When a team of researchers from MIT developed a sensor which could monitor the sleeping patterns of users, they recognised that they were onto something pretty special. They were understandably proud of their innovation, and energised by thoughts of how it could be applied in industry, but it is possible that they were unaware of just how important their development would prove to be.
Fast-forward several years, and that research team is now Boston-based technology firm Mimo Baby, and their sensor is one of the leading products in the fight against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - or SIDS - a horrifying condition which claims the lives of around 300 children in the UK each year. But the Mimo Baby range of wearable tech for infants is just one component in an ever expanding network of connected devices.
The Internet of Things - once dismissed as a trendy buzzword for people who fantasise about setting their home's heating from the office by texting their thermostat - is here and it is here to stay. Not only that, but it is big - huge, even - far, far bigger than you ever imagined.
Mimo Baby is a prime example of how IoT is not only bringing us convenience, but is actively working to preserve and enhance our lives, introduce sustainable practices in life and business, and to augment our understanding of the world around us.
This is the true scale of the Internet of Things. The technology is now available for organisations to do truly spectacular things under the umbrella of IoT, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and ultra-fast ultra-reliable connectivity. The applications of this are as gamechanging as they are diverse and wide-ranging; everything from smart equipment to prevent industrial accidents, to performance monitoring clothing and early warning trigger systems for cancers and other diseases, is now possible thanks to developments in IoT. But perhaps the most profound shift in this field was not the result of technology, but of mentality.
Writing for Wired in 2014, Daniel Burrus of Burrus Research highlighted how the main barrier to progression in the field of IoT was 'thinking small'. Burrus discussed how the true potential of IoT was going unfulfilled because the industries in which such technology could provide the most benefit were not dreaming big enough.
For Burrus', the key element of IoT was not communication between connected devices, which he argued that any device could be programmed to do, with little to no wider benefit - but the quality of the sensors used to gather data from various real world sources. We can apply this approach to the Mimo Baby example: although the data must be communicated efficiently from the device to a smartphone or tablet app which the user can use to monitor the baby's condition, this is relatively easy to achieve with modern technology. The area in which technology must be most advanced is in the reliable and effective collection of data from the baby and the environment local to the sensor.
Three years have now passed since Burrus' article, and the results of this shift in focus are showing across the entire IoT field. In 2016, major sensor and semi-conductor manufacturers, such as Qualcomm, consolidated their positions by buying up smaller rivals and stepping up production. This led Forbes to predict that semi-conductor and sensor products will flood the market in 2017, as firms scramble to implement smart connectivity within their products.
Peter Newman's 2017 Report for Business Insider on the Internet of Things seemed to agree with Forbes predictions. Figures quoted by Newman suggested that the global network of connected devices will top 22.5bn items by 2021, compared to only 6.6bn five years previously.
The Internet of Things is big, in every sense of the word, and it is only getting bigger.