The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the billions of physical devices around the world that are now connected to the internet, all collecting and sharing data. Thanks to the arrival of super-cheap computer chips and the ubiquity of wireless networks, it’s possible to turn anything, from something as small as a pill to something as big as an airplane, into a part of the IoT. Connecting up all these different objects and adding sensors to them adds a level of digital intelligence to devices that would be otherwise dumb, enabling them to communicate real-time data without involving a human being. The Internet of Things is making the fabric of the world around us smarter and more responsive, merging the digital and physical universes.

A lightbulb that can be switched on using a smartphone app is an IoT device, as is a motion sensor or a smart thermostat in your office or a connected streetlight. An IoT device could be as fluffy as a child’s toy or as serious as a driverless truck. Some larger objects may themselves be filled with many smaller IoT components, such as a jet engine that’s now filled with thousands of sensors collecting and transmitting data back to make sure it is operating efficiently. On an even bigger scale, smart cities projects are filling entire regions with sensors to help us understand and control the environment.

The term IoT is mainly used for devices that wouldn’t usually be generally expected to have an internet connection, and that can communicate with the network independently of human action. For this reason, a PC isn’t generally considered an IoT device and neither is a smartphone — even though the latter is crammed with sensors. A smartwatch or a fitness band or other wearable device might be counted as an IoT device, however.

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