The Internet of Things

April 2014

The good news is that there are now "smart refrigerators" connected to the Internet that can, for example, send you a text message telling you that your milk is running low. The bad news is that already a refrigerator has been hacked.

Said refrigerator ended up connected to a botnet, which is a supercomputer created by bad guys when they hack into people's computers, connect them together, and control them for nefarious purposes such as sending out spam. Said refrigerator was responsible for sending out 750 malicious emails.

And then there are the smart toilets in Japan that have also been hacked. I'll spare you the details, other than to say that a bidet can go out of control.

This is called the Internet of things. The original Internet was people connecting to machines. The Internet of things consists of machines connecting to machines. And 2014 is supposed to be a big year for this nascent industry, which is expected to be a $20 trillion industry.

One of the most popular Internet thingys is Nest. It's a smart thermostat connected to the Internet via WiFi. As you make adjustments, it gradually learns your schedule. No sense in heating or cooling your home more than necessary when you aren't there. It automatically makes adjustments so that even if you forget to turn down the heat when leaving home, it will do it for you. And it will anticipate your return, turning up the heat so your home is comfortable when you arrive.

You can also control it via an app on your smartphone. So if you're heading home at a time when you're not usually there, you can turn up the heat remotely. Plus, Nest sends all your data regarding your energy usage to Nest servers. Computers analyze your energy usage and automatically email you once a month with a report on your energy usage that includes tips on how you can save even more energy.

The manufacturer says that installing a Nest thermostat will cut your heating and cooling bill by 20%.

If you're in doubt that this is the wave of the future, Google isn't. Earlier this year it purchased the company that makes Nest for $3.2 billion. In cash.

And speaking of Google, they've created the Open Auto Alliance, which is an organization of manufacturers and tech companies that are working together to establish a common protocol so that vehicles can communicate with one another.

What's the point? It would make a lot sense to you if you're one of the people who spends a gazillion hours each year stuck in traffic jams. An estimated 1.9 billion gallons of fuel is wasted in the U.S. each year as a result of vehicles idling in traffic jams. Vehicles equipped with Internet thingys could instantly communicate road conditions to each other and suggest alternate routes to hapless drivers.

Of course, there are many smart thingys available for you to buy. Smart light bulbs can be controlled remotely from your smartphone. And you can program them to turn on gradually in the morning to wake you up gently. Plus, you can "tune" them from your phone by adjusting the balance of white and colors.

Parrott Flower Power is a system of sensors that you put into a plant's soil. Then when said plant is thirsty, you'll receive a message on your phone. Don't know how frequently you should water a particular plant? It comes with a database of over 6,000 plants, and knows just how much water each one needs.

What else is there? You can buy a smart basketball that can measure arc, shot speed, dribble speed, and backspin. It sends the data to your smartphone, which then gives advice on how to improve your play.

One of the coolest thingys that's advertised widely but isn't actually available yet for purchase is Tile. It's a $20 gizmo about the size of two postage stamps that you can attach to just about anything you want to keep track of: your key ring, your kid, your cat. It sends a wireless signal such that you can locate it with your iPhone.

It needs to be within Bluetooth range of 150 feet. But it also communicates with other Tiles and with iPhones that have the Tile app installed, so that if one of these devices is nearby, your iPhone will show you the location of your Tile — even if it's miles outside of Bluetooth range. That means that as the product gets more widely used, it will become much better at locating your lost item. So far about 50,000 Tiles have been preordered.

Sounds like something I could use.

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© 2014 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

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