At MIT, a glimpse into our techno future

Look for aeroponic systems, transformable furniture and traffic governed by intelligent algorithms


In the future, you may use aeroponic systems at home to bring in water mixed with nutrients. You'll use this water to grow vegetables, home-grown food that can cut your produce costs in half.

Your commute to work may be on a covered, quasi-bike vehicle that uses battery power to assist the pedaling rider (who gets healthier from the effort).

And the era of the large suburban homes will end. Why have multiple rooms for various purposes?

"The cost of transformable furniture is much less than a mortgage," said David Rose, a visiting scientist at the MIT Media Lab and author of Enchanted Objects: Innovation, Design and the Future of Technology. Rose was at Tuesday's MIT "Connected Things" Enterprise Forum.

With that in mind, home and furniture design will incorporate collapsible systems and moveable walls that enable space to be repurposed as needed, reducing the need for big houses. These abodes will offer mesh networking that controls lighting and tells you when someone is coming.

Your needs will be met not through ownership, but increasingly through connected sharing services, such as Turo, which allows vehicle owners to make their car available for rent (and helps those who want to rent). Rose bikes to work, leases his car out -- and makes money each month.

Many of these systems use Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. But Rose wanted attendees to think about the goals of a connected world, "what are we striving for" or "aspire to" in that hyper-connected world of the future.

That's not to say that IoT has solved its basic deployment problems. Security, in particular, remains a nightmare.

And as sensors become more ubiquitous, new questions arise. What will this connected world lead to? How will it improve the human experience?

In Boston, that means thinking about autonomous vehicles and the rules and systems necessary to allow these vehicles, said Nigel Jacob, co-chair of the Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics. "If we want to enable these vehicles on our roadways, what do we need to do?"

The city may need a programmable urban environment guided by intelligent algorithms that automatically change parking rules at the curb. Traffic flows would have to be optimized to move people and traffic, said Jacob.

There are other fundamental issues yet to be addressed.

"There has to be a standard about how these devices communicate," said Joel Neideig, the owner and CTO of Itamco, a precision machining and precision gear company. The company has about half million square feet of manufacturing floor space, and its been collecting data from its machines for predictive analysis and preventive maintenance. But not all of its machines can communicate with one another.

In the business-to-business arena, Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, said that about 60% of the tech value that can be unlocked requires interoperability.

Security remains a major obstacle because of cyber-physical systems that have no "perimeter," which means traditional security measures won't work, said John Walsh, president of Sypris Electronics LLC.

What will be needed is security that relies on silicon, not people. "We want to get the carbon (humans) out of the loop," said Walsh to chuckles from the audience.

Security improvements won't come fast enough, said Sanjay Sarma, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and vice president of the school's open-learning program. "I think we will have a disaster on our hands; I think we will have a few disasters," said Sarma.

Sarma expects security breaches to bring a couple of power plants down, as well as a chemical plant. "I'm terrified of this," said Sarma, at the conference.

In an effort to encapsulate the potential for IoT, Rasmus Blom, a partner at the Implement Consulting Group, may have made the best case. By instrumenting systems, you are "getting much closer to the real need of people and society," said Blom.

In other words, you can measure what is being used and what is being wasted. For instance, if IoT technology can reduce losses in water distribution systems, he said.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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