Often times we hear phrases and terminology tossed around so often that we think we know exactly what it is … but do we really? How many times have you heard the phrase "Internet of Things"? I would guess that the average person has heard the phrase, or acronym "IoT", at least one hundred times. But what is it truly? And is it ever going to get here or are we just talking about it?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects, devices, vehicles, buildings, and other material objects that are embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and overarching network connectivity. With these embedded sensors, the objects seemingly come to life by collecting and exchanging data and effectively communicating our realities with computer based systems. The buzz surrounding the IoT has been brewing over recent years and CES traditionally serves as a focal point of IoT innovations and applications. While the concept is relatively new (and widely misunderstood), its founding roots can be attributed to Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer and founder of the Auto-ID center at MIT. Ashton coined the term in 1999 to describe a system where the internet is connected to the physical world via omnipresent sensors.

How Did RFID Lead to the Internet of Things?

Ashton was working as an assistant brand manager at Procter and Gamble when he became interested in using RFID to help manage the organization’s supply chain. Ashton’s knowledge led him to MIT where he co-founded the Auto-ID center, basically a center with the goal of creating an RFID global standard. When the technology initially emerged, RFID was a generic technology with huge promise. Examples of usage included following a product through its assembly line and production to monitor its progress. Another example is attaching an RFID tag to retail inventory for a huge corporation such as Walmart to manage its supply levels. RFID was initially viewed as a promising big solution for big companies.

The Internet Of Things

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In 1999, through the evolution of this technology, Ashton coined the term "Internet of Things" to describe a system where the internet is connected to the physical world via omnipresent sensors. In hindsight, nearly 17 years later, we can look back at emerging RFID technology and see that it didn’t overwhelmingly revolutionize life or reach the full potential of its Hype Cycle. But, it did lead to a much larger evolution: the Internet of Things.

How Will RFID and IoT Co-Exist in the Future?

As if déjà vu, the introduction of the Internet of Things largely mimics the development of RFID. With premature excitement, use cases, and potential applications, the Internet of Things continues to gain momentum each year but not as quickly as once imagined. The Internet of Things (and RFID) both follow the Hype Cycle, a branded graphical chart that represents the maturity, adoption, and social application of emerging technologies.

Gartner Hype Cycle

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First, there’s a technology trigger. In this case, the technology trigger can arguably be that RFID led to the creation of the Internet of Things and the need and desire to expand beyond corporate use cases. The Internet of Things brings the same ideology of RFID into our homes and seeks to marry our realities with automated computer systems.

Secondly, there is a peak of inflated expectations. Around 2013, the Internet of Things became mainstream terminology even before it was widely understood. Manufacturers were, and continue, to develop products to tap into the IoT.

Thirdly, a period of disillusionment ensues. The technology is still young. The adoption rate is waning, and consumers and technologies are not fully developed to support the initiative. Gradually, enlightenment occurs. This is where I believe we currently find ourselves with the IoT. We’re seeing the emergence of second and third generation products. Products that work and consumers are educated on … products that consumers want to buy. Samsung and LG are launching connected appliances that can be used in our homes right now. Wearables comprise a huge portion of the floor space at CES. Connected home systems are being bought by power houses Google and Samsung, and Nest. The Hype Cycle will continue to grow.

And lastly, we reach the plateau of productivity. Within the next ten years, the Internet of Things will settle in as a mainstream technology that we once didn’t know how we lived without, such as the internet.

Internet of Things

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RFID, arguably, did not reach the plateau of productivity, at least not in the same manner as the IoT is slated to, mostly due to its applications. RFID, however, will remain the unsung hero with its power to fuel the Internet of Things and propel us to a new future of connectivity. Not only is our technology getting smarter, but so are we.