What Is the Internet of Things?

An introduction to the world of IoT and its connected devices

Google Home Mini next to a smartphone


The Internet of Things (or IoT, for short) refers to a network of everyday, usually household, objects connected to the internet, to other devices like smartphones and tablets, and to each other. These objects usually have some form of advanced technology within them to help them not only connect to this network but to interact with and respond to their environments.

How IoT Technology Works

Internet of Things and Industry 4.0
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An IoT system is made up of four main parts: sensors and devices, connectivity, data processing, and a user interface.

The first part involves sensors or devices that must gather information from their external environment. For example, a smart thermostat might receive a temperature reading of your home.

The second step in this system—connectivity—requires this information be sent to the cloud through some sort of internet connection, like Wi-Fi. After the data is sent to the cloud, the third step is processing that data. During data processing, the information must be analyzed to see if it fits certain parameters.

The last step in an IoT system is the user interface. After the data has been analyzed, the IoT device's user interface will either automatically make adjustments to respond to its environment's needs—it may automatically adjust the temperature for your home, for example—or it may send a smartphone alert to the user to let them know the temperature is too high and prompt them to remotely adjust the temperature.

Popular IoT Devices to Know

The Internet of Things is a complex network of smart home devices, the internet, and ourselves. We still have a ways to go in developing IoT technology, but this form of technology is undoubtedly useful, as it allows us to automate even the most mundane household tasks.

Let's take a look at a few of the most commonly used IoT devices.

Smart Speakers: Amazon Echo

Amazon's popular voice-controlled smart speaker can answer questions, play music upon request, control other smart home devices, set alarms, read the news, and even make hands-free phone calls.

Automated Home Lighting: Phillips Hue

Phillips Hue is a smart home lighting system that involves the use of smart light bulbs, a smart hub called Hue Bridge that connects the bulbs to your mobile device, and the Hue mobile app that controls your home's lighting from your smartphone.

Smart Thermostats: Nest

The Nest smart thermostat customizes and controls your home's temperature. This thermostat even learns your schedule so it can develop the most optimal temperature settings for your home based on what time it is.

Video Doorbells: Ring

The Ring smart doorbell connects to your smartphone or tablet through an app that alerts you when someone is at your door, shows you who is at your door, and allows you to video chat with your houseguests when they arrive.

Even though we've emphasized the consumer aspects of IoT technology, this branch of applied engineering is even more significant in the corporate sector.