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Internet of Things: hip jargon or reality?

by  David Dwyer on  03/08/2015

The Internet of Things, which is regularly shortened to IoT, is, at its most basic level the principle of connecting any device with an on/off switch to the internet. It's become a hot topic within technology and Internet circles with many major brands investing considerable Research & Development budgets into being the first to market. Doing so gives these brands plenty of PR coverage, but in some cases, critics have suggested that the exposure it brings is really the end goal of these early moves. 

Just because you can do something, doesn't necessarily mean you should. So is it all hype, is there a genuine future or is it the stuff of Science Fiction being forced into present day fact? Here are a few examples of connected devices.

Connected Toaster
The Internet of Things isn't a new concept. In fact, the first documented connected household device was a humble toaster in 1990. The challenge had been set at an early Internet conference and the first iteration simply switched the toaster on, but a version the year later added robotics to actually insert the bread into the toaster. Not an entirely practical application, but as an example of setting the 'Internet of Things scene', and showcasing what is possible - it served a purpose. 


Volvo Machine to Machine
Volvo's reputation as a brand is based on safety, so it's not surprising that they have been prominent players in the early stages of automotive IoT development. They are currently piloting M2M (Machine to Machine) technology so that cars can warn other cars about adverse road conditions. The system will analyse real-time data about road friction conditions to a cloud-based platform that will automatically warm other vehicles about the poor road conditions they are about to come across.

Phillips Hue
One of the early, practical IoT developments has been the use of mobile devices to act as controllers for various in home systems. Philips has been at the forefront of this with their Hue system. Being a marketing juggernaut they have done a particularly clever job at marketing their in-home lighting system to be as simple and accessible as possible. Take a couple of minutes to watch their video -

Hue enables users to alter the lighting within their home via their smartphone or tablet. It's more than just a digital dimmer switch though; the actual colour of the lights can be changed quite dramatically changing the entire look and feel of a room. Users can also save presets. For example there might be a particular lighting set-up that is preferred for reading books or one that is simply for relaxing.

The really smart element of the technology is the ability to set alerts and reminders. If you were baking a cake, you could set your lights to both change colour and blink to make you aware that it is ready. 

Cloudwash Washing Machine
Digitally connecting the white goods in your kitchen has been one of the more commonly used examples of Internet of Things theory. The big brands such as Indesit have been looking at ways to integrate IoT elements to their existing product lines. Berg, a London based tech startup, have taken a new approach by simplifying the machine itself while integrating practical and sensible IoT elements. They call their prototype Cloudwash.


Cloudwash: the connected washing machine from Berg on Vimeo.

Cloudwash is a prototype connected washing machine. We created Cloudwash to explore how connectivity will change the appliances in our homes… and to figure out what new features will be possible. Read more here: http://blog.bergcloud.com/2014/02/25/cloudwash/

They have simplified the machine and stripped it down to its most commonly used functions, resisting the temptation to just add a controller to the existing standard, and often very complicated washing machine, set-up. It's a great example of IoT technology forcing product designers to ask a broader question – “How can we make this machine better.”

The smartphone application has a number of clever features. They range from the simple, such as alerting you that your washing is about to be completed, through to the ingenious ability to delay the final spin cycle in real-time. The motivation for the delay might be a desire for extremely fresh clothes. If you are out of home and not able to remove the clothes from the machine personally for a number of hours, the clothes will lose their freshness. Or you may have a sleeping baby in the house and don't want to risk the noisy spin cycle waking your little one. Whatever the motivation, this little simple function is a fantastic practical example of IoT solving a real world problem.


Final Thoughts
The wide scale adoption and acceptance of the Internet of Things will only truly become mainstream when manufacturers deploy it to solve real world problems and make life more simple for consumers. Connecting devices to the Internet for the sake of doing so does is not the answer. So while there is undoubtedly hype around the subject of Internet of Things - the reality is that it has a very real future. Ultimately though, it is up to the manufacturers and product developers to take a few steps back to always ask the question - "What problem am I solving?"


David Dwyer is Managing Director of Inspire Web Development. He has years of experience in a range of web and IT roles plus seven years in sales and marketing in a blue-chip FMCG company. David’s academic and professional qualifications include a BA (Hons) in Business Economics (Personnel & Ergonomics) from the University of Paisley, an MSc in Information Technology (Systems) from Heriot-Watt University and PRINCE2 Practitioner-level certification. He is also an active member of the British Computer Society, Entrepreneurial Exchange and Business for Scotland.


Follow Inspire on Twitter @inspireltd and @developersos

Digital Trends, Internet of Things, Smart Phones, Technology Innovation, The Evolving Web, User eXperience, UX Design
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