The Internet of Things transforms our relation with world

Entrepreneur Chad Jones presented a human-computer interaction seminar last Wednesday about the Internet of Things. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/) Entrepreneur Chad Jones presented a human-computer interaction seminar last Wednesday about the Internet of Things. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/)

Quick: How many of the things you interact with daily are connected to the Internet? Probably a smartphone and maybe a smart watch or an activity monitor wristband.

How about in your home? A computer, TV, game console, or even a coffee maker that can download different recipes for your coffee in the morning.

Chad Jones, an entrepreneur, an angel investor, and an adviser to multiple startups, gave a human-computer interaction seminar lecture last Wednesday in Newell-Simon Hall 1305, titled “Transforming Human Interaction with our World Through the Internet of Things.”

In the lecture, he addressed the transformation of how we discover, sense, and interact with the physical world through the Internet of Things, the idea that we are moving toward a world where all physical objects will run software that is connected to the Internet.

Jones opened his lecture by calling the Internet of Things “the next great paradigm shift not only in technology, but mankind as well.” He summarized how the evolution of the Internet occurred. Before 2000, about 1.8 billion computers were connected with each other. Then, in the mid 2000s, over 10 billion devices were connected to the Internet, mainly due to the emergence of mobile devices.

But the next evolution is already happening, where “everything” is connecting to the Internet, with an estimate of 1 trillion connections to the Internet by 2030.

This growth of Internet-connected devices has led to the Internet of Things, the concept that any device with an On/Off switch connects to the Internet directly, or indirectly through another device.

Jones said that we are already seeing examples of this evolution in different areas, and opportunities are everywhere. It is not a question of “where [we] can apply this, [but] a question [of] where we cannot,” Jones said. He showed examples of where these devices already exist, from a smart thermostat like Nest in the home that knows when you are home and adjusts the temperature automatically based on your preferences, to things like a basketball with a motion sensor that can tell how good your dribble is.

He also shared an example of an everyday object that is all over the world. There are over 1 billion street lamps in the world that today only light up our streets at night. But Jones stated that a “street lamp can become a platform and provide a lot more than just light.” The lamp can serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot, provide announcements, and serve as digital signage that can advertise nearby events or provide directions.

The street lamp is just one of many ways we can make cities smarter where devices connected to the Internet can provide useful information to everyone. For example, Internet-connected parking meters can help drivers find the closest available parking lot. Underground water pipes could alert the city if there are any stresses in the system and prevent a possible leakage from shutting down parts of the city.

So what has led to this evolution and why now? Jones said that this evolution has been the result of trends in technology and business. Electronics such as computer chips, sensors, and batteries are getting smaller and smaller, and can be placed in smaller devices. More devices have sensors and are able to share their data with other devices through cloud computing.

It is much cheaper to produce the electronics in these devices and the devices themselves, thus allowing them to become “smarter.” Jones stated that though sensors in devices and electronics have existed for decades, it’s “the Internet that has tied everything together.” Having the ability to share the data generated by the sensors in devices is what makes them “smart” and creates the Internet of Things.

A good example of how the Internet of Things can be useful is a problem that a lot of people face during winter storms. Jones shared that, in his hometown of Boston, two days before a major winter storm hits, people using oil tanks to warm their houses call oil companies to fill their tanks, which leads to an increased demand for technicians to go to each house and fill up the tanks, even if the tanks were already 90 percent filled. These oil tanks already have sensors to determine how much the tank is filled. However, these tanks can now be connected to the Internet and have the potential to share the amount of oil left in the tank and how long it takes for the whole tank to be used up, which would allow the oil company to know which houses need the oil first.

Having connected smart devices would improve a lot of aspects of life, from simple things like getting directions from a street lamp to letting an oil company know when to fill up an oil tank. Though useful, the Internet of Things also brings concern about the privacy of the data generated by these devices and how they are shared. Jones said “there is a lot of opt-in” where the user is asked to have their data shared. But he added that it is far “scarier where the government comes in, hijacks [our data], and uses it to monitor us.”

He also added that businesses have to be more careful in how devices are created. He shared an example of how a baby monitor was hacked and used to wake up a 10-month old baby by yelling “Wake up.” The hacker was able to get that baby monitor’s information from Shodan, a search engine that indexes publicly accessible Internet-connected devices.

Having access to already available data from our world gives us more context and provides more valuable information, which transforms how we as humans discover and interact in the world.