Internet of Things: Building the connected world one device at a time

Posted on December 5, 2013


Everybody ready for the internet of things? Right now we marvel at the fact that the net connects us via laptops, tablets and smartphones, but the next iteration has potential to automate our lives. Sensors connected to the web will turn on our heating, water our plants, feed our pets and start our car’s engines. Oh wait, you can already do that. Suffice to say the number of ‘things’ connected via the net will far outweigh PCs and phones.

Thanks to low cost computers like the Raspberry Pi, hobby electronics kits like the Arduino and an array of affordable sensors we can monitor and communicate with the things in our lives like never before. And that expansion is almost limitless as devices become smaller and smaller.

Cisco and the dutch cow
Networks experts Cisco say that the number of things connected to the internet exceeded the number of people on earth in 2008, by 2020 there will be 50 billion. Dutch startup Sparked is connecting up cows using wireless sensors. When a cow is sick or pregnant it sends a message to the farmer. Each animal transmits 200Mb per year.

Soon the internet of things could organise your day before you get up in the morning. Your alarm clock is aware that a meeting has been delayed by 45 minutes, or receives traffic updates or changes to train timetables. Your car factors in that you need to top up on petrol. Your coffee maker adjusts and switches on as you wake. Yes, it’s all very ‘house of tomorrow’ in flavour. It’ll take a seriously coordinated effort to get people to hook everything up. I don’t know that I would do it. I’m a bit laissez faire when it comes to waking up and quite like the fact that there are random factors at play in life.

Everything in Superflux
Still there are some neat ways to create ‘smart’ homes and cities. I was suitably impressed by Superflux’ project IOTA – the Internet of Things Academy – because it goes against the grain on these big ‘smart’ projects, which might be owned by corporations, taking out the human element. It should be more about collaborations between people in communities and turning passive observers into active users.

Superflux has identified three levels of user who might be interested in using and developing practical sensors and monitors: citizens, tinkerers and hackers. Each uses technology according to their expertise. Should citizens wish to become more involved they become tinkerers. Tinkerers probably already play around with the technology and can learn to become hackers if they wish.

They have also curated a page with stories on ‘connected things’ from around the web. Lovely people. Also check out this thread from ReadWrite which has the most up to date news, with notes of caution on what would happen if your house was hacked, piercing the hype and basically letting punters know that Skynet is one small step away if we put the machines in charge. Terminator fans know the score.

Practical advice comes from Business Week (of course) with hints on what to buy the connected punter. Finally, a dose of sense from IOT Europe on data privacy and who owns or even sees the data generated by your home.