Buzzword: the Internet Of Things

When we moved into our house years ago I discovered that, while the garage door opener worked, there was no remote for it. Replacement remotes are easy to come by these days but my first thought was: why clutter up my life with one more remote that I have to keep track of?  Can I do this with my phone?

At the time I wasn’t familiar with the “Internet of Things” but I WAS feeling the sort of desire for convenience, simplicity and order that led to its emergence.  I’ve seen “Internet of Things” (IOT) has been showing up on a lot of 2016 buzzword lists and it gets my vote as one of the only buzzwords that deserves the attention it’s getting.

The Internet of Things (or “Internet of Everything” as some are calling it) means, simply, that many of the common appliances, machines and devices in our lives, which have always operated in isolation, can now communicate with other devices, generate useful information and operate automatically.  This concept is already driving many products that you’re already (almost) used to seeing:

  • thermostats that can not only be adjusted while you’re out of the house but can learn what your preferred settings are for time of day/day of week and time of year and adjust automatically (Nest and Ecobee)
  • “smart plugs” that can turn your old dumb appliances/lights on and off remotely, schedule them and monitor their energy usage (WeMo and ThinkEco)
  • enhancements to existing garage door openers that lets you know, wherever you are, whether there’s someone in the garage, whether the doors are open, closed or locked (Garageio and MyQ Garage)

There are also lot’s of applications of the idea that seems a bit more… let’s say “luxurious” including coffee makers, pet feeders and, yes, toothbrushes.  It reminds me a bit of the 1980’s when the technology to make tiny LCD clocks became so cheap they started showing up in pens, coffee cups, paperweights, etc.

The technology that allows these devices to communicate to the world is very specialized but, underneath, most of it is simply an extension of TCP/IP, the same protocol that keeps everything on the existing Internet talking to each other.  Since every device on the Internet must have a unique identifier in order for communications to be routed to it the old IPV4 addressing system would have been instantly overwhelmed.  But with IPV6 we’re in no danger of running out of addresses any time soon.

A lot of these products tend to be expensive but, the beauty of having a system that can collect data, analyze it and make adjustments to itself, is that they can become highly efficient.  The Nest thermostat system, for instance, tends to save users significant amounts of money and generally pays for itself by the second year of use.  That’s something that even those who are technophobic can get excited about.

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