Cargo Signal Blog

Cargo Signal’s Guide to IoT: A Brief History

Do you know the history of IoT technology? Although remote communication and information exchange has existed for some time, IoT as we understand it today is relatively new. IoT has come a long way in a short time, and it continues to advance and expand rapidly.

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Although remote communication and information exchange has existed for some time, IoT as we understand it today is relatively new. It is generally agreed that the first modern application of IoT dates back to 1982, when one physical device, connected to a network, was used to collect information and send that information to another physical device to facilitate an everyday task.

David Nichols, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, arguably ushered IoT into the modern age. Nichols successfully connected a sensor to a soda vending machine on his university campus that sent him information about the contents. 

Tired of encountering an empty machine or receiving a warm soda, Nichols programmed the sensor he embedded to monitor and transmit the internal temperature and quantity of sodas of the machine to his computer, allowing him to view this information from the comfort of his office. This way, he would never have to show up to the machine disappointed.

1989 - 1990 

Several other IoT innovations followed shortly thereafter, further demonstrating IoT’s ability to facilitate real-world tasks. In 1989, John Romkey and Simon Hackett successfully connected an ordinary toaster to the internet, allowing them to turn it on and off remotely. The toaster was a hit at the 1990 Interop Conference and propelled IoT into the mainstream. 


A year later in 1991, computer scientists Quentin Stafford-Fraser and Paul Jardetzky of Cambridge University invented the Trojan Room Coffee Pot. The two programmed a camera facing an office coffee pot to take periodic photos of its contents and upload them to the internet. Everyone in the building could then log on from their individual computers to check whether or not fresh coffee was available. 


Around the same time the Trojan Room Coffee Pot entered the public spotlight, Steve Mann was developing the first wearable IoT device, which debuted in 1994. Mann connected a camera to his everyday glasses and transmitted a live feed to the internet so others could share his field of vision at any time. 

Both the Trojan Room Coffee Pot and Steve Mann’s glasses marked a significant advancement in IoT’s ability to yield high visibility, present real-time data, and serve practical utility.


However, it wasn’t until 1999 that Kevin Ashton coined the phrase the “Internet of Things.” Ashton was working as an Assistant Brand Manager for Procter & Gamble at the time and was tasked with improving efficiency within the company’s supply chain. 

In a presentation of the same title, he proposed attaching sensors to popular products and connecting them to a network so that the company would know when supply needed replenishing. 

2000 and Beyond

As the internet became more pervasive, so did IoT-powered smart devices. IoT is now recognized as a driving force of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

As of 2021, there were over 11 billion IoT devices active around the world. Even despite the COVID-19 impact on supply chains, that number is predicted to surpass 27 billion by 2025. In 2018, it was reported that 57% of companies had adopted IoT-powered technology in some form. 

That number is expected to surpass nearly 70% in 2022.

Are You Ready to Implement Sensor-based Logistics?

Ask yourself:

  • Am I unable to track my shipments and inventory in real time?
  • Are my customers unable to see when and/or in what condition their shipments will arrive?
  • Are my goods arriving damaged, delayed, or tampered with, without a way to track and correct human error?

If yes, contact Cargo Signal today so we can help you streamline your supply chain.

Download Cargo Signal's free Guide to IoT E-book here