10 things about (the Internet of) things

Floating things, flying things, finding things and fashion things are all part of the Internet of Things. Prepare for a hyper connected future.

We've all heard about the promise of the Internet of Things, where your alarm clock will start your coffee maker and your refridgerator will tell you when it is time to buy new milk. That future is coming -- many think it will even be here by 2025.

But if you can't wait that long for IoT, here are 10 things that are bringing the hyperconnected future to you today. 

A better Google Glass

Belgium-based SmartPick may have done more to prove the potential of Google Glass for business use than Google by developing camera-equipped glasses for distribution management. (Video in Dutch.) The product, Smart Glasses, includes a camera and connects via WiFi.

The glasses work by recognizing a code hanging above a basket. This code is relayed to a sales order management system and the amount of product to pull is displayed in the eyeglasses. The company says the technology can reduce product distribution error rates by 60% and improve productivity by 25%. Dirk Matheussen, a former CIO and IT manager who founded the company, is working on an app to allow his system to work with Google Glass.  

Small and solar

Tzukuri’s Bluetooth-enabled sunglasses, which can be located via your iPhone, will be welcomed by some. But they are also noteable for the diminuitive technology used and their energy independence.

The Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) chip inside these glasses is a mere 3mm wide, and there’s no USB charging plug. The sunglasses, which take only an hour to charge, are powered by a solar cell.  

Tzukuri’s glasses illustrate how small and low-powered IoT devices can be. The company says it will track the exact proximity of the Tzukuri sunglasses up to 82 feet, depending on environment, and the iPhone app will “pinpoint the exact location” of your glasses. The glasses cost $349 and ship later this year.

Cheap wireless, finally?

The cost of wireless connectivity has become a barrier to IoT deployment. Today, IoT devices are dependent on either a local or cellular network connection, but local networks are limited in range and cellular networks are expensive.

But Sigfox, a French company now deploying in the U.S., uses a low-bandwidth network that at only 100bps gives it long range. Exclusively for machine-to-machine communications, it can't be used for video, voice or blogging. Sigfox base stations can be miles apart, and the cost of using them will range from $1-$12 annually. That means people will eventually be able use connected devices on their person and in their homes and businesses inexpensively and independent of a home network.

Google’s Nest does a lot, could do more

Google’s Nest Protect smoke detector offers Wi-Fi access and has a Zigbee radio that can connect to a low-bandwidth mesh network. In addition to smoke, it also detects carbon monoxide, heat, temperature and humidity and keeps tabs on its own battery charge. When connected to Wi-Fi, users can monitor these things remotely. (Without Wi-Fi, Nest works as a smoke detector.)

Nest offers a variety of useful features, but there's potential for more -- should Google push the technology envelope. It could, for instance, include sensors to detect natural gas, mold, pollen and other problems that can aggravate health issues. Nest could also be set up so it doesn't need Wi-Fi. And it has potential to serve as an inexpensive home monitoring system.

Help save the water

One reason agriculture interests will be big adopters of IoT technologies is better water management. One product, Valley Irrigation's SoilPro 1200, reaches 48 inches into the ground and uses multiple sensors to track temperature, moisture levels and soil electrical conductivity, which provides data on how well the soil is using fertilizer. 

The device uses solar panels and a battery for power, and has a cellular connection to transmit data to the vendor’s cloud service that a user can then access. With better info about soil moisture conditions, farmers can avoid wasting water, the company says.

A tracking technology for an intractable problem

In March, 2014, airlines lost or mishandled 3.68 bags for every 1,000 passengers. But baggage location technology won't always mean an airport or airline employee running around fetching lost luggage. That’s why AT&T’s idea of activating a flashing light on a bag to help airport crews find it is interesting.

Bluetooth bag-tracking technologies that will locate a bag if it’s in range, and devices that use a combination of GPS and cellular networks, aready exist. But AT&T, as a major network carrier, may be able to deliver on its idea of integrating baggage location data with airline systems. Might that make it possible to avoid the supreme aggravation of standing in the lost baggage line after a delayed flight?

Does your clothing come with an API?

Wearable clothing still seems like a stretch, but not for OMsignal of Montreal. It says its clothing can track heart and breathing rates, breathing depth, activity intensity, steps and calories burned. Men’s shirts will be available this summer, women’s clothing by the end of year.

OMsignal's garment sensors connect to a little black box that is water resistant. The system relies on Bluetooth, is good for 30 hours and recharges via USB. Open is good: An API and SDK are promised. A men’s bio-sensing compression shirt, one data module and one USB charging cable is priced at $199.

We really do like drones

Amazon certainly popularized the idea of drones as a flying delivery service, but drones will also play a broad role in IoT as flying sensors. They are already being adopted in agriculture, for example, to monitor crop health. The construction industry is using drones to inspect buildings, and they are being used in mapping.

One company, QuiQui, is even preparing to deliver pharmacy prescriptions in San Francisco, while another company, Matternet, is working with drones to deliver medicine and supplies to globally remote locations. 

A 3D printer, off-the-shelf sensors and stir

A traditional method for checking water height after a flood involved manually marking water levels on a post from a rowboat. Samuel Cox had a better idea: Flood Beacon. He assembled a microprocessor, accelerometer, ultrasonic sensors, rechargeable battery, cellular GSM and GPS into a floating shell created on a 3D printer. The end result is a device that can measure water turbulence via the accelerometer, and water depth with the ultrasonic sensors.

The data, which is sent to Xively, an IoT-specific cloud firm, can be viewed on a mobile app. It took Cox about six weeks and less than $700 to produce a working prototype, something that would have cost more than $10,000 before 3D printing and the advent of do-it-yourself hardware development.

Smart roads, please

GPS revolutionized the trucking industry and has made driving more efficient for many. But more is possible. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation imagines a future where vehicles communicate with each to avoid crashes. It wants systems that “see vehicles that you can’t see,” and notify of you of road hazards beyond your range of vision.

Some day, sensor-rich systems will be able to tell you the speed and location of approaching vehicles, provide real-time data on travel times and parking costs and manage traffic flow with real-time info. Most importantly, the U.S. wants to reduce motor vehicles crashes, which are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 4 to 34.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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