The chances are you've already heard someone mention the Internet of Things, and it's certainly a phrase that you are going to hear more and more in the coming years, so what exactly is it?

At its most basic, the Internet of Things is the, frankly horrible, term used to describe the millions of devices that are now connected together and to the internet but that do not require humans to tell them what data to share.

Everything from fitness bands to internet connected fridges, smart thermostats to microchipped street lights can all feed data back to the net with or without our behest, and that's potentially a hugely powerful shift in the way that we live our lives.

Chips

With the simple addition of an RFID chip right up to much more complicated processors, objects and devices in our everyday lives can now be spilling out data online without any need for us to choose what to upload. Obviously that brings implications - both good and bad - but it's an immensely powerful technology.

If both our devices and us can access huge amounts of information we can begin to take some very powerful actions.

Let's start with a really simple example: street lighting. At its most basic having a processor chip and a connection would make it really easy to see when there's a problem like a blown bulb, but when you have this data you can also allow computers to make a series of logical connections that save you time.

Intelligent street lighting is already here
Intelligent street lighting is already here

For instance, a computer could see how many bulbs have blown across the entire network and make sensible decisions, based on empirical data, about how many new bulbs must be ordered.

It could predict the average time a bulb will last and potentially alert of future problems, it could spot anomalies that suggest vandalism or less predictable problems. It could be made to smartly switch on and off when there's nobody there and nobody about to arrive.

Life-enabling

Mike Muller, the CTO of ARM, the chip company that is investing millions in staying ahead of the curve with small, cheap and efficient processors and sensors that are at the heart of this next wave, suggests another example.

"If you look at something like putting a wireless microcontroller in every parking space then you can see if there's a car in the space. When you attach that to a mesh network all that information is pushed up to the web... as a punter you can check an app and it tells you where you can park."

"For the consumer it's handy, but one of the bigger reasons for doing it is the business objective of saying: 'I now know these car parks are busy and when so I can do dynamic pricing'. You can use it as a business tool. That's an IOT application."

On a smaller level, there are potentially thousands of applications within our homes that could become powerfully effective.

Cerf: A huge advocate of IoT
Cerf: A huge advocate of IoT

Vint Cerf - now Chief Internet Evangelist at Google but best known as one of the founding fathers of the internet - explains how his house takes advantage of connected objects and devices.

"I happen to have this sensory network running at home - these little sensors run on two AA cells and they last for about a year - each one is about the size of a mobile and its monitoring temperature, humidity and light levels in the house every five minutes and that information is transmitted to a server down in the basement.

Vint Cerf: "I happen to have this sensory network running at home - these sensors run on two AA cells and last about a year."

"Now these little sensors are also network nodes - and they are forming a mesh network on their own and they change their connectivity depending on what the network linkages look like so the information is sent through the network to the target.