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The Internet of Things

From concept to reality: Plans for a network that connects everything and everyone everywhere are well under way.
By John Edwards
Apr 01, 2012—Imagine being able to point a smartphone, tablet or other device at an image of a place or item of interest and retrieve instant, detailed information about the object, with text laid over the image. Move the device around a landscape or room and the text changes along with the images.

Illustration: Victor Gad
Augmented reality, an emerging field that will let users see their world in entirely new ways—literally—is perhaps the boldest application to be powered by the "Internet of Things" (IoT), a network that promises to connect everything and everyone everywhere to everything and everyone else.

Other potential IoT applications run the gamut from improving supply-chain visibility to helping people locate misplaced keys. But what all these applications have in common is the concept of ubiquitous connectivity.

The IoT's roots were sown in the early 1990s, when the Internet began allowing people to connect with each other. Then, RFID came along to enable the tracking and monitoring of various types of inventory and business assets. "We are entering an age where not just everyone will be connected, but everything will be connected—an Internet of Things—a merging of the physical and digital world as we have never seen before," says Paul Steinberg, Motorola's chief technology officer.

The implications of such a network are far-reaching, perhaps even profound. The technology has the power to revolutionize the way people work, shop, travel, learn and entertain themselves, by enabling them to interact with the things they use all the time in an unimaginable number of ways. "Simply put, the Internet of Things implies the ability of almost anything to communicate with any other thing via the Internet," Steinberg says. "This implies evolving from person-to-person communication to machine-to-machine communication and, finally, object-to-object communication."
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