What is the Internet of Things?

Written by Haneen Gamal
Edited by Malak Manie

 Our world is on the verge of an amazing transformation, which will affect every person, town, company and thing that forms the basis of society and economy. In the same way that the internet redefined how we communicate, work and practice our daily lives , a new revolution is unfurling that will challenge us again to meet new business demands and embrace the opportunities of technical evolution. Old and new industries, cities, communities and individuals alike will need to adapt, evolve, and help create the new patterns of engagement that our world desperately needs. In response to these issues, we are moving towards a new era of intelligence which is driven by rapidly growing technical capabilities. The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the technologies that form the basis of the new world that we will come to inhabit. Anything in the physical realm that is of interest to observe and control by people, businesses or organizations will be connected and will offer services via the Internet. The physical entities can be of any nature, such as buildings, farmland and natural resources like air.

The IoT is a widely used term for a set of technologies, systems and design principles associated with emerging wave of Internet connected things that are based on the physical environment. Additionally, IoT refers to the connection of systems and sensors to the broader Internet, and the use of general internet technologies. It is all about the technology, the remote monitoring and control, and is also about where these technologies are applied and processed. IoT applications will not rely on data and services from sensor and actuators alone. Equally important is the blend-in of other information sources that have relevance from the viewpoint of the physical world. For instance, these data can be gathered from the Geographic Information System (GIS) such as road databases and weather forecasting systems. Even information extracted from social media like Facebook statuses or Twitter feed updates that relate to real world observations can be fed into the same IoT system.

Looking towards the applications and services in the IoT, it has been found that the application opportunities are open-ended, and only imagination will set the limit of what is achievable. We can demonstrate some examples of emerging application domains that are driven by different trends and interests.

Urban Agriculture

Today, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas and cities where the increased attention on sustainable living includes reducing transportation, and in the case of food production, reducing the needs for pesticides. By using IoT technologies, urban agriculture could be highly optimized. Sensors and actuators can monitor and control the plant environment and tailor the conditions according to the needs of the specific specimen. Water supply through a combination of rain collection and remote feeds can be combined on demand. City or urban districts can have separate infrastructure for the provisioning of different fertilizers. Drainage can be provided so as not to spoil crops growing on facades and rooftops of buildings, as well as to take care of any recyclable nutrients. Weather and light can be monitored, and necessary blinds that can shield and protect, as well as create greenhouse microclimates, can be automatically controlled. Fresh air generated by plants can be collected and fed into buildings, and tanks of algae that consume waste can generate fertilizers. A vision of urban agriculture is to be a self-sustaining system.


The mining industry is undergoing a change for the future. Production rates must be increased, cost per produced unit decreased, and the lifetime of mines and sites must be prolonged. In addition, human workforce safety must be higher, with fewer or no accidents, and environmental impact must be decreased by reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions. The mining industry’s answer to this is to turn each mine into a fully automated and controlled operation. The process chain of the mine involving blasting, crushing, grinding, and ore processing will be highly automated and interconnected. The heavy machinery used will be remotely controlled and monitored, mine sites will be connected, and shafts monitored in terms of air and gases. As up to 50% of energy consumption in a mine can come from ventilation, energy savings can be done by very precise ventilation where the diesel vehicles are operating, in which sensors in the mine provide information about the exact location of the machines. The trend is also that local control rooms will be replaced by larger control rooms at the corporate headquarters. Sensors and actuators to remotely control both the sites and the massive robots in terms of mining machines for drilling, haulage, and processing are the instruments to make this happen. Companies like Rio Tinto (2012) with their Mine of the Future program, as well as ABB (2013), are driving this development

Food Safety

Food safety objectives have an impact across the entire food supply chain, from the farm to the table, and require several key actors to integrate various parts of their businesses. From the monitoring of farming conditions for plant and animal health, registration of the use of pesticides and animal food, the logistics chain to monitor environmental conditions as produce is being transported, and retailers handling of food; all will be connected. Sensors will provide the necessary monitoring capabilities, and tags like Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) will be used to identify the items so they can be tracked and traced throughout the supply chain. The origin of food can also be completely transparent to the consumers.

As can be seen by these very few examples, IoT can target very point and closed domain-oriented applications, as well as very open and innovation driven applications. Applications can stretch across an entire value chain and provide lifecycle perspectives. Applications can be for business to-business (B2B) as well as for business-to-consumer (B2C), and can be complex and involve numerous actors, as well as large sets of heterogeneous data sources.

Finally, the quality and scope of the data across the Internet of Things generates an opportunity for much more responsive interactions with devices to create a potential for change. Also, IoT offers us opportunity to be more efficient in how we do things, saving us time, money and often emissions in the process. It allows companies, governments and public authorities to re-think how they deliver services and produce goods.


Holler, J., Tsiatsis, V., Mulligan, C., Avesand, S., Karnouskos, S. and Boyle, D., 2018. The Internet of Things. San Diego: Elsevier Science & Technology.

Davies, J., & Fortuna, C. (2020). The Internet of things: From data to insight. John Wiley & Sons.

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