What Is the Internet of Things?

What Does This Term Mean?

Computer cloud coming from phone
By: Maciej Frolow Collection: Stone

Google is a company that was born on the Internet, and other than a brief experiment with AdSense for radio (yeah, they really tried that) Google pretty much only make things that exist in the cloud or connect to the Internet. 

Google was also ahead of rival Microsoft in realizing that mobile was going to be a big thing and responsible for much if not most of Internet traffic in the future (Apple knew it too, which is why they beat Google to the market with their smart phone).

Google started investing heavy engineer time developing mobile friendly apps on iPhones as well as working on their own mobile platform, because they knew that the fringe thing hardly anyone but a few trendy technophiles used in 2007 would someday be common place. And they were right. Smartphones are everywhere. 

The Internet of Things is another one of those ideas that  eventually will just be everywhere. It's on the verge of that right now. The Consumer Electronics Show was full of Internet of Things (or Internet of Everything as Cisco is really trying to rename it.) 

So what exactly is it? This is a broad concept, but essentially the Internet of Things refers to embedded devices (things that have computer chips in them, like TVs, thermostats, cars, washers, and fridges) that can connect to the Internet. Sure, your TV can make movie recommendations and stream things from Netflix. It makes sense to have it connected.

 Why would your washer need to connect to the Internet? To tell you that your load is finished or that the machine is not working properly. Your fridge could tell you that you were out of milk. Your heater could find out that you were going to be late home from work because your car was still parked at the office and save your heating bill by not warming up that extra ten degrees until you started heading home.

Other devices could have embedded chips, such as bicycles, door locks, and lights. How great would it be if your living room light new you were in bed and turned itself off but turned itself back on if you had to get up in the middle of the night? 

That's on a personal level. It's where your things and other people's things combine that you get the most power. This brings us into another concept, "big data." The data from smart devices could be used collectively to better figure out how to plan new city roads or redirect around traffic jams. Your scale and fridge could send data to your phone to let you plan a diet according to the collective anonymous data of other users if you wanted to lose weight. 

Where is Google in all this? 

Everywhere it can be. Google is selling off Motorola and getting out of the phone market, but they seem to be dipping more and more toes into less saturated consumer device markets. Google purchased a company called Nest that makes smart thermostats. That was actually among many robotics companies Google acquired, mostly without a bunch of fanfare. Google X, Google's skunkworks, has been working on crazier ideas like Google Glass and self-driving cars. There are also possible drones, contact lenses that sense blood glucose levels, and even crazier ideas Google hasn't announced.

 Meanwhile, Nest is already making products that are being sold today. 

That doesn't mean Google hasn't had a few missteps here. Google tried and failed to innovate with an earlier smart meter platform for electrical grids. It was an idea that was really a little before its time. 

Google could go in several directions with the Internet of Things. They could write the platform and apps on which devices communicate with each other (aka the failed PowerMeter approach), or they could just make and sell the devices themselves. They could also partner with other companies (Samsung or LG for example) to create and distribute things.

Judging from how Google handled mobile, they might just try all of those things and see what sticks.