Kevin Ashton

Kevin Ashton
Kevin Ashton
Birmingham, England
Associated organizations
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Zensi, Protector Gamble (P&B), Auto-ID Center
2015 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year


Kevin Ashton is the co-founder of the Auto-ID Center at MIT, has led three successful startups of tech companies including Zensi, and is the author of How To Fly A Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, and was awarded the 2015 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year [1]. Within the fields of science and engineering, he is predominately known for coining the term Internet of Things, a phrase that describes the phenomenon in which objects are linked to a larger network and function independently. The increasing trend of objects becoming linked to the internet has created a heavy demand amid engineers and scientists of a broad spectrum to consistently be innovative, and has affected the global community in a dramatic fashion.

Born in 1968 in Birmingham, England and raised by a single mother, he and his mom quickly moved to England after he was born where he grew into his teenage years. As a teenager, he spent the majority of his time traveling Europe as a DJ, until he eventually ended up settling in Norway. Learning to speak Norwegian, he lived in Norway until the age of 21, until he decided to pursue a Scandinavian literature program at the University of London [2].

Spending time at the University of London he joined the student newspaper where he became its editor. It was here that he became familiar with the company Procter & Gamble (P&G). By graduation, after his experience as an editor he felt disillusioned with journalism, claiming that it was not the "truth seeking missile" he hoped it would be. In 1995 after graduation, he decided to get involved within a noodle bar startup company called Wagamama, where he would assist in establishing its internet brand. However, the founder Alan Yau didn't have the income to complete the project, and Ashton left the position [3].

After he had left Wagamama, Ashton was offered a position at P&G, where he assisted in the of launch a line of cosmetics for Oil of Olay. Working within his division in the company, he had noticed that whenever he visited the store that one of the shades of lipstick from his product line always seemed to be sold out. Curious, he had contacted the P&G's supply chain managers about the issue, and in response was told that the lipstick was in stock at the warehouses, and that it was a coincidence that the lipstick was out of stock whenever he visited the store.

Unsatisfied with the response, Ashton began to brainstorm various ways in which a product could be tracked. It was during this brainstorming that he had theorized to use bar codes found on products as a means of tracking the location of a product, a technology heavily invested upon in the 90's as a means to give businesses a grip on inventory. Despite the heavy investment however, the bar code system only gave them the number of products in stock and not the actual location; Ashton wanted to incorporate this design and apply it to his dilemma. He pitched his concept to the higher management branches of P&G, where they were impressed and asked Ashton to pursue the idea [4].

After receiving the green light to do further research into the subject matter, Ashton had theorized another solution to the problem: using a radio microchip out of the credit card, he can insert it into the lipstick which would allow it to be tracked numerically. It was under his belief that if a wireless network could pick up data on a card, it could also snatch data off a chip on a lipstick package and alert management of whether or not it was on the shelves. Ashton had conjured this idea from another recent investment trend in radio-enabled chips, later called RFID .

Taking his accumulated ideas, Ashton was given the opportunity again to meet with the P&G management in 1999 to give the presentation "Internet of Things", where he not only first coined the term [5], but was also offered to work at a P&G sponsored media lab at MIT. Ashton was loaned to MIT to create the Auto-ID Center to research RFID and to explore the potential for the newly named smart packaging system. Spending time within the labs and University, Ashton began to become influenced by MIT physicist Neil Gershenfel, and his published book, When Things Start to Think, theorizing about the impulse of adding data to everyday items.

During the development of the smart packaging and after being influenced, Ashton partook in presenting to hundreds of corporate leaders about the potential of RFID technology and how each chip would be able to communicate to a wireless network and reveal data about itself. It was during these presentations that Ashton had continued to use the term Internet of Things, where it eventually spread into the business world. By the end of the journey, the Auto-ID Center had 103 sponsors from around the world, all of which were interested in seeing the smart package system communicate within itself between suppliers and retailers [6]. Eventually, in 2003 the market for the smart chip sky rocketed, and investment went into making the chip cheaper and easier to produce. It became a phenomenon among retailers, and became a catalyst of inspiration for Ashton to write How To Fly A Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, which describes the process of creativity and defines the importance of I.O.T.