Jet engines in passenger and freight planes may seem the antithesis of the digital economy. Complex and costly, they are powered by old-fashioned polluting fuels: high-octane hydrocarbons. But aero-engine makers’ emphasis on improving safety and reliability has led them to become the pioneers in the internet of things (IoT). They have connected industrial systems to electronics to produce detailed reports on their engines’ performance. Twenty years ago, Rolls-Royce introduced its Total Care package, as part of which it provided maintenance to customers using information from digital sensors. As a result, Rolls-Royce and rivals such as Pratt & Whitney know more than most about the challenges and opportunities presented by the internet of things. Other sectors can learn from their experiences as they adopt a more technical approach.