From toasters to Tesla: The History of IoT

An in-depth exploration of the history of IoT spanning from the early nineteenth century to the present day, including an enterprise IoT deep-dive and some predictions for the future.

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When you think about the Internet of Things (IoT), what do you picture in your mind? Perhaps a smart kettle, a connected car, or even one of the innumerable industrial use cases for the technology that are rapidly coming to the fore.

IoT promises a fridge that knows when you need more milk, while at the same time the technology is paving the way for meaningful advances in areas like farming, giving growers more data insights to help tackle the yield challenges they face. Having now entered the region of $1 trillion as an industry, the rapid growth of IoT has left many wondering where this revolution came from. When we put together the many pieces of its origin story, we find that IoT has an interesting history and is set to change the world.

The foundations (1800 – 1974)

First of all, we have to look back in time to the 24th of May 1844. It was on this day that Samuel Morse famously used a telegraph system to send Alfred Vail a message that read: “What hath God wrought!” This was a foundational moment in the history of IoT as one machine communicated with another for the first time, something that had been thought about from early on in the 19th century. At the very beginning of the 20th century the world witnessed the first radio voice transmission, and fifty years later work would begin to develop computers.

In 1926, Nikola Tesla expressed a profound vision of future connectivity, he said: “When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole.”

With the cornerstones set in place, the next stage in the timeline is the arrival of the internet in the 1960s when Arpanet first connected Stanford and UCLA. Some key milestones that followed this include the first online message in 1969, the first email in 1971, and the use of the term “internet” to describe a single, all-encompassing IP network in 1974.

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