera notification to inform you that someone is at the door when you are not home. 

  • Wearable technologies. One of the most common Internet of Things examples is smartwatches. Wearable IoT technology like Fitbits and Apple Watches connect to other devices (like your smartphone) to share data. They typically also connect to the internet to track GPS locations. 

  • Personal medical devices. Personal medical devices like pacemakers are also IoT devices. Remote medical devices can help monitor and share a patient's vital signs or detect early signs of health issues for fast intervention. 

  • Autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars and other connected vehicles rely on the internet to share real-time information. Sensors throughout the vehicle help map its surroundings, transmit camera footage, and respond to traffic signals.

Interested in building your own IoT device? Try the University of Colorado Boulder’s online program, Hands-On Internet of Things.

3 types of 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.

1. Consumer IoT

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

2. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

The industrial Internet of Things 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. 

3. 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. 

How does IoT work?

The next few sections break down the components that make the Internet of Things work.

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).

Internet connectivity

Sensors can connect to cloud platforms and other devices through a host of network protocols for the internet. This enables communication between devices. 

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.

If you're interested in starting or advancing your IoT career, sharpening your AI skills can help you become a stronger job candidate. Consider trying out an online program like IBM's AI Foundations for Everyone Specialization.


Edge computing

Edge computing is a computing framework. It aims to conserve resources and speed up response time by moving computational resources like data storage closer to the data source. The IoT accomplishes this by utilizing edge devices like IoT gateways.

Benefits of the Internet of Things

Before the introduction of the IoT, devices could only collect and share information with human interaction. Today, the IoT enables lower operational costs, increased safety and productivity, and overall improved customer experience. Here are a few notable pros of the Internet of Things:

  • Automation. Removing the need to perform mundane tasks like turning the thermostat on and off or locking doors increases efficiency and quality of life.

  • Conservation. Automation makes it easier to manage energy consumption and water usage without human oversight or error.

  • Big data analytics. Information that was previously difficult to collect and analyze can be tracked effortlessly with the Internet of Things.

You can learn more about how the IoT benefits certain industries in the sections below. 

The Internet of Things in health care

The IoT helps decrease the need for traditional record-keeping and protects patients with real-time alerts. For example, glucose monitors can alert the patient or caretaker when glucose levels become problematic and prompt the appropriate action.

The Internet of Things in business

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.

Potential drawbacks of IoT

Managing large amounts of data poses certain risks and disadvantages. For example, more IoT devices mean more human intervention through network and device monitoring. Some security researchers believe that cybersecurity professionals may face an increased workload as the IoT grows. Here are a few more potential drawbacks of the Internet of Things:

  • Privacy concerns. 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.

  • Security issues. Individual device security is left up to the manufacturers. Wireless network security could become compromised if manufacturers do not prioritize security measures.

  • Bandwidth. Too many connected devices on a shared network results in slow internet speeds.

IoT jobs

Many different career paths exist for someone who wants to work with the IoT. You can learn about 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. 

Do you want to learn more about IoT development or prepare for a career in IoT? You can enroll for free today with An Introduction to Programming the IoT, an online specialization from the University of California Irvine.

Learn more about IoT on Coursera 

Deepen your knowledge of the skills and tools that enable the Internet of Things, or start learning them today with these top-rated courses on Coursera:

For an introductory course, start with the University of California, Irvine's Introduction to the Internet of Things and Embedded systems. In just 11 hours, you'll learn the importance of IoT in society, the components of a typical IoT device, and common IoT design considerations. Best of all, if you enjoy the course, you'll be on your way to completing a specialization in the field.

To learn how to build your own IoT device, try the University of California, Irvine's An Introduction to Programming the Internet of Things (IoT) Specialization. Here, in just two months, you'll learn how to design, create, and deploy your own IoT device by using Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms coded with C and Python.

To enhance your IoT cybersecurity skills, explore the University System of Georgia's Cybersecurity and the Internet of Things. In 11 hours, you'll explore some of the security and privacy issues facing IoT devices used by industrial sectors, homeowners, and consumers today.

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Jessica is a technical writer who specializes in computer science and information technology. Equipp...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.