So the ‘internet of things’ isn’t a new concept, but it’s getting more and more interesting as time goes on. It’s come a long way in the past 22 years – humbly beginning with the original Trojan Room Coffee Camera that not holds the record for the first ‘thing’ connected to the internet but it also pre-dates the world-wide web itself.
Never heard of it? Try Googling for ‘first webcam’ and you’ll find the potted history and a few photos. The idea was simple: the computer scientists at Cambridge University wanted fresh coffee, and didn’t want to waste a trip to the pot they all shared if it was going to be empty.
So they hooked up a camera to a server, wrote some code (including the x window viewer, pictured left) and the rest is history – the first sensor, albiet a digital one, on the web doing something useful. Well, useful if you wanted a cup of coffee and happened to be a researcher at Cambridge University. We’ve all been there.
But this is 2013 – and the UK (nay – the world) has been invaded by Starbucks. Coffee machine use is on the decline. The ‘Internet of Things’, however, is just getting started.
When I started working at Twilio I saw a cool video of an SMS or phone-call-activated snow machine set up in London – you called the number, it played ‘let it snow’ down the phone to you, and the snow machine started up. The power of the internet, and some clever software – hidden from the average joe – as it does cool stuff and makes something physical happen.
My house has its own such geekery. Already, my lighting is ‘connected’ – not only can I control it with the switches (which are cool and futuristic looking) but I can control it from an app, via the internet. Getting home late? A few lines of code, and I can have the lights on in the hallway and kitchen as soon as my GPS enabled smartphone detects when I’m almost there.
But where next? This whole ‘Internet of Things’ business excites me. Back when networks first started taking over the world and IP addresses were plentiful, people were amazed at how many Personal Computer devices were getting connected to this globally connected network – and the same is now happening with devices. Real life things all talking to each other and available to you.
Personally, I’m going to start closer to home. Literally. I’ve got the lighting done – what next? Heating control, perhaps – or maybe an automated breakfast robot like the one from Back to the Future III?
Things are starting to get interesting.