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What is the Internet of Things?

internet of things

The second Stamford Hackathon begins next Friday, and we’ve chosen IoT, or Internet of Things, as our major focus. While introducing the hackathon, we often get the question, “What is the Internet of Things?” So we thought we’d provide an answer and explain why it’s important.

The internet of things refers to when we network products, computers and other objects together, and include sensors, software and on-board intelligence so that these objects can collect, exchange and process data. In effect, we’re taking part of what was once inside your computer and putting it out into the world, creating a much larger system that allows applications to interact with the real world much more effectively.

Sensors

A big part of the Internet of Things (let’s just call it IoT for now), is knowing what’s going on in the environment. More specifically, knowing how certain factors that are important to your application are performing. So if you’ve got a jet engine, how hot are different parts of the engine during flight, or how fast are they spinning, amongst others – this is what GE means when they talk about thousands of points of data from their engines being tracked. Or it can mean a building’s controllers knowing whether rooms are empty, and if those rooms have the lights on. More importantly, modern buildings increasingly track performance of their heating, plumbing, electrical and other physical systems, in the process dramatically reducing energy use, and maintenance costs.

Beacons

Part of the sensor system will often include use of smartphones to understand how people interact with the environment – understanding where they are, how fast they’re moving, etc. Smartphones are uniquely able to do this, but they need some way to understand where they are. GPS is fine for cars but not very accurate inside buildings, and as a result Apple, Google and others have innovated little devices called “beacons,” which do the same things lighthouses have done for centuries: they tell devices where the beacon itself is, so that by ‘seeing’ three or more beacons (whose positions are known), the device can figure out exactly where it is. The beacons themselves use a low energy radio signal, part of the Bluetooth standard. With our partners at Blue Bite, we’ve used these throughout the hackathon. Matched with the right smartphone app, they can be incredibly powerful ways for consumers and workers to use their environments.

Smart Buildings, Smart Cities

As consumers and citizens, we’re going to see more and more buildings that react to the people in them, and this is exactly what IoT makes possible. By knowing what you’re doing, a smart building can turn things on and off to both make you more comfortable and productive, and save energy in the process.

Of course, putting all of these sensors in is a big expense, and because they’re improving so quickly, it is difficult for a building owner, or city government, to know when to spend that money. So we’ll see this rollout slowly, and often beginning with projects like the Stamford Hackathon, where we’ve put together a limited IoT system in the Stamford Innovation Center, Fortina Restaurant in Harbor Point, and all along Atlantic Street.

The IoT Corridor

Comprising dozens of sensors across these three zones, the Stamford Hackathon’s IoT Corridor is in large part the work of our partners, flowthings.io, one of Forbes’ top 10 innovative companies of 2016 – these folks live and breath IoT, and have created this system to be accessible to developers of almost all levels.

The purpose of the IoT Corridor is to continue introducing this sort of thing to Stamford, and Connecticut more generally, so that developers, government and citizens alike can begin to see the benefits of IoT.

So join us at the Stamford Hackathon – and if you can’t make it as a participant, come to the presentations on Sunday Feb. 21st at 2pm, and see what our group of over 100 developers has come up with!

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