A look back at the history of the Internet of Things

IoT Day falling on Throwback Thursday can mean only one thing… a trip down memory lane to where it all began!

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term first coined by Keven Ashton in 1999 during a PowerPoint presentation he made while working for Procter & Gamble. The phrase referred to a future world where all types of electronic devices link to each other via the Internet. Keep in mind, Wi-Fi was not ubiquitous back then. There was no email or social media applications on mobile devices. GPS didn’t exist in a meaningful way. Dick Tracy-like wearables were merely a pipe dream.

“If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things — using data they gathered without any help from us — we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss, and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing, or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so,” Ashton elaborately discussed in a 2009 RFID Journal article.

While on the surface, it may seem like something out of a sci-fi novel or an episode of The Jetsons to a vast majority of everyday folks, IoT represents a pivotal milestone in the history of the Internet as connections move beyond computing devices and begin giving once-ordinary devices new powers. While there has certainly been a tremendous amount of buzz around the concept of an intelligent, more connected world, the visions of this ‘smarter’ society date back several years.


Baron Schilling von Canstatt invented the electromagnetic telegraph. A keyboard with 16 black-and-white keys served as its a transmitting device, while six galvanometers with magnetic needles suspended from silk threads acted as the receiving instrument. Later that year, Schilling managed a short-distance transmission of signals between two telegraphs in different rooms of his apartment. Not long after, Carl Friedrich Gauss and Wilhelm Weber developed their own code to communicate over a distance of 1,200 meters within Göttingen, Germany.

(Source: theapricity.com)

(Source: theapricity.com)


Samuel Morse sent the first morse code public telegraph message “What hath God wrought?” from the Supreme Court chamber in the basement of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. to the B&O’s Mount Clare Station in Baltimore.

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)


Nikola Tesla revealed in an interview with Colliers Magazine’s John B. Kennedy:

“Wireless will achieve the closer contact through transmission of intelligence, transport of our bodies and materials and conveyance of energy… 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.  We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance.  Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone.  A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)


Jay B. Nash wrote in Spectatoritis:

“Within our grasp is the leisure of the Greek citizen, made possible by our mechanical slaves, which far outnumber his twelve to fifteen per free man… As we step into a room, at the touch of a button a dozen light our way. Another slave sits twenty-four hours a day at our thermostat, regulating the heat of our home. Another sits night and day at our automatic refrigerator. They start our car; run our motors; shine our shoes; and cult our hair. They practically eliminate time and space by their very fleetness.”


U.S. Patent 2,292,387 was granted to Hedy Kiesler Markey and George Antheil for an early version of frequency hopping.



Dick Tracy introduced the two-way radio.



Alan Turing noted in his article entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence for the Oxford Mind Journal:

“We may hope that machines will eventually compete with men in all purely intellectual fields. But which are the best ones to start with? Even this is a difficult decision. Many people think that a very abstract activity, like the playing of chess, would be best. It can also be maintained that it is best to provide the machine with the best sense organs that money can buy, and then teach it to understand and speak English. This process could follow the normal teaching of a child. Things would be pointed out and named, etc. Again I do not know what the right answer is, but I think both approaches should be tried.”

(Source: ScienceMuseum.org.uk)

(Source: ScienceMuseum.org.uk)


Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver received the first patent for a liner barcode.



Edward O. Thorp devised the first wearable computer, a pocket-sized analog device used to predict roulette wheels.

(Source: Slash Gear)

(Source: Slash Gear)


In the promotional film Design for Dreaming, Frigidaire envisioned the “kitchen of tomorrow” where a housewife feeds a recipe card into a slot, which triggers a series of appliances that automatically bake a birthday cake complete with lit candles.

(Source: TreeHugger.com)

(Source: TreeHugger.com)


Known as the “Father of Virtual Reality,” Morton Heilig received a patent for the first-ever head-mounted display. The unit featured a stereoscopic (3D) TV, wide vision and true stereo sound.



German computer science pioneer Karl Steinbuch stated, In a few decades time, computers will be interwoven into almost every industrial product.”


The first host-to-host message over ARPANET (the precursor to today’s Internet) was sent. The memo on the ARPANET was transmitted by UCLA student programmer Charles S Kline at 10:30 pm on October 29th, from the campus’ Boelter Hall to the Stanford Research Institute’s SDS 940 host computer.


The Honeywell Kitchen Computer, or H316 pedestal model, was a short-lived product offered by Neiman Marcus as one of a continuing series of extravagant gift ideas. It sold for $10,000, weighed over 100 pounds and was advertised as useful for storing recipes.



ALOHAnet connected the Hawaiian Islands with a UHF wireless packet network. The protocol was an early forerunner to Ethernet, and later the Wi-Fi protocol.

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)


Mario Cardullo is granted the first patent for a passive, read-write RFID tag.



Vint Cerf and Stanford graduate students Yogen Dalal and Carl Sunshine published the first technical specification of TCP/IP as an Internet Experiment Note (IEN) as RFC 675.

(Source: Stanford University)

(Source: Stanford University)


AT&T and MIT held a conference that brought together of number scientists, theorists and academics to explore the future of technology. There, Bell System news magazine had the chance to catch up with Arthur C. Clarke to share his predictions of mobile devices, home computers, the Internet, Skype, email, the death of newspapers, telecommuting, and of course, “Dick Tracy wrist-radios.”

“We’re going to get devices which will enable us to send much more information to our friends. They’re going to be able to see us, we’re going to see them, we’re going to exchange pictorial information, graphical information, data, books, and so forth. [The ideal communication device] would be a high-definition TV screen with a typewriter keyboard, and through this, you can exchange any type of information. Send messages to your friends … they can wait, and when they get up, they can see what messages have come in the night. You can call in through this any information you might want: airline flights, the price of things at the supermarket, books you’ve always wanted to read, news you’ve selectively [chosen]. The machine will hunt and bring all this to you, selectively.”



Steve Mann developed a wearable personal computer wired to a camera and mounted to a helmet.



TCP/IP is formalized, ushering in an era of worldwide network of fully-interconnected networks, which is known today as the Internet.

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)


Tim Berners-Lee proposed the World Wide Web.

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)


The Olivetti Research Laboratory developed an active badge system using infrared signals to communicate a person’s location.

(Source: David Greaves)

(Source: David Greaves)

John Romkey and Simon Hackett introduced the world’s first connected device other than a computer: a toaster.



The first web page was created by Tim Berners-Lee.

NCR Corporation with AT&T invented the precursor to 802.11, intended for use in cashier systems. The first wireless products were under the name WaveLAN.

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)

For the first time, the term “ubiquitous computing” was mentioned in the Scientific American article, “The Computer in the 21st Century.”



Steven Feiner, Blair MacIntyre and Dorée Seligmann launched Knowledge-Based Augmented Reality for Maintenance Assistance — more commonly referred to as KARMA.


The brainchild of Quentin Stafford-Fraser and Paul Jardetzky, the Trojan Room Coffee Pot was located in the ‘Trojan Room’ within the Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge. The device was used to monitor the pot levels with an image being updated about 3 times per minute and sent to the building’s server.

(Source: PetaPixel.com)

(Source: PetaPixel.com)


Mik Lamming and Mike Flynn unveiled Forget-Me-Not, a wearable device that wirelessly communicated and recorded interactions of other people and gadgets, and stored the information in a database.

(Source: WN.com)

(Source: WN.com)

The term “context-aware computing” was first used by B.N. Schilit and M.M. Theimer in their paper on disseminating active map information to mobile hosts.

A group of engineers at Ericsson invented a wireless communication technology, which would later go on to be called Bluetooth.


Siemens established a dedicated department inside its mobile phone business unit to develop and launch a GSM data module called “M1” for M2M applications.

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)


The name Bluetooth was officially adopted.


Scott Brave, Andrew Dahley, and Professor Hiroshi Ishii of MIT’s Media Lab developed inToucha project that “explored new forms of interpersonal communication through touch.” The so-called shared object provided a haptic link between geographically distributed users, opening up a channel for physical expression over distance.



The Auto-ID (for Automatic Identification) Center was founded at MIT by Kevin Ashton, David Brock Dr. Daniel Engels and Sanjay Sarma. That same year, Ashton officially coined the term “Internet of Things.”


Andy Stanford-Clark of IBM and Arlen Nipper of Arcom (now Eurotech) introduced the first machine-to-machine protocol for connected devices: MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT).

(Source: IBM)

(Source: IBM)


LG announced the world’s first connected refrigerator: the Internet Digital DIOS. Shortly thereafter, the Hollywood film The 6th Day featured a smart fridge which informed Arnold Schwarzenegger that he was in need of milk.


The first Bluetooth-enabled devices came to market. These included a mobile phone and PC card. A few months later, the first printer, laptop and hands-free car kits would also emerge.

(Source: MacLife.com)

(Source: MacLife.com)


Chana Schoenberger and Bruce Upbin published “The Internet of Things” in Forbes stating:

“Stores have eyes. Now they’re getting brains. Soon tiny wireless chips stuck on shampoo bottles and jeans will track all that you wear and buy.”

(Source: Business Insider)

(Source: Business Insider)

David Rose and others founded Ambient Devices, a spin-off of MIT’s Media Lab, which designs and markets various ambient devices enchanted by next-gen technologies. These objects, including the Ambient Orb, uniquely display information like weather, traffic reports and stock quotes.


The term “Internet of Things” continued to gain mainstream popularity as it is mentioned in notable publications like The GuardianScientific American and the Boston Globe.


Led by Massimo Banzi, a team of students and faculty members at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Ivrea, Italy developed the Arduino, a single-board microcontroller based on Atmel’s ATmega8.


The United Nations first mentioned the IoT in an International Telecommunications Union report.



The IPSO Alliance was formed to promote IP connections across networks of ‘smart’ objects.



According to Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG), the IoT was born somewhere in between 2008 and 2009 at simply the point in time when more “things or objects” were connected to the Internet than people.


Google debuted a self-driving vehicle project, which served as a major milestone in the development of connected cars.


Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) was introduced.


IPv6 is launched. The new protocol expanded the number of objects that can connect to the web by introducing 340 undecillion (340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456) IP addresses.


The term made its first appearance on the Gartner Hype Cycle.


Nest Labs introduced the Wi-Fi-enabled, programmable Nest Learning Thermostat.



Google Glass was released to developers.


Venture Beat named 2014 as the “Year of the Internet of Things.”

(Source: VentureBeat)

(Source: VentureBeat)


A number of groups seeking to spur standard and framework development surfaced, including the AllSeen Alliance, Industrial Internet Consortium and the Open Interconnect Consortium.

Amid growing concerns around data breaches and device vulnerabilities, an HP report found 70% of the most commonly used IoT devices contain serious flaws — this making the case for hardware-based protection clearer than ever before.

Atmel and Arduino team up to launch of the Arduino Wi-Fi Shield 101, a shield that enabled rapid prototyping of IoT applications for Makers.



Forecasts project that 4.9 billion connected things will be in use by the end of the year — up 30% from 2014 — and will reach 25 billion by 2020.

At Atmel, the IoT is already at the heart of what we do. We started preparing for this smarter world way back when, and now offer the industry’s most comprehensive, most highly-integrated IoT solutions. Explore them all here.

2 thoughts on “A look back at the history of the Internet of Things

  1. Pingback: A look back at the history of the Internet of Things - Internet of Things | Wearables | M2M | Industry 4.0

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