What if all objects were interconnected and started to sense their surroundings and communicate with each other? The Internet of Things (IoT) will have that sort of ubiquitous machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity. Since there are estimates that between 50 billion to 500 billion devices will have a mobile connection to the cloud by 2020, here’s a glimpse of our possible future.
Your alarm clock signals the lights to come on in your bedroom; the lights tell the heated tiles in your bathroom to kick on so your feet are not cold when you go to shower. The shower tells your coffee pot to start brewing. Your smartphone checks the weather and tells you to wear your gray suit since RFID tags on your clothes confirm that your favorite black suit is not in your closet but at the dry cleaners. After you pour a cup of java, the mug alerts your medication that you have a drink in-hand and your pill bottle begins to glow and beep as a reminder. Your pill bottle confirms that you took your medicine and wirelessly adds this info to your medical file at the doctor’s office; it will also text the pharmacy for a refill if you are running low.
Your smart TV automatically comes on with your favorite news channel while you eat breakfast and browse your tablet for online news. After you’ve eaten, while you are brushing your teeth, your dishwasher texts your smartphone to fire up your vehicle via the remote start. Because your “smart” car can talk to other cars and the road, it knows what streets to avoid due to early morning traffic jams. Your phone notifies you that your route to work has been changed to save you time. And you no longer need to look for a place to park, since your smartphone reserved one of the RFID parking spaces marked as "open" and available in the cloud. Don’t worry about your smart house because as you exited it, the doors locked, the lights went off, and the temperature was adjusted to save energy and money.
Does it sounds too farfetched for 2020? It shouldn’t since a good part of that is in the works now. If Mark Zuckerberg has his way about the Internet of Things, then “your news feed and a Facebook alert could share with you that your refrigerator or milk carton indicates that you are running out of milk. You could authorize your refrigerator app to signal Whole Foods to deliver a gallon of milk, all via Facebook's omnivorous, pervasive platform.” According to IBM Director of Consumer Electronics Scott Burnett, “What we're doing is creating the Facebook of devices. Everything wants to be its friend, and then it's connected to the network of your other device. For instance, your electric car will want to 'friend' your electric meter, which will 'friend' the electric company."
The future is now
If you run for exercise, then imagine your smart running shoes uploading your running time, distance, speed and how many calories you burned to a website that keeps track of your progress over time. Your “scale has Wi-Fi” too, also tracking your weight progress. If your asthma acts up and you use your inhaler, “it uses GPS to determine the time and location when the inhaler is used, and then stores or sends that information to a remote server.”
According to German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom's M2M Competence Center, there are more than 100 million vending machines, smoke alarms, vehicles, and other devices that now automatically share information. In Europe, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications have moved even the farmers out of barns and into this networked world of “things.” Deutsche Telekom and French remote monitoring solutions Medria Technologies have developed a “HeatPhone” that automatically sends a text message to farmers when a cow is in heat and ready for insemination, or when calving begins. Old McDonald can have an augmented farm by wearing goggles that allow him to see a report about the current state of everything he looks at, from the health of his cows, to milking machines, to grain bins.
Last week, Technology Review reported that a French startup, SigFox, went live with a cellular data network specifically for inanimate objects; in other words, it was a big boost to the Internet of Things and making your ‘dumb’ appliances much smarter. “The goal is to make all kinds of appliances and infrastructure, from power grids to microwave ovens, smarter by letting them share data.”
EVRYTHNG, a global software company originating in the UK, has worked with Diageo, an international premium drink company headquartered in London, “to add an individual digital identity to every product it sells. When a consumer buys a bottle of whisky to give as a gift, for example, he or she is invited to create a personalized online video message which the recipient can activate by pointing their smartphone at the item's barcode.”
A “hot” new “mainstream” product taking us a step closer into the Internet of Things in the USA is the Galaxy Camera. Readwrite mobile reported, “The Galaxy Camera is a camera first, cell phone… never. This is an intriguing product, and not just because it is a camera that can use social apps like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others from wherever you are.”
So while this may seem farfetched science fiction, here’s another glimpse into our potential future. Thanks to M2M communications and Internet-enabled things, your refrigerator, kitchen pantry, and recipe app have “friended” each other, decided you’ve eaten too much red meat, and select a healthier dinner recipe. Your smart appliances could not only send an order to the grocery store, but might notify both your doctor’s office and your health insurance company if you ignore their chicken recipe selection. Your camera phone captures your “unhealthy” lifestyle by snapping a picture of you stuffing a steak in your mouth. So should we worry about our appliances spying and possibly turning into “narcs?”
At the 4th Annual Internet of Things Europe: Shaping Europe's Future Internet Policy - The road to Horizon 2020 there were privacy and security debates “surrounding the need for separate data protection legislation for the Internet of Things.” The “privacy of devices, including sensors, is paramount and must be ensured to prevent unauthorized access. What are the emerging security risks? How can it be ensured that the required safeguards are in place to prevent IoT [Internet of Things ] viruses and other security threats?” Even now your smart TV connected to the web can be hacked, so there are a plethora of potential privacy and security problems on the IoT horizon.
Oh yeah, and if these Internet-enabled devices use the high-speed wireless data standard LTE (long-term evolution) networks to communicate? The LTE network is vulnerable to jamming and it’s “relatively easy” to “block service across much of a city.” All that it would take to jam LTE would be a cheap battery, “a laptop and an inexpensive software-defined radio unit” that cost as little as $650. “Picture a jammer that fits in a small briefcase that takes out miles of LTE signals—whether commercial or public safety,” said Jeff Reed, director of the wireless research group at Virginia Tech. “There are multiple weak spots—about eight different attacks are possible,” Reed told Technology Review. “The LTE signal is very complex, made up of many subsystems, and in each case, if you take out one subsystem, you take out the entire base station.” A research paper [PDF] outlining the LTE vulnerabilities was filed with National Telecommunications and Information Administration.