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The Internet of (many) things

14Maarten_PrinsMaarten Prins, Marketing Communication Manager Benelux

- Nearing the end of a tiring working day my colleague and I are discussing the subject of vacuum cleaning. As you see your colleagues usually for more hours than your partner, I think it should be okay to discuss a subject like this at work.

My colleague tries to convince me of using a new type of robotic vacuum cleaner. His robot hovers above the carpet and under beds, and in his absence proves to be the archenemy of his dog. The robot vacuum cleaner even independently zooms to a power outlet when it experiences its batteries are low. The only thing you need to do yourself is to plug in the power cord.

“This is quite ideal, saving work where possible. You should do this too,” he calls after me while I leave to get us both a refill on our coffee. Upon my return, he continues, while we both enjoy the brown fluid that gets us through our working days: “Using my smart phone I can activate my vacuum cleaner and stop it and check it’s status. For example if it’s at the skirting board, saturating its electrical needs.” “Interesting”, I said just before walking back to my own working spot, “I will have it investigated as soon as I have time. To see if it is really me.”

The famous house of the future already showed this some 20 years ago. Opening and closing curtains by remote control. Saving energy by means of a touch screen on the thermostat to save more on your electricity bill. Those days it made me smile but time seems to be proving me wrong.

Switching on your heating via the Internet (using a smart thermostat) while you’re out, so you will find a warm house when returning home. And using energy in a more sensible way at the same time. Switching on the coffee maker ensuring the coffee will be warm and ready as soon as you get home. The lighting in our homes switches on and off when we’re on vacation, because of the fear of theft. Farmers who have their tractor and machinery moving along the horizon while they can focus on feeding their cows concentrate mix at the same time. Cars that speed over the tarmac, the driver reading his morning paper over the steering wheel during morning rush hour traffic. Refrigerators that adapt to a heat wave. Clothes hangers of a department store that indicate the number of Facebook likes of a garment in real time thanks to their Internet connection. A “smart” diaper that indicates on your smartphone whether the diaper needs to be replaced. And so on.

We have a name for it: “The Internet Of Things”, which stands as a synonym for all (multifunctional) devices that are connected to the Internet. Devices with an IP address. For both consumer and business. The term “the Internet Of Things (IOT)” was first used in 1999 by Englishman Kevin Ashton, who at the time worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a research on RFID, the technology that allows information to be transmitted over some distance.

Nowadays, the expanded term IOT also means that having an internet connection in itself doesn’t mean that the item is part of the IOT. Think of a toothbrush that keeps track of how well you brushed your teeth and amounts to a more pleasant brushing experience, and of the FuelBand, Nike’s bracelet that registers your activity level and provides feedback accordingly. IOT is actually collecting, processing and interpreting data, by fitting these devices with sensors.

(Cyber) criminals as a result of that will try to take advantage of weaknesses in those systems and devices that can be misused, to get hold of any personal information such as patterns from the daily life of the owners of the equipment. Security experts at the RSA Conference for example had a Mac that would start catching fire by switching off the cooler and letting the processor run at a high pace simultaneously by means of a malware which was disguised as a proper firmware update. In the future we will see ever more of this kind of hacks. It is expected that the number of “connected devices” will be around 24 billion in 2020. Security experts and manufacturers have a challenge here.

I may be old fashioned, but I save myself time by not constantly having control via my smartphone or the Internet over my home appliances. And in the evenings I try to put in a few meters with the traditional vacuum cleaner and to grab a kitchen towel after my dessert, while the old fashioned filter coffee is being made by my very much manually controlled coffee maker. And I brush my teeth before going to bed until I have a tennis elbow. I am woken up by my old mechanical spring-driven alarm clock, two loud bells on top and a traditional winding mechanism. And early in the morning I drive my car – steering wildly – into traffic congestion, thinking I am safe. I just enjoy being able to put some emotion into all of that. Kidding myself I am in control.

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