So, let's define this part of our scope. What do we call an IoT device? Does it contain non-commercial products (for example hue being allowed but homemade iot devices being not allowed - I think that this is a bad idea)? Does it contain raspberry pi or similar devices? Will we allow other internet connected devices, like routers?

  • 3
    I'm wondering if we could create here a "poll question" where each answer should mention a kind of device and we upvote/downvote regarding if should be included in the main site scope.
    – Rubén
    Dec 6, 2016 at 18:28
  • 2
    @Rubén I think that such a question wouldn't really fit to the SE.meta scheme (because well, it can't really be finalized. Someone can't always point to a meta post and say "Here you go, this is why this is allowed"). Roughly defining IoT here and asking clarifications as new questions might work better, though.
    – ave
    Dec 6, 2016 at 18:30
  • AFAIK the SE.meta scheme is a bit flexible while the main sites scheme not. We could define a "due date" for the poll and close it at the end... this will not be easy, but is doable especially during the private beta, but it's ok for me if we decide to not allow poll questions.
    – Rubén
    Dec 6, 2016 at 18:48
  • @Rubén hmm, I think that we can use some opinion from the CM team. That's probably doable, though I'm still not sure if that's (poll style meta) a good idea.
    – ave
    Dec 6, 2016 at 18:58

5 Answers 5


Unfortunately, being somewhat of a buzzword, the Internet of Things is subject to nebulous definitions (including this definition), and honestly, until the field matures, standards are created, and opinions converge, we will likely need to tolerate some ambiguity in the meantime. However, I propose any IoT device should meet the following criteria:

  • It must have a connection to an internet (either the Internet, or a local intranet), either directly (via WiFi or Ethernet) or via a proxy device (eg. mobile phone). Therefore, questions about a Raspbery Pi in general would be off topic, but questions about a project involving a Raspberry Pi connected to the Internet might be on topic.
  • It must have a physical component. After all, it is the Internet of Things.
  • It must have the ability to be communicated with from a remote location. (i.e. bi-directional communication is necessary)
  • It must be a stand-alone device. Therefore, while a Ford assembly plant is both connected to the Internet and consists of physical components, it is not an IoT device, but rather a connected system.

My post is essentially an expansion of this definition:

Internet of Things device: Any stand-alone internet-connected device that can be monitored and/or controlled from a remote location.


It is also intentionally broad as I believe the term currently connotes many different devices. While we could make the term more specific to this site, I believe we would stray from popular opinion and introduce confusion.

  • 4
    Not the down-voter; but honestly, this doesn't make the concept of IoT any less nebulous. Consider a computer and router — not an IoT setup, but I'll take a crack at this as another answer. Dec 6, 2016 at 18:41
  • 1
    Not the downvoter: I think that your answer is a good enough definition of IoT, but I feel like this is a bit too broad and is open for abuse: it covers computers, phones, routers, everything. Its impossible for something without a physical component to connect to Internet, or even do anything. Not all IoT devices have the ability to be monitored from a remote location or are a stand-alone device, and I can't really see why Raspi is off-topic by that definition: It can connect to wifi and model b devices can connect to ethernet.
    – ave
    Dec 6, 2016 at 18:43
  • @RobertCartaino - Added bullet-point adding "the ability to be monitored from a remote location" Dec 6, 2016 at 18:45
  • @JoelBrewer I just updated my comment to state that: Not all IoT devices have that feature. My internet status led is an iot device, but by your definition, it isn't.
    – ave
    Dec 6, 2016 at 18:46
  • 1
    @ArdaÖzkal what is an "internet status led" ? Dec 6, 2016 at 18:48
  • @JoelBrewer ah, sorry for not clarifying. It's basically a LED hooked up to an ESP8266, connected to my Wifi. It pings my servers every minute and lets me know if any of them are wrong (white = no internet at all, red = all servers down, yellow = some servers down, green = all servers up). I made it to see if issue is with my PC, with my vpn/dns/smb server or with my router (my internet or wifi card is not the best, hence I made such a thing).
    – ave
    Dec 6, 2016 at 18:53
  • @ArdaÖzkal Hm. It sounds like the question is: "is bi-directional communication a requirement, or is uni-directional communication sufficient to be considered an IoT device?" -- I would argue bi-directional communication is important, otherwise we really do open the floodgates. Dec 6, 2016 at 19:25
  • @ArdaÖzkal ..I updated the third bullet-point to more accurately address that requirement Dec 6, 2016 at 19:27
  • 2
    My only disagreement in this answer is with the first bullet point - I think the site should allow questions focused on the intranet of things as well Dec 6, 2016 at 19:45
  • @ZachSaucier I'm open to adjusting the definition accordingly. What do others think? Dec 6, 2016 at 19:46
  • 1
    @ZachSaucier after further consideration, I believe you are right. I modified the first bullet point. Dec 6, 2016 at 19:49
  • @RobertCartaino I have made several edits to the post, integrating feedback/discussions. Do you feel as if the definition is less nebulous? Dec 7, 2016 at 0:59
  • This is unfortunately wrong on just about every point except the need for a physical aspect. IoT does not necessarily mean "the Internet" - it could be any network. It does not necessarily mean substantial distance, nor does it necessarily mean bi-directional communication. And it is in no way limited to stand-alone systems, indeed, industrial IoT is a substantial segment and includes things like machine health monitoring. Feb 4, 2018 at 8:14
  • @ChrisStratton - I didn't say IoT meant "the Internet" I said: It must have a connection to an internet (either the Internet, or a local intranet). Additionally, this is not a definition of IoT in general - the question is: "What is an IoT device" -- Obviously IoT is not limited to stand-alone systems, however, this is specifically a definition for a (singular) IoT device. Feb 6, 2018 at 22:05

Please, don't try to create yet another definition of “Internet of things” just for this site. If you need a definition, use the one on Wikipedia. At least that's a widely accepted reference that can make sense to first-time posters as well as seasoned users on the site.

“Internet of things” is a vague concept. It's a marketing buzzword, not a technical definition. Don't try to pinpoint a precise definition.

To avoid endless, pointless nitpicking, when in doubt, it's on-topic.

  • Downvoter care to elaborate? +1 by the way for simplicity
    – tbm0115
    Dec 7, 2016 at 0:38
  • @tbm0115 I'm sure that many of the participants here object to my calling their pet topic a marketing buzzword. I don't mind, in five years they'll have forgotten all about it. Dec 7, 2016 at 0:40
  • 1
    While I like the current Wikipedia definition and think this is a pretty sensible suggestion, the odds of that entry remaining static for the next few years are pretty long. In the interests of avoiding linkrot, could you possibly quote some of the more relevant material?
    – goobering
    Dec 7, 2016 at 2:04
  • @goobering No, that would defeat my point. My point is that we should not have our own definition, we should use a standard one. Wikipedia is a widely accepted reference. Dec 7, 2016 at 2:25
  • 1
    It is today. You can't viably use a continually changing definition as the basis for a site that needs static boundaries.
    – goobering
    Dec 7, 2016 at 2:30
  • 1
    @goobering This site can't have static boundary on a scale of several years. It's about technology that's evolving, and defined by an unclear name (which is what got us into this mess in the first place). If what is commonly called IoT shifts, we'll either need to follow the shift or rename the site: we can't have a site called IoT that's actually about “what people called IoT 10 years ago”. Dec 7, 2016 at 2:37

First of all I am providing the same as I did on the main site.

The Internet of Things is not generally limited to any protocols.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been defined in Recommendation ITU-T Y.2060 (06/2012) as a global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies.

Global Standards Initiative

Thus, any device that's connected to the internet and uses or provides, or is necessary to provide an internet based service is an IoT device. The protocol that device is speaking is irrelevant.

So the points I would list as requirements for an IoT device are:

  • It's a physical thing
  • It is either
    • using an service on the internet or
    • providing information to a service on the internet
  • Using or enabling that service is very central to the device. This is admittedly a bit fuzzy, but I'd say it has to be in the top 3 of the functionalities. (I.e. A connected fridge with a camera is an IoT device, since the added value from the connection comes second to actually cooling the food.)
  • Logical consequence is that it is somehow connected to the internet
  • The communication protocol of the device itself is irrelevant

Honorable mentions of not IoT devices:

  • Any sort of unspecialized equipment that can be used to access the same services (i.e. to access the data of my IoT device) as PCs, smart phones, tablets, the local internet cafe. Wait what?!? Yes, the smart phone itself is not an IoT device per se. Which means it can act as one provided the proper apps. However that's not the core functionality.

  • Devices like remote clocks which just synchronize with a non-internet based service.


I don't think that Internet of Things needs to involve the "internet" in terms of accessing remote services. However, it is it's own internet (series of connected devices) of what we have commonly considered things.

Historically, the internet has been a network of physical devices that share non-physical "things". However, a major part of the IoT buzzword is connecting objects that physically do things in the physical environment and telling them what to do.

Yes, the information can be transferred through any type of network, but it's the objective that makes it an IoT device.

For example, I would consider a Computer an IoT vs an Network Device based on context. If the computer serves as a processing unit to make real-world objects like blinds move or a CNC Mill machine a part, I'll refer to it as an IoT device when talking in context to those processes. Any other time, however, I'd refer to it as a simple network device.

  • 4
    @JoelBrewer That concept goes against what most hardware requirements specify. You shouldn't have a lightswitch that relies on anything other than electricity. Sure, it's nice to control the lightswitch through the internet from mt everest, but that's not where the primary function lies. Another case is in manufacturing with MTConnect, a service that provides device data (commonly for machine tools) without requirement of internet connection, only intranet.
    – tbm0115
    Dec 6, 2016 at 19:05
  • I guess I just see the association of internet connectivity and IoT as a possible limitation on the capabilities of the system.
    – tbm0115
    Dec 6, 2016 at 19:07
  • Hm, it sounds like the question is: should the Internet of Things encompass the "intranet of things"? -- I'm not sure.. Dec 6, 2016 at 19:09
  • Maybe... It's like everyone's saying the same thing, but the English language is shoving it's hand in our faces on this one.
    – tbm0115
    Dec 6, 2016 at 19:11
  • It's a new term, and since the users of the English language define the English language, we're just going through a phase of deciding what exactly we do mean. It's posts like this one that will influence the language and migrate usage towards a particular meaning. Dec 6, 2016 at 19:22
  • Agreed! I think we need some diagrams or something to help illustrate some of the concepts of IoT.
    – tbm0115
    Dec 6, 2016 at 19:25
  • 2
    If an internet connection's going to be required to qualify a question as on topic for the board there's going to be an awful lot of weird question closures. I've got a host of Arduinos, ESP8266s and Pis hooked up round the house that don't talk to anything outside my network. Those would all be out of bounds unless I tack on '...and I forwarded a port to it in my router config', at which point they'd all be OK again. Alternatively, I have a Pi on the internet sending commands to ESP8266 boards on a local network - is only the Pi an IoT device?
    – goobering
    Dec 6, 2016 at 23:02
  • 1
    I'm going to go back on my previous opinion and suggest that devices connected to an intranet are indeed on-topic Dec 7, 2016 at 0:25
  • 1
    @goobering My answer is merely trying to point out that a true IoT device does not need to be connected to the internet. I'd recommend you adding your own answer perhaps explaining your specific case of a non-internet enabled device serving IoT operations (ie. temperature control, idk 'cause you didn't specify).
    – tbm0115
    Dec 7, 2016 at 0:34
  • @tbm0115 My apologies, my comments were directed (I think) in Joel Brewer's general direction. I think the original comments may have been deleted since.
    – goobering
    Dec 7, 2016 at 0:43
  • Right up until the red herring of the CNC machine, this was the best answer on the page - to a large extent, the only one demonstrating true understanding. But CNC machine is a serious error. A CNC machine is not an IoT device when machining a part as the execution of that is a local operation, even if the data file was provided over a network. However, a CNC machine reporting to remote oversight that its spindle bearing has developed a vibration that may indicate impending failure could well be an IoT process. Feb 4, 2018 at 8:18
  • @ChrisStratton Yes, NC programs are typically logically stored in RAM on the machine and not even the machine controller (PC). However, I was meaning more along the lines of MTConnect or Fanuc Focus. To my point, the CNC is an end point device that can be controlled or monitored over a network.
    – tbm0115
    Feb 4, 2018 at 14:15

One-off or prototype devices should be allowed, but maybe not simple off-the-shelf general purpose devices. Questions about raspbberry pi would be off topic, unless they specifically relate to a IoT function. I feel this really means there need to be multiple devices, or a client-server type architecture.

  • Indeed, general purpose small or embedded computers are only on topic when used for an IoT purpose. And that's true regardless if a manufacturer has printed up spiffy advertising handouts promoting them as a potential platform for IoT tasks. Feb 4, 2018 at 8:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .