The Internet Becomes Us

Originally published on  Medium.    Photo:  Tim de Groot

Originally published on Medium. Photo: Tim de Groot

What the “Internet of Everything” really means.

When the Internet started it felt odd to most people. They weren’t used to the idea of open connectedness. The closest proxy they had to it was the cell phone network. But that really only allowed for one-to-one communication, more or less.

The Internet had to become a “place” for people to grasp the idea. And it worked. To this day the Internet is still referred to as a destination, (…visit us online/go online …). The connected world of the Internet is currently divided between Internet and mobile.

That’s about to change with the Internet of Things. The Internet will not be a thing, nor a place but a network for communication that is layered into our everyday existence. It will no longer just be about humans connecting with humans, it will be about objects connecting with objects and humans. It will mesh with our everyday life to the extent that concepts like “websites” and “mobile vs. web” will disappear.

The early steps

The early stages came with objects that connect, via the Internet, to apps on smartphones. Alarm companies allow you to control your lights, alarm and heating remotely. Belkin, with its line of ad hoc intermediary devices, turn any outlet in to a smart outlet with remote control via an app. Cool, but ultimately only first steps.

More complex connectivity

The next stride forward is making items that not only connect via apps but those that are also able to take matters into their own hands. The Cloudwash washing machine prototype by Berg is great example of this. The Cloudwash senses when you are low on detergent and prompts the user to buy more from Amazon right there on the machine. My personal desire is to have the machine just order what is needed and have it delivered. More of an opt-out formula. I can’t wait for this feature on my coffee grinder/maker too.


Then there are things being developed that transmit data but aren’t connected via the Internet yet. Things like the magic carpet underlay and SensFloor - flooring that transmits data about walking habits and falls to computers. There’s no reason these won’t be connected via the Internet soon. This could have an impact on industries you wouldn’t think would be affected by the Internet of Things. For example, one could stand on part of a carpet or tile at home and have that data shown to you and even transmitted to your doctor if you like.

And it’s not just in the home that stands to benefit. Communities will become more efficient with their resources too. Trash cans fitted with sensors will tell municipalities when the bins are full allowing them to map more efficient routes for pickup.

Perhaps the most interesting development thought has to be devices that learn, intercommunicate and act without supervision. The best example of this so far is, of course, Nest. Starting off with their Nest Thermostat that learns your patterns and adjust the temperature automatically. They followed that up with the Nest Protect, a smart smoke alarm and CO2 detection unit. But the interesting thing about Protect is how it works with the thermostat. If Protect senses a carbon monoxide problem it communicates with the thermostat to shut down the furnace.

Let’s get small

Oddly, something not mentioned in the Internet of Things discussion is potential of nanoparticles. Nanoparticles and graphene has the potential to reshape our world at a molecular level in everything from medicine to paving materials to fabric. Paint could transmit data about humidity and settling. Fabrics could receive signals and have displays in them. Even 3D printers will be able to take advantage. It will get really interesting when they are able to be sprayed on.

The need for speed

Of course, for all of this real-time communication amongst devices, networks will have to be much more robust. And while 5G is a long way off there is hope. pCell promises to greatly enhance the capability of existing signal bandwidth by something called "distributed input distributed output." Readwrite did an excellent job explaining the concept in this article.

All of this is our peek into what will be.

When you step back and look at all of these developments, you can start to see a slightly blurry picture how the Internet of Things is going to move well past objects connected to apps. It’s going to radically transform how we work, play interact and spend our time. By allowing devices to become enmeshed with our everyday activities, our everyday activities will shift. And it’s going to render the Internet as destination obsolete. Once “learning” or “smart” devices are connected to each other it will unfold exponentially. You won’t go to your computer or fire up an app because what you want will be where you want it automatically. The Internet will mesh with the very fabric of reality.

So think big, really big

In early 2001, Apple introduced their digital hub strategy. At the time most companies were content to launch product after product. Steve Jobs stood back and thought about the bigger picture. Apple is not perfect but it would also be hard to argue with their success thus far. Companies that want to rule in the post-dawn era of IoT would do well to think big, really big. Armed with this vision of the what the Internet of Things really means, the truly successful companies of tomorrow should be thinking of multifaceted solutions for people today. The concept of “not standing still” isn’t good enough, companies need to be thinking “two clicks” ahead. It means rolling up the sleeves now to create a visionary product road map and leaving behind the soon-to-be outmoded concepts like “we” vs. “mobile”.

A couple final thoughts

There a lot of “ifs” that have to fall into place to make all of this happen. Like creating a universal communication language and developing security measures. Those will take time. Still, there’s too much money to be made that those won’t be addressed. The question is, how long will it take? Plus, there’s the inter-connectivity of machine/objects and human brains. That's already happening with basic movement but will only get easier, cheaper and more common. And when that happens our connection to each other and to objects will undergo a really radical change.

Adding this after the original publishing but here’s one more example of how this is already starting to happen