Striking up a conversation with your fridge may not be the first thing that comes to mind when it’s time to start thinking about dinner. But what if it you could, via your smartphone, read what ingredients lie inside, which food’s about to go off, the kinds of dishes you could make, the precise temperature everything’s chilling at or even how many of your favourite foods it stocks? Then it might be worth a quick natter with your fridge!
To better grasp what I’m talking about, I should introduce the notion of the Internet of Things. Essentially, this is an ideal, a scenario in which technologies communicate and even co-operate without the need for direct human interaction. A lay example could be when your fitness tracker alerts you to a text on your phone. Originally branded as M2M, machine to machine communication, it’s really not as insidious as it sounds. Or even as complicated!
Though the term Internet of Things was only coined in 1999, the concept has been evolving for decades. Back in the early 1980’s, the earliest instance of the Internet of Things can actually be traced back to a Coke machine. The vending machine, residing in Carnegie Melon University, would relay its stock information online. Students and staff needed only to check their computers to see if there was a refreshing bevvy waiting for them downstairs!
This is a very basic example but the premise remains largely unaltered. Hypothetically, anything at all can be networked into the Internet of Things. All it needs is
1) An IP address, of which we have a near infinite number
2) Access to a network and the ability to relay data
3) Senses, or more accurately, sensors to acquire said data via touch, sound, sight etc.
One of the more practical examples of the Internet of Things and its innumerable benefits is the communication between Google’s recently acquired Nest smoke alarms and Lifx’s colour changing light bulbs. Nest has opened up its APIs – application program interfaces. This is the code which dictates its interactions with different software. And so, when the Nest smoke alarm detects smoke, the Lifx colour changing light bulb will automatically start to flash red, visually alerting residents to the potential danger. While this could act as a literal life-saver to the aurally impaired, it’s also a comforting compound alarm system for cautious users.
Additional potential instances of a connected home via the Internet of Things include the Jawbone Up health tracking wristband sensing when its user wakes and automatically triggering the thermostat. Or the Chamberlain ‘smart’ garage door then lowering the thermostat when opened (as the house is likely empty). Also, a recent range of Mercedes Benz models start to heat themselves when they’re a half hour away from the usual commute time.
How machines communicate in the Internet of Things is always set up, in the first instance, by a human. But after that it’s free to make our lives more convenient, to connect our homes. Theoretically, at 7:30pm you could get a text from your fridge reminding you you’re out of Coke, which you usually take out of the fridge at 8pm, the same time (according to the telly) that you settle in to watch Orange is the New Black. If this were the case, not only would I speak to my fridge, I’d probably give it a high five!
Obviously, the major concern when it comes to the Internet of Things, is one of security. Having so many appliances, devices, computers, sensors etc. networked and pumping out personal data is ripe for exploitation. From the Oxford Internet Institute, Dr Ian Brown maintains,
“You don’t want to get woken up at 04:00 by a smoke alarm because of malicious activity… Google in general are very good as internet security goes, but it will be very interesting to see how long it might be before the first vulnerabilities are found in these systems.”
Elsewhere, Nest co-founder Matt Rogers reassures users by saying,
“We still have the ability to deactivate their [malicious users] accounts and basically delete all their integrations… We have also put a limit in the developer programme of how far they can get without actually having to go through some approval processes… They can go up to 1,000 users without having to talk to us… but over that they have to get formal approval and go through a testing process.”
With circuitry and chips getting smaller and more affordable, the Internet of Things is fast becoming a tangible reality. And while it remains a lofty idea, what it means for you, the consumer, is a connected home. A home wherein your every appliance and electronic device works in a harmony of communication to make your life that much easier. A home where the notion of talking to your fridge isn’t an act that could get you sectioned, but a way of making your precious time off even more relaxing.
In Short: As the Internet of Things becomes more of a reality, your connected home offers many benefits that simply weren’t possible as little as five years ago