Networked devices and smart objects have become commonplace in today’s world, but what’s their back-story?
At politico.com, reporter Danny Vink contacted technology pioneers for a history lesson on the Internet of Things. MIT’s director of digital learning, Sanjay Sarma, and Kevin Ashton, cofounder of MIT’s Auto-ID Center, offered some clues.
Among the highlights from their discussion:
The invention of the bar code in the 1970s got things started—although it wasn’t until the ’80s that it became cost-effective to use them at checkout counters.
“In the primal swamp that became the Internet of Things, that was your first spark of life,” says Ashton.
With the founding of the MIT Auto-ID Center in 1999, bar code technology continued to evolve. Cofounded by Sarma and Ashton, research at the center was crucial to the development of radio frequency identification (RFID) chips—a technology that allows objects to wirelessly communicate. The team’s biggest obstacle? Making the technology affordable for widespread use.
Recalls Sarma: “Even in 1998 and 1999, it wasn’t whether you could do it. It was how do you do it in a way that was cost-efficient.”
As the team refined their technology, they also needed a way to describe it. Inspiration struck as Ashton prepared a presentation on “smart packaging” for a team of executives. After some tinkering, he titled his presentation “The Internet of Things.”