Yes, that is your refrigerator telling you it’s out of milk, and your plant asking for water.
Welcome to the Internet of Things, or Your House is Alive, and seemingly every appliance, device and random piece of hardware is connected to the Web and waiting for you to tell it what to do.
A new wave of technology using sophisticated sensors and other measuring tools is quickly turning otherwise normal household hardware such as thermostats, locks, light bulbs, and garage doors into smarter devices that can be controlled remotely via the Internet and in some cases are clever enough to learn a users’ habits and adjust themselves accordingly.
While much of these technologies may have seemed far-fetched just a few years ago, many connected objects can now be easily found on the shelves of Home Depot and Target.
Most important is you don’t have to be in the vanguard of technology to participate in the Internet of Things. And much of the credit (or blame, depending on your view) for making it mainstream goes to Google Inc., the Internet giant that is seemingly creeping into every corner of the Web. Earlier this year, it spent $3.2 billion to buy Nest Labs Inc., a California company best known for its sleek $249 Internet-connected thermostat.
The deal gives Google a toehold in the home to expand its reach with even more connected devices. A robot that does chores? It’s not that exotic an idea. In addition to thermostats, Google has its own robots, too. It’s conceivable that one of them can be programmed to do laundry.
“I suspect the phrase Internet of Things got more exposure after the Google acquisition of Nest than it ever had in the past,” said David Stephenson, a technology analyst and author of “SmartStuff: an introduction to the Internet of Things.”
It was a coming of age moment for the connected home. The deal with Google gave Nest a new level of mass market exposure that is also raising the profile of a growing range of Internet connected stuff for the home.
But all of these gadgets aren’t just “technology for the sake of technology,” said Stephenson.
While Nest offers the ability to remotely turn down the heat via a smartphone app, and track energy consumption, Stephenson said the real value of the Internet of Things for homeowners, especially older ones, comes from devices that can passively monitor health-related signs, air quality, and track activities in real time.
Startups and big companies such as General Electric and AT&T now sell all kinds of such devices. One of the smaller players, SmartThings, makes sensors that start at $49 for detecting simple movements, such as when someone opens a door, or an entire kit for $300 that can outfit an entire house so a homeowner can remotely turn on a light or know whenever someone else is coming and going.
Over the next six years, some 5 billion additional objects will become connected to the Web, estimated Maciej Kranz, a vice president with the corporate technology group at Cisco Systems Inc., one of the biggest drivers of trend. It’s such a big phenomenon that Maciej refers to the trend as the Internet of Everything.
“The impact of the Internet of Everything will be bigger than the Internet as we’ve known it,” said Kranz. “Over the next 10 years, we believe the Internet of Things will be the major technology driver.”
And not just at home, Kranz said. The Net is inside cars, allowing drivers to connect to Pandora Internet Radio for streaming music or to Google Maps for directions. Elsewhere, global businesses are increasingly using sophisticated sensors to remotely track production in far-flung factories.
But as companies race to turn everyday objects into smart gadgets, the Internet of Things is experiencing growing pains.
For instance, Nest recently stopped selling its newest product, a $130 smoke and carbon monoxide detector, over safety concerns after it learned that users could accidentally trigger a feature to silence an alarm with a wave an arm. As with all new technologies, there are inevitable glitches and potential downsides.
One of the biggest concerns are privacy and security. It’s conceivable a hacker could take control of an Internet-connected thermostat or alarm system. Stephenson, the technology analyst, said that companies are still working on improving security issues that are inherent with turning on more objects that are connected to the Web inside the home.
“There’s a very real chance that if vendors don’t take it seriously that it could really effect public credibility of the Internet of Things in general,” he said.