Let's Know Things

The Internet of Things

This piece was originally featured in Let’s Know Things, a free, irregularly published email in which I discuss a topic and do my best to explain it concisely in historical, present, and future context.

A piece in WIRED magazine focusing on the company IFTTT (If This, Then That) discusses a larger trend, and one that may become mainstream sooner than originally predicted.

The trend in question is often referred to as The Internet of Things — a secondary internet (either independent of the internet we use today, or in multiple layers above and beside it) that connects objects in the physical world with each other.

A simple example of The Internet of Things in action would be turning off your alarm clock in the morning, causing a pot of coffee to start brewing as a result. The coffeemaker would be connected to the alarm clock, and the alarm clock would have a simple piece of code inside it, saying “If the alarm sounds and is turned off, then tell the coffeemaker to brew a pot of coffee.”

A more complex example would be a refrigerator that scans RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags on your products and keeps track of what you have on hand and what you don’t. If you decide to swing by the grocery store on the way home from work, you could pull up a real-time stock count from your fridge on your smartphone, and maybe even get digital coupons on products that you’ll be buying anyway. Another app on your phone could make use of this information to help you find recipes using what you already have on hand, while yet another could automatically order your supplies from an online grocery delivery service (like Amazon) to make sure you don’t have to make a trip in the first place.

The mind boggles with the potential applications for this technology, and it’s even more amazing when you consider how simple the technology really is. An ‘if, then‘ statement is one of the more fundamental applications of code, telling a device to wait for something to happen, and when it does, do something else. It’s not rocket science, but it is an example of a simple concept pulled into another industry (or in this case, many other industries) and potentially changing everything as a result.