How To Explain The Internet Of Things To A Five-Year-Old

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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TechWeekEurope asks the experts what the IoT is really all about

The Internet of Things is becoming an increasingly important part of the technology industry, with analysts estimating that 4.9 billion ‘things’ will be connected this year, rising to around 25 billion by 2020.

But what is the IoT really about? We asked the technology industry to give us their simplest and most straightforward answer – the one you’d give to a five-year-old – check out the findings below…

internet of things robot phone © i3dcharacterdotcom ShutterstockMartin Ashall, UKI CTO at CA Technologies

“Imagine you’re a king or a queen and you’re running your own little kingdom. Just like any royal head you have a trusted advisor that you can go to when making important decisions. You advisor is a very knowledgeable person and very well connected – he knows everyone in your kingdom. He can tell you anything you need to know about your people at any given point – how many of them are there, what’s the percentage of women and men, what is the profession of each, how many children they have, whether they pay taxes on time and how much, how much land they own etc.

“Your advisor works much in the same way that Internet of Things does – it allows you to connect to people, objects and devices and extract valuable information that inform your actions”.

Eileen O’Mara, VP at Salesforce

“Imagine if a car, a kettle and your toothbrush could all speak to you. The car could let you know that its tires need air, the kettle that the boiled water is cooling and you should hurry up and make that cup of tea before it gets too cold, and your toothbrush lets you know when you’ve brushed your teeth for two minutes as it’s best to keep your teeth healthy.

In the Internet of Things, the car, the kettle, your toothbrush and many other things become smart and get a voice. This means they can communicate with you even when you’re not around, and you can control them remotely – all through an app on your phone.”

Frank Palermo, senior VP Global Technical Solutions Group, at Virtusa

“Take a look around the room and all the different ‘things’ you can see, like a TV, a fridge, a toothbrush or even one of your toys. The internet already connects the whole world, and now these things you see can also be connected to the internet. Connecting all our things to the internet will make us smarter, and will makes our lives simpler. It will mean that our things can do new tricks that they couldn’t do before. So, your teddy bear can tell you when it needs a hug, your toothbrush can remind you when to brush your teeth, and a cow could even tell the farmer that it is ready to be milked!”

Alexandru Catalin Cosoi, chief security strategist at BitdefenderInternet of Things fridge

“You know how you can use your phone to chat and send pictures to your friends with Snapchat? That happens over the Internet, right? But that’s for people to talk with each other.

Now, the Internet of Things allows all of the smart stuff – your new robot dinosaur, the TV in your living-room, the fridge and the lock on the front door – to chat to each other and to us. So, you will be able to see that your dinosaur is stuck under the sofa, or that the fridge has run out of milk, just by using your phone. Or the dinosaur could maybe tell the front door to open because it wants to go out!

What’s that you say? The dinosaur never does things on its own? That’s true now, but with the Internet of Things, the robot dinosaur factory might tell it to come back to be repaired when it gets older. Or one of your friends at school could trick the dinosaur into believing you told it to go to the park. We hope not though, as that wouldn’t be a very nice trick to play.”

Mark Thompson, director at KPMG’s Cyber Security practice 

“Imagine you were having a tea party in the garden; as you start to run out of tea your teapot lets your kettle know it’s time to boil some water to make some more.  Your teapot also knows you like to have biscuits with your tea so it also lets your biscuit tin know you need some more chocolate biscuits. The kettle and the biscuit tin send your parents a message to let them know you need some tea and biscuits taken out to you in the garden just in time to make sure your visitors don’t go hungry.”

Greg Hansen, senior director technical operations, EMEA at Informatica

“Imagine a world where everyone could talk – not just humans, or pets, but objects too. It could mean that when you wake up in the morning and run downstairs to watch your favourite cartoon, your TV talks to your radiators and tells them to start warming the house so that you’re cosy. Or it could work outside of the house too. Suppose you were running late for school? Your watch could let your teacher’s computer know you were coming and what time you would arrive.

“The Internet of Things makes everything smarter so that everyday objects – things like your fridge, car and TV – can talk to one another using a secret language that helps humans out.”

Francisco J. Jariego, director of industrial Internet of Things at Telefonica

“Imagine if the fridge could send a personal reminder to our phones to buy more milk the next time we’re in a supermarket. Or, if we got a message telling us that we’d left our umbrella in a café – you’d never have to worry about getting wet again!  ‘The Internet of Things’ is all about connecting everyday objects to the Internet and giving them a ‘brain’, just like our phones, tablets and computers. This allows objects such as lamps, cookers and cars to talk to each other and act intelligently, observing our human behaviours and reacting to them. Think of it as giving all objects a bit of ‘Toy Story magic’ so that they can talk and interact with each other.

“Before you were born we couldn’t use an app to tell when the next bus was coming, and before that we didn’t have mobile phones meaning we couldn’t stay in touch when we were on the go! The more things that become connected to the internet, the easier our everyday lives become.

“The possibilities are almost endless – cars without a driver that can predict traffic and prevent accidents; clothes with super powers that can tell you when you’re ill or tired and special contact lenses that can show you the way home or stream your favourite TV programme using only your voice. Giving everything a brain will completely change our world.”

hybrid cloudEmmanuel Walckenaer, regional general manager, Sierra Wireless

“When you were a baby, before you could talk to your parents, the only way you had to tell them that you were hungry, or tired, or sick, was to cry, and then they had to try to figure out what was wrong. Now that you learned to talk to them, you can tell them when you’re hungry or when you’re not feeling well, and it’s a lot easier for them to help you.

The Internet of Things allows machines to talk, by sending messages over the Internet to each other or to the people who are managing them. What this means is that they can let the other machines and people know if they’re working properly or if something is wrong and they might break down.

They can also send messages about what happened in their day. For example, a thermometer attached to the Internet of Things could send a message about what the temperature is wherever it is located, even if it’s far away. Or a traffic sensor could send a message about a traffic jam, and then the traffic lights could be adjusted to be green longer to help the traffic jam clear. There are all sorts of machines and things that could work better if they’re able to talk to each other, and the Internet of Things helps make that happen.”

Richard Moulds VP of strategy at Thales e-Security

“The IoT is like a fleet of mini robots all connected by the internet. These mini robots can help achieve things at a quicker speed and with greater accuracy than humans can achieve. Different robots do different things. Some of the robots do boring activities and others do really smart things, some are tiny and some survive in dangerous places. The robots can talk to each other, can operate as a team, tell you what’s going on and even do things for you. They have the potential to automate many things in our world – the challenge is to make then secure.”

Neil Stobart, EMEA SE Director at Nexenta

“The Internet Of Things (IoT) is the internet but even better. It’s when ordinary everyday things are connected. For example your phones and iPads, even your TV, your fridge and your Mum’s coffee machine! These days most things with an on and off switch can be connected to the internet. But what’s the point?

A connected fridge could provide reports to the supermarket about what your Mum needs to order. So, if you have run out of milk, the IoT is clever enough to get you some more.

The IoT is also great for speeding up internet searching. When you search for SpongeBob or Pokemon on your iPad, it will remember the websites – making it twice as fast next time. The Internet of Things can even save you from getting in trouble with your parents. For example, if you have your phone in your pocket and you want to play in the park on the way home, your mum can see where you are. The Internet of Things is a really clever way of helping you to stay in touch with everyone.”

Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CTO at AVG Technologies

“Just as you and your parents or brothers and sisters like to talk to each other, our electronic devices (TVs, tablets, cameras) would like to speak to each other, too. They speak a different language – their own computer language, called the Internet of Things.

Just like your Mum asks you to tidy your room, or you tell your Dad when there’s a problem with your homework, our devices speak to each other to solve problems and get things done. For example, if a bad guy came in to steal your toys the burglar alarm would tell the police to come over and stop them, or the smoke detector could call the fire engine if there was a fire at home.

By talking to each other over the Internet of Things, our computers work together as a team to help us – just like we help our families and friends.”

Carl Uminski, COO, Somo

“The world is full of things, like trains, books, scooters, lights, shoes and teddies. The ‘Internet of Things’ turns all of these things into mini robots that can talk to each other. But not using words like we do – instead it uses special internet powers to do it in a way that normal people can’t hear.

Your toothbrush, for example, could talk to your reward chart, so that when you brush your teeth properly, your reward chart will automatically add a new sticker. Your scooter could talk to your shoes and helmet, so that it knows you’re wearing them both before it unlocks the wheels, which keeps you safe and could also help stop your brothers or sisters riding on your scooter!”

child spyPeter Miller, Creative Director, Tangent Snowball

“Once upon a time, not so long ago, Mummy and Daddy used to browse the internet on great big grey boxes as big as a table. They would use the house phone – there was only one in the house! – to get the websites they wanted from the internet.

Back in those days, your iPad, fridge, watch, or camera couldn’t talk to each other, because they argued too much about the best way to talk – was it through cables, or plugs, or radio waves – and even what language to talk in.

Today, our devices still sometimes disagree on the best language to talk in – but more and more, the internet is the method they all agree to talk through!”

Geoff Webb, senior director, solution strategy, NetIQ

“Imagine a world in which all kinds of things around you – the boxes your cereal comes in, you toys, your Mum’s car, even your clothes, all of them could actually talk to each other. They wouldn’t shout out loud, but they’d talk to each other (and lots of other things too) over the same internet that your iPad or your laptop talks to, to play a game or go to a website.

All those things, boxes, toys, houses, clothes, could all talk and tell each other what you were doing, and make sure your house was warm when you came home from school, or that the breakfast cereal didn’t run out, or your Dad’s car wouldn’t break down on the road, or that you could never lose a toy because the toy would tell the house where it was (I’m behind the couch!). That’s the Internet of Things. Lots and lots (more than you can imagine) of smart things, all talking to each other, all the time, making sure your world was better and safer and whole lot more fun.”

Andy Griffiths, president at Samsung Electronics UK and Ireland

“Imagine walking into a house where everything is controlled by your mobile phone – you can switch the lights off before you get into bed, turn the heating up if it gets chilly or even make sure that all your dirty clothes are washed in the washing machine, all from the touch of a button on your mobile phone.

The Internet of Things is when all of the electrical items in your house, like your fridge, oven, TV, microwave, washing machine and mobile phone are all connected to each other over the Internet so that you can control them from one another – almost like they are talking to each other!

All of these electrical items are really clever and can collect information about when and how you use them. They can then use this information to help make your life easier, so there’s more time to do fun things and less time to do things like household chores!”

What do you know about the Internet of Things? Take our quiz!