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Internet of Things: pipe dream or reality?

By CJ Castillo / July 23, 2013

Imagine you’re driving home after a long day of work. A coupon for a local pizza shop pops up on your vehicle’s navigation system and, with a simple voice command, you place an order so dinner can meet you at your doorstep. Waiting at a stoplight near your house, you then use a single app to open the garage door, queue up your favorite flick on the TV and adjust the living room lights to create the perfect cinematic ambience. Welcome to movie night, Internet of Things-style.

The Internet of Things, also known as Machine to Machine (M2M) communication, is the concept of everyday objects being connected to the Internet. It’s not a new idea, but with the rise of mobile devices, we’re living in an era when we can engage with formerly disconnected objects to make our lives more convenient. This means you’ll be able to do everything from remotely pre-heating the oven to starting the laundry while at your desk.

Products on the forefront

Nest Labs is doing its part to bring connectivity to more households with its learning thermostat. Designed by Tony Fadwell, also known as the “father of the iPod,” the Nest thermostat allows you to manage the temperature in your home remotely. Nest also studies your habitation patterns and stores its findings in a secure cloud. Once it learns your behaviors, Nest can keep your home at the ideal temperature without ever making you lift a finger. It can also lead to substantial savings on your energy bill.

Twine is another device that could help make the Internet of Things ubiquitous by connecting users to just about anything in their homes. The Twine box, which debuted after a successful Kickstarter campaign, monitors your dwelling space and sends you text or tweet alerts when it’s time to do things like water your plants or change your air filters. The basic Twine package, priced at $125, comes with sensors to monitor vibration, temperature and orientation, with the option to purchase additional sensors like a moisture detector.

The Internet of Things can even help us reduce human error. For those who find themselves saying, “Where’s my ________?” multiple times a week, Tile could be the Internet thing of your dreams. This tracking device/app combo uses low energy Bluetooth tags to help you locate your wallet, purse, keys or any other object you hold near and dear, but constantly misplace. It’s a lot like Apple’s Find My iPhone service, but for anything.

When will we see all this?

While Nest and Twine are ready for purchase — and Tile is available for pre-order — some applications are a little further off. Like the idea to use light to turn dumb objects into intelligent interfaces. To explore this concept, Google hired London-based design studio Berg to create a “smart lamp” that projects beams onto common desk items, transforming them into MP3 players and more. It’s very beta, but very cool.

Even with Fortune 500 companies like Google working to exploit the possibilities, it’s still not certain when the Internet of Things will be pervasive. In 2012, Nest Labs’ Fadwell told CNET, “People think there’s this Internet of all kinds of crazy devices that are going to talk to each other. It’s going to take some time. Give it five or eight years and then you’ll see machines talking to machines.”

That, however, may not be as far off as Fadwell thinks. With more clouds popping up around the web and more devices showing up in our homes and businesses, the Internet of Things looks to be less a product of sci-fi and more a product you’ll soon find at Best Buy.