The Internet has revolutionized our lives in more ways than we care to imagine. Within a decade, from being a desirable facet of one’s life, it has invaded our homes and is now something we can’t live without. Yet what we deem the Internet is just a web of computers (in one shape or another) exchanging data through a network of communication devices.
These days the definition of computers has changed a bit to encompass highly evolved gadgets like smartphones and tablets that access the Internet more than PCs ever did. Often what we loosely label as the Internet (to check Facebook, read websites, etc.) is in fact the World Wide Web or Web—just a means of reading content over the Internet’s superhighway. This is the extent to which most of us restrict our involvement.
To think that we call this minor obsession of ours with the Internet a revolution is just plain ridiculous. Imagine an Internet of intelligent devices (not PCs) that requires minimum supervision, as a separate network entity which interacts with the Internet, leveraging its potential in ways different from those we are used to in our day-to-day life. The possibilities of such an Internet, alive with gadgets and devices, is vastly more enriching. Just thinking about it is enough to make you realize that such an Internet of Things will go a long way in making our lives even more comfortable. And it may be unfolding around us in the coming months.
The next big wave
The Internet of Things has been a buzzword on the technology horizon for a couple of years. But not until this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES)—it has been held in January every year since 1967 in Las Vegas, US—did the term resurface and claw its way back into popular discourse. There were products unveiled at the year’s biggest technology show to signal that the Internet of Things has matured far beyond a concept, to buzzing, beeping devices produced by a variety of manufacturers, lending much needed momentum to its widespread acceptance.
Fancy an electronic, remotely operated light switch in your living room? Try the Belkin WeMo Switch ($49.99, or around Rs.2,650). It looks and feels like any ordinary light switch, but it’s not—it’s much smarter, connects to Wi-Fi and can be remotely controlled from anywhere in the world by an iOS (and soon-to-release Android) app.
Not good at recognizing whether the plants need more water, shade or sunlight? Monitor your plants through the ingenious Parrot Flower Power sensor (launching soon). The device plugs into the soil to track sunlight, moisture, temperature and fertilizer levels. It beams this information over Bluetooth to an app which helps monitor the health of plants in the sensor’s vicinity, so you’ll know what to do.
A curious example of the impending convergence of technology and convenience is the Samsung T9000 refrigerator which runs on Android. Fitted with a Wi-Fi-enabled, 10-inch, touch-screen panel, this smart fridge can help you with food recipes, regulate its temperature and features through the touch panel, take notes through Evernote, and much more.
The Internet is no longer restricted to traditional computing devices (PC, smartphone, tablet); household appliances like Wi-Fi light bulbs, self-heating ovens (LG smart oven), self-regulating motion-detecting and temperature sensors are just some of the products showcased at this year’s CES through which the concept of a smart home full of connected devices could finally become a reality. The possibilities are endless.
Fuelling the advent of this Internet of connected devices are several trends. Broadband proliferation, reduction of data charges, and improved hardware is lending hitherto analogue devices some semblance of “smartness” and digital awareness.
Beyond the hype
While it’s great that we’re pushing the spotlight away from the likes of smartphones and tablets—high-growth industry segments that have hogged all the limelight in recent memory—and focusing on the impending boom of connected devices, the Internet of Things will be weakened severely if it ends up being just another cluster of devices.
There are several challenges yet to overcome. Experience is a critical factor that will help take the Internet of Things to the next level. Take, for example, the TV industry, which harped on 3D TVs at CES 2010, and unveiled 4K Ultra HDTVs at this year’s CES. Instead of just upgrading the visual experience, TV manufacturers should have put more thought into ensuring these idiot boxes do more than recognize gestures, dynamic picture control, and secondary PCs. A device’s smartness or processing power (the wow factor, in other words) won’t be a limiting factor in realizing the full potential of connected devices, but the ecosystems that they plug into most certainly will.
A smart fridge that can’t automatically alert you about depleting inventory while you’re on the road back home isn’t smart enough; a sensor in the garden soil isn’t fulfilling its potential if, for example, it can’t water the plants on its own; a fitness tracker that merely tracks burnt calories isn’t good enough if it can’t give information on the calories consumed or recommend the right personalized diet. So the Internet you plug into needs to be smarter by deploying an accompanying service that you can utilize. These services will also drive the end-user experience and monetization models for companies to make the Internet of Things a sustainable business in the long run.
The Internet of Things will be multilayered, in all probability. Imagine your car as part of a home network where it’s just another fully automated gadget in your control. But if you step out on to the road, there may be an Internet of Road Transport that it hooks into for route navigation, self-driving, etc., and this separate network will monitor and control all the cars on the road. This may sound like science fiction, but a self-driving car is quickly becoming a reality.
But what happens to all the connected devices leveraging the Internet of Things when there’s a power failure and broadband’s down? Scary to imagine that all your smart devices could just become dumb, losing all their intelligence when they’re offline. Workarounds are sure to be developed to counter this challenge as well.
The Internet is evolving; it’s no longer a place you go to only for information, it’s now a place where you go to find things and objects. This trend will only grow in the coming months or so as manufacturers realize and push the envelope of our imagination, making us view the Internet through a new lens. The Internet of Things is arriving fast—and there’s no stopping it.