When oil and water blend


For more than 10 years evangelists - including yours truly - have announced the arrival of Internet of Things. The predictions suggest that we - the humans - soon are become a minority on the internet outnumbered by - indeed - things. Cars, bikes, fridges, coffemachines, flower pots, milk cartons etc. will exhange data and act without our interference. Magnificent new world and life becomes much easier. But... My potted plants still die. And my fridge and scale are nowhere nearly able to control my diet autonomously (although it over the years has become increasingly urgent).

The revolution is still long time coming, it is a bit like oil and water blending, the physical and the digital world do not come together that easily. And then again, things seem to be about to wake up.

Somewhere in the US there is a guy who has connected a small electrical engine to his son's soap bubble gun and hooked the result up to his own computer so that each incoming email is saluted by a puff of soap bubbles. A nerdy app it would seem but Gyro Gearloose would be proud. The wife (sorry, chauvinistic remark...) is probably fed up with removing spots of glycerine and dish soap from all surfaces in the home, but the bubbles are a simple and slightly curious example of how the internet leaves impacts in the real world.

Somewhere else another guy has appearantly hooked the timer of the coffemachine to his Outlook calendar. Exactly how he benefits from this setup - a part from having by far too much coffee - is not obvious to me, but here too is a case of things cooperating autonomously. I this case by producing "just-in-time" coffee. Perhaps we find these examples humorous, but think carefully; somewhere in your daily life the internet of things is actually unfolding.

Okay, my fridge being the reincarnation of HAL is as many of the more hyped examples of the internet of things still stuck at the horizon. The fact is that it has proven more difficult than expected to equip all sorts of things with network connectivity and processing power. It requires power and money - and both have become in short supply. Furthermore clearing of the rights for the data that the things are about to share has been a challenge in many places - including Denmark - where data traditionally has a price or is protected by laws of privacy etc. As a example of the latter is the establishment of danske elmarkeds Datahub, (a hub for danish power consumption data). I had the pleasure of being part of the Danish governments Smart Grid forum which among many other issues discussed the data hub and it's acessibility. Talks about potential future applications of the data drowned in lengthy discussions on demands for compliance with standards, privacy protection, provider's difficulties with and the expenses by providing the data etc. J

With regards to price and power supply the challenges are very real. For the time being. But the internet of things seems to be on the move no matter what. An example is  Poly-Control, specialising in home and building automation. They have a cheap platform through which  door locks, heater thermostats and other devices can be controlled from anywhere in the world. More exciting is the Aarhus company Nabto. They have developed a cheap and compact webserver that can be built into basically any object, making it accessible and controllable via any web browser. And earlier this year Aalborg university hosted conference about the Future Internet - including the internet of things. On the agenda were Smart Cities, smart airports, html5, infrastrukture standards and cermonial politicians signing a "Smart City Manifesto" etc. But in reality it does not have to be that complicated.

The easiest, cheapest and most pragmatic way to blend the physical and virtual world is by giving physical objects their own unique internet address. This can be done by putting RFID tags on the object or - even simpler - by using stickers with unique QR codes. QR codes have in recent years been used excessively in newspapers, magazine, outdoor ads etc. but in those cases one identical QR code is used for the entire circulation, it is not a code that links the individual printed copy of the magazine to a unique internet address. If instead you put unique codes on all bikes (see also the company Taglock), coffemachines or piece of garden furnitureyou immediately get an object with it's own information shadow on the net. The shadow may just be a few bytes in an online database telling whether or not the bike is stolen, the coffee machine is covered by a warranty or the furniture is produced from sustainable rainforest wood. The QR code can be scanned by any smartphone with which you can access and possibly even update information. It is low tech but it allows everybody to join. Have the QR code in the back of your head tomorrow - I am sure that you will bump into at least a handfull of things that would enhanced value if they had an internet address. Se how far your creativity takes you!

Good luck!




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