5 Ways Your Life Will Get Smarter When Your Toaster Goes Online

A map of the internet, courtesy flickr/jurvetson

Ever received an email from your toaster?

Neither have I, but in a future featuring the Internet of Things, it could become commonplace.

What is the Internet of Things?  Like the internet itself, it’s about connections.  Way back in the ’70’s, ARPANET connected a handful of university mainframes.  The internet it grew into connected individual people to one another through web pages, chat rooms and email.  Today, “Web 2.0” incorporates the full spectrum of our social lives, from events and photos to relationships and careers.

And tomorrow, that network of connections will extend into the physical world all around us.  Already, bicycle wheels are reporting on noise and pollution as they travel;  thousands of smartphones are feeding an analysis of car traffic; and Cape Cod is automatically tweeting the tide.  In short, there will soon be more devices online than people, essentially “crowd-sourcing” everything under the sun.

What does this mean for you, the citizen of tomorrow?  Plenty.  Here are 5 ways life will change once the internet spills into the real world.

1. Smart Resources.  This includes electric and water systems.   For example, cities can  monitor the weather, water needs, and usage patterns to predict when water reserves should be stored for use, or emptied in anticipation of rainfall.  Similarly, a “smart” power grid can dynamically allocate electricity with great efficiency.

2. Smart Homes.   For example, a thermostat that knows when you’re coming home, looks up the local weather, then adjusts itself accordingly.  Or you could imagine an alarm clock that lets you sleep in because it learns your train is running late (suggested to me by Cisco’s impressive poster here).

3. Smart Traffic.  Google’s analysis of smartphone movements keeps its traffic information up to date in real time.  That data, in turn, feeds into its maps and GPS services, routing people around traffic jams and reducing congestion.

4. Smart Urban Planning.  The incredibly awesome Copenhagen wheels I mentioned above collect data on noise pollution, carbon monoxide levels, open space, traffic, temperature, humidity and more.  By gathering enough data points, each tied to a real, physical location, we can learn a lot about how a city flows and functions, and make sound environmental and ergonomic decisions.

5. Smart Transport.  A city bus could alter its route based on car accidents or traffic; track usage patterns, allowing the city to deploy its fleet efficiently; and in turn publish its own location and speed, so you could check your phone and track its arrival time to the second.

Please note, I tend to focus on urban settings here because that’s where these ideas are most easily deployed, but there’s no reason they couldn’t be useful elsewhere as well.


I’d say the future here looks pretty bright.  Can you think of any other great applications for the Internet of Things?  Or terrible ones, for that matter?   And what about the crucial issue of – uh, sorry, I’ve actually got to run – my toaster just texted me – something about a burning bagel.  Talk amongst yourselves, and I’ll catch up with you next week!

A hat-tip to Frank De Bakker for this one.  And if you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to click below and share it on the internet of today!  Better still, subscribe in the upper right and you’ll never miss a post.

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