1999 – 5 years before Facebook launches, and 7 years before Twitter tweets its way onto the web. British technologist Kevin Ashton forecasts a time in the future where everyday things are interconnected via the Internet, and calls this idea ‘the Internet of Things’ (IOT).
Sixteen years later, we’re in the future, and where are these things?
The fact is that, for most of us, our ‘things’ are barely connected. Interest is peaking, though: Google Trends, which measures search interest, shows that from almost zero searches in 2004, interest in the IOT has surged over 100 times higher. It feels like we’re almost there. Here are 5 ways your life will be changed, soon:
- Connected Health
Healthcare is big business. Pharmaceutical companies spend millions, if not billions, trying to improve patients’ health (and, of course, their own profit).
Doctors can monitor remotely the real-time health of a patient, and change their course of action, based on this data. Pacemakers and hearing aids are now connected directly to your provider. Health emergencies don’t require patients to do anything – their doctors gets the alert immediately, and can take potentially life-saving steps.
For our general health, companies like WiThings make weight scales that automatically update your data, and feed into systems that give you advice and support on your weight loss/gain. And of course, a large number of people carry something on them, as well – a FitBit, for instance, or a smartwatch that can track their movements, and monitor their workouts and sleep patterns.
Where will this go? Within a few years, more insurance companies will start offering discounts if you wear a health tracker, or hook yourself up to patient-tracking systems. We’ll get much smarter guidance on our smartphones about what we should be doing to achieve peak health. Our health will finally move online and sit next to our email and social data.
- The (furry) Internet of Pets
62% of US homes have at least one pet. By contrast, only 45% have kids under the age of 18. So, your pets are next.
For around $100, you can have an IoT cat litter box that monitors the ‘elimination behaviors’ of your favorite feline (yes, really). There’s a company called Whistle that’s focused on making FitBits for your dog, and what’s more, it comes with a social network for the canines. Cisco is going one bigger – with an IoT connected tracker for elephants.
Where will this go? The IoT is not only for humans, and our four-legged friends will get more and more tech so that we can keep an eye on them and their health. Expect them to have their own Instagram before long.Although you’d think that cats already do.
- Smarter Cars
I live in New York, so the idea of owning a car isn’t exactly top of my list. But outside of this pedestrian jungle, car ownership is on the rise. And for decades, cars have carried around in them more computing capability than the first Space Shuttle – it just hasn’t been connected.
All of that has changed in the last year. Google released Android Auto, which is pre-installed on new models of some Hyundai cars, and easily retrofitted onto other models. Not to be outdone, Apple has CarPlay.
For now, these systems are not much more than ways to get your smartphone functionality in your car. No more wires snaking into your audio head unit, or suction cups on your windscreen.
But multiple startups are now building units that plug into the computing power and data of the car itself. By accessing the data port built into almost all cars, these units can pick up things like average gas consumption, acceleration, tire pressure and other data points.
Where will this go? Most of the big tech companies are either making their own self-driving cars, or working with manufacturers to do this. Expect your future car models to be as connected as your smartphone. As car ownership becomes more fuzzy as a concept (see ZipCar), this connectedness will mean that we can more seamlessly use cars on an on-demand basis. Which is a good for both our wallets, and for the environment.
- Internet of Homes
One of the most talked about areas of connected things – homes – are, after all, where we spend more than half our lives. Companies like Nest (now owned by Google) are making the most headway, and step-by-step connecting our air conditioning, fire alarms, and the various machines that make up a home.
To stich everything together, Google just announced Brillo – their operating system for the IoT. This will make it easier for your washing machine to talk to your toaster, and for your alarm clock to tell the coffee machine that you just hit snooze again, so back off on the brewing cycle.
The way we shop will change, too, from Amazon’s one-click button (a real, physical button) that reorders home supplies, through to our fridges knowing when the milk is out.
Retail needs to get smarter, too.
Where will this go? In many ways, this is the area most of us will see the soonest, as buildings, houses and manufacturers integrate the technology on our behalf. The ideal of having our home think on our behalf, save energy, and make our home lives just more effortless – that’s just around the corner. And homes are ready for it – your wifi router sits idle much of the time. For now.
- Wearing the IoT
Apple just got their grip on the wearables market, which to be fair, was previously restricted to early adopters, with pretty average hardware. Think what you will of version 1.0 of the Apple Watch, but when Apple enters a hardware market, it usually dominates it (with the exception of Samsung, who are launching their ‘perfect’ round-shaped watch later this year). The clock is probably ticking for FitBit-style bracelets, as when watches are better (smaller, slicker, more functional), it’s doubtful that we’ll want or need an armful of trackers to go with them.
Where will this go? Arguably, smartphones are pretty static right now – refinements on camera quality, better screens, better graphics. The real innovation is coming from other parts of our body that carry things – particularly our wrists and fingers. After some flops, a truly useful smart ring will launch soon. Google Glass never took off, but embedding technology in glasses or contact lenses, and layering data over our view of the world makes perfect sense. I challenge you to watch a Microsoft HoloLens demo and not come away believing that that’s the future. Without changing the things we already ‘wear’ on our bodies, we’ll move seamlessly into being Connected Things ourselves. It’s an exciting future, and we’re almost in it.
Image credit: CC by normalityrelief