The following article was originally published in our March 2016 issue


 

Remember when The Internet was this cool thing that you could only access at your best friend’s house, but then you just ended up wasting your time on that pinball game instead because your connection was too slow or your Runescape account was banned? The Internet has come a long way:

from an idea back in 1962 for a globally interconnected set of computers, through which everyone can quickly access data and programs from any site…

to the first two computers to communicate with each other in 1969…

to the 90s where it was all about friendly interfaces for users (like Windows ‘98 when Bill Gates became determined to take over the large growth of the Internet)…

In 2016, you can now access and share innumerable funny cat pictures virtually anywhere, anytime, and from the palm of your hand.

The Internet today is everywhere, and I don’t just mean figuratively. Sure, you can get an internet connection in your car, in your home, and in your pocket with ease. But new technologies are emerging every second, and are transforming everyday analog objects into digital data, connecting everything around you to the internet. This phenomenon is called The Internet of Things, and it’s quickly becoming a significant part of how we define reality in the 21st Century.  

Man at Cafe
What the is IoT?

The Internet of Things (or IoT) is the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data (Wikipedia). Kevin Ashton supposedly coined the phrase while working for Procter & Gamble in 1999.

Today, IoT is bigger than Ashton could’ve imagined, and big companies are devoting whole divisions to advancing this technology. Microsoft, Telus and Google are all focusing on increasing their efforts to spread the IoT everywhere, focusing on creating a strategy for businesses small or large, cities, energy, cloud and even transportation. “IoT connects things around you to make you more efficient in what you do,” says Greg Stark, Senior Product Manager (Internet of Things) at Telus. “IoT makes business more efficient, and without it they would be less competitive. I often ask people to think about a business that runs without smartphones.”

Let’s look at some of the consumer integrations we’re seeing today in your home, in your car and in your stomach. This isn’t the future, rather technology that is already in near-consumer or consumer-ready states.

Welcome Home, Mr. Jetson.

“IoT is already in a lot of homes,” admits Stark. “Home alarm systems were one of the first.”  Home alarms today already talk to your nearby fire department, and the integration of technology into the home has been happening for decades. But now we have access to more innovation in technology than ever before, and we’re able to expand on these concepts to keep our minds at ease and our wallets fatter.  Take, for example, the WeMo power outlet. It allows you to use your phone or smartwatch with their app to do things like schedule your TV time, play music or even light up the room before you walk in. WeMo allows you to save money and conserve energy over time with scheduling and its measurement of standby power usage.

Or how about the Ninja Block, that uses “geo-fencing” to set up triggers so that when a device enters (or exits) the boundaries defined by the administrator, a text message or email alert is sent. Use this ‘ninja’ to unlock doors within proximity, protect your basement from nasty burglars, or play your favourite “making dinner” playlist when you enter the kitchen.

Smart fridges (and no, I don’t mean a fridge that can tell you the square root of 1,080) are quickly becoming an industry standard. I’m talking about fridges like the The Samsung Family Hub, which essentially has a 21.5” touchscreen that allows you to order groceries online on the spot. The coolest feature is a line of cameras inside, that will send a picture to your phone while you’re out shopping, so you don’t have to guess how much ketchup you have left. The app can also set the temperature, control the lights and connect with products from the refrigerator door.  All of this can be yours for the price of a used vehicle (five grand, to be exact).

Remember the expression: ‘If these walls could talk?” Well, guess what: we’ve arrived. Introducing Amazon Echo, which not only lets you play music with your voice but can also answer questions (Siri’s other cousin), read audio books (hopefully with a Morgan Freeman option), report traffic and weather and much more. You can even control your smart lights and smart thermostats to have that mini rave you’ve always dreamed of in the comforts of your own home.

The IoT is only limited by the human imagination at this point. The bigger we dream, the more we can see how limitless the options really are for full-home integration. But do we really need it and how much is too much?

OUR DIGITAL BODIES:

You might think the human body, in all its miraculous organic glory, is the last stronghold against the IoT. Think again. Huge advances in medical care and the increase of accurate sensors and equipment are working towards a fully-integrated human body, which although sounds perilously sci-fi, could potentially create a healthier future for patients.

The market is scattered with different fitness trackers —Fitbit and Jawbone let us know that the North-to-South trek across the BCIT campus was totally worth it—but fitness trackers are increasing integration every day, and not just at the local level (ie. your smartphone). Already we’re seeing the ability to send information to your social network, your hospital, your physician, and your health insurance company.

Chimaera is a surgical tool that creates a real-time 3D image of the area to be operated on, giving surgeons a way to easily target or avoid specific nerves or blood vessels.  Mapping these areas’ will display the ‘safe route’ during the operation. I think any technology that can help surgeons save lives easier is a wonderful thing.  

Now let’s pretend that going to your doctors can finally be a thing of the past. No more waiting in traffic in pain, or finding the best way to skip class instead of passing out in the hallway because grabbing that all important doctors note is very difficult. The Flow Health Hub will bring that doctor to your house in real time, as this bedside unit can take samples and quickly give measurements for cholesterol, diabetes and blood pressure. If the patient requires medical assistance, the patient’s doctors will be notified automatically.  

I believe that almost all wearable technology can now track heart rate, but what if that’s not enough? Next-gen technology may be able to measure hydration and possibly treat obesity with ingestible sensors that can track what patients eat. Other things that would be tracked include heart acceleration, humidity, pressure, and temperature.

ROAD TRIPPY:

Self-driving cars work with the Internet of Things perfectly, as vehicles are increasingly becoming equipped with sensors that communicate their presence and evaluate their immediate environment. By now most people are aware that Google has been using self-driving cars (1 million miles driven and counting). But many of the biggest automakers are all pushing autonomous driving, with the likes of Mercedes-Benz unveiling their 2017 E-Class, the first “standard-production” vehicle to receive an autonomous license from Nevada, meaning that their self-driving cars have passed the safety test to be road-ready.

Nvidia released a new computer for cars called Drive PX2, which supposedly has the processing power of 150 MacBook Pros, within a small device the size a lunch box. Without getting into the geeky stuff, that’s a lot of power and can process, “inputs of 12 video cameras, plus lidar (ultraviolet or near-infrared light), radar and ultrasonic sensors.” Volvo is the first partnership with the Drive PX2, testing this technology in self-driving vehicles. The Drive PX2 will soon roll out to companies such as Daimler, BMW, and Ford.

The OG of IoT, Kevin Ashton, frequently gets asked whether self-driving cars are safe. “Wrong question,” he said speaking at Microsoft’s Future Decoded event. “The question should be: ‘Are human-driven cars safe?’ The answer is no.”  There is an average of 52,000 casualty crashes per year in British Columbia alone, all a result of human errors. “Predicting the future is easy,” Ashton said. “Believing is hard.”

But this technology is also being used for great non-driving vehicular apps,  like Uber, which uses your smartphone’s location to pair you with the nearest driver. This technology has been used by All-State (a car company down south) for awhile, with the ability to constantly monitor a vehicle’s position, and provide immediate response to accidents via roadside operators.  Some apps are making marketing gurus go head over heels, for instance when your current location triggers ads to nearby restaurants or shops such as Tim Horton’s.

Vinli has created a plug-in device for almost any car out there, giving it Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities and most importantly, access to the multiple apps that have the ability to diagnose failures, deliver real-time road conditions, traffic updates and so much more.  Along with roadside assistance and accident notification, this little gadget can change the way we drive, all in an accessible little package.  

SAFETY FIRST:

Of course, with all this new technology making its way into our everyday lives, comes the question of security. How safe is this stuff and what’s stopping your tech from talking to the wrong people? “Issues come from technology standards not being in place for IoT,” Stark highlights. “The category is very fragmented and everyone is developing in different ways.”  Privacy of data will continue to be a focus of concern—not knowing who has control over it, false data and who can use it against you— and companies will need to enhance and build privacy for all of the data that is flowing, increasing transparency and providing consumers with a choice to opt-out of data collection.

All pieces of technology have weak points, and it will be the ones in charge to constantly monitor, update or apply patches and alert the public of any problems at all. But nothing is guaranteed, even when the internet as we know it is still not secure enough. Technology is advancing at an incredible rate, and Stark thinks security will be a natural step in evolution.  “As the category develops, standards in security will become the norm.”

The Internet of Things is coming. But a lot of people are skeptical of this phenomenon and so I asked Stark what it’s going to take for the Internet of Things to become the norm. “The simple answer is time and value. For IoT to truly catch on it needs to be of value to the user.”  The smartphone wasn’t just a fad, and now everyone has one in their pockets. They have become a constant portal to making our world smaller and smaller. Now with the power of the Internet of Things, they will be the most powerful pieces of technology in the world that almost everyone owns.

With more and more investment going towards breathing life into the inanimate, let’s all just pray Elon Musk will find ways to save us if everything goes sour and the machines take over.