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

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Find out how the Internet of Things works and why it’s important.

[Featured Image] An Internet of Things engineer works at her computer in an office setting.

What is the internet of things (IoT)?

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a network of physical devices that can transfer data to one another without human intervention. IoT devices are not limited to computers or machinery. They 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 IoT 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 the desired action when those waves are interrupted. 

  • Unique identifiers: The core concept of the IoT is communication between 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 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. 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 a 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 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. 

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.

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

  • 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.

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 Yonsei University in IoT Wireless & Cloud Computing Emerging Technologies.

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.

As digitalization in our society grows, having a firm understanding of what the IoT is and how it works can set you up for success when entering digital industries. To take your first step, enroll in the online course Introduction to IoT and Embedded Systems on Coursera to start building your foundation.

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