Internet of Things

Something often overlooked when we talk about all the shiny new connected gadgets emerging out of the ‘Internet of Things’ is what happens to all the old things. I’m fascinated by the power of adding multiple sensors to old things and then connecting them to the internet.

Take a microwave. Despite all the bells and whistles that have been added to them over the years, they haven’t really changed much since the 1970s. But when you add all kinds of other sensors — a camera, an electronic scale, a bar-code reader, and so on — that microwave could ‘see’ what you put in the oven, recognize the brand and nutritional content of your food, and even weigh it. By querying a database in the cloud, it would come back with the time and intensity required to cook that item of food perfectly. Over time the oven learns how you like your food done. All we would have to do is add the ingredients and close the door. The internet-connected oven does the rest.

While this scenario is somewhat simplified, the interesting question is what happens when anything with an on/off switch gets connected to the internet. As with our microwave example, one consequence would be better outcomes: a house heated to the right temperature at the right time; garage doors that automatically open when we pull into the driveway and close when we pull out; saving power on all our devices; and so on.

We tend to focus on the glorified outcomes but the mundane ones are equally if not more powerful. Right now we have a culture of planned obsolescence. But the IoT could change things here, and create a new culture of repair. If you’re a small family-owned restaurant that can’t afford to constantly upgrade equipment or fix things, you can answer a whole new set of questions with the IoT: Is that freezer working extra hard because someone left the door open, or because its compressor is about to fail and you’re about to lose $6,000 in food? Power consumption patterns, audio waves, and more can be analyzed to determine whether, when, and how something ought to be running.

With the IoT we’re headed to a world where things aren’t liable to break catastrophically — or at least, we’ll have a hell of a heads’ up. We’re headed to a world where our doors unlock when they sense us nearby. All that, and a warm meal perfectly cooked.

— Scott Weiss