The Internet of Things is all about being able to customize your environment. With more user-friendly interfaces, those controls are simpler than ever.
You’ve heard of the Internet of Things, right? It’s a planter that waters your ficus for you, the thermostat that knows what you mean when you say “cozy” or the fridge that orders eggs and bacon when you’re just about to run out. Yes, these interconnected products and devices that anticipate our needs do promise amazing new levels of accessibility, efficiency and comfort. And the best part? You don’t need a Computer Science degree to program them.
Call them what you will — hackers, makers, DIY hobbyists — but, for this niche group, a technological world means a reality that is at their fingertips. Now with a new class of interactive tools, and smart interfaces aimed toward a common ease of use, the rest of us will be in on the fun. Perhaps the real merit of a connected world will soon be the “Programmable Lifestyle” it enables.
According to research by Strategy Analytics, there will be over 7 billion Wi-Fi enabled devices in the world by 2017, three billion more than there are today. By 2020, that number will have skyrocketed to an estimated 30 billion connected devices. Alex Hawkinson, founder and CEO of Smart Things, in a 2013 interview with Gigaom, predicts:
When enough of these devices are connected to the Internet, we will be able to choreograph them to work together based on our specific needs. While many people have labeled this forth coming revolution the “Internet of Things,” a more accurate description is the “Programmable World.”
One question that keeps popping up when people talk about this new generation of devices is “what about all of our old stuff?” While a lot of our treasured belongings may well be left behind, there are plenty of devices being created that will keep a few of them safe for the time being.
Take Automatic, a clever little system that syncs your car with your smartphone. Almost any car sold in the United States since 1996 can get an instant upgrade by plugging the Automatic Link device into its data port (that’s the same plug that mechanics use when you take your ride in for a check up).
The link connects the vehicle’s onboard computer with an app on your iOS or Android smartphone. You can set it up to alert local authorities and loved ones in the case of a crash or give you updates on how to adjust your driving style to save on gas, and it will even tell you what your car really means when that check engine light comes on. Plus, with iBeacon compatibility, Automatic could be used for automatic payments for tolls and gas stations. Maybe one day, even fast-food drive-throughs will get hooked up for those late night indulgences after a long road trip.
For those who want to dive a bit deeper into the possibilities of a Programmable Lifestyle, tools like Ninja Blocks are completely open source, which means that what you do with these devices is up to you. Even if you don’t care to hack the Arduino-compatible hardware or program new Ubuntu applications for it, the basic Ninja Kit will allow users to build their own security system, control their thermostat and lighting or access their various media systems all through one simple interface. Plus, since there are plenty of people out there who do want to hack and program, you’ll be able to download or purchase plenty user-made applications and peripherals.
Similarly, Piper is an all-in-one home security and automation device with a built-in camera that allows users to program their home to respond to various conditions. Using the Piper mobile app for Android or iOS, a user might add ‘If motion is sensed, then send me a text message,’ or ‘If a door is opened, then sound the (105 decibel) siren,’ thus creating their own custom alarm system.
The functionality is similar to that of IFTTT, a site that popularized the ability to use if/then commands to allow online tools to interact. By connecting with home devices and allowing the user to define their own commands based on situational requirements, Piper greatly expands on the use cases for which these technologies integrate into home ecosystems.
It wasn’t so long ago that shop class was a staple of public education, and that each appliance and gadget we would buy came with detailed instructions on how they were built and how we could fix them if needed. If our lives were going to be filled with the wonders of the Machine Age, it only made sense that we should know how to fix them when they break.
That same knowledge allowed clever inventors to piece together the first computers. Early enthusiasts and garage hobbyists collaborated and expanded on each other’s ideas and creations. Together, they developed the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and eventually made computers an indispensable part of our daily lives.
With each innovation our devices became increasingly complex in design, but educating ourselves about their intricacies became more intensive. Suddenly it made sense to leave it all up to specialists who knew how to build and maintain our many technological tools. After some time, things seem to be coming full circle. The language is now being written that will let you reach out and curate your world.