As predicted, the Internet of Things was a major theme at CES 2015. The sheer number of connected gadgets, objects, applications and unifying platforms was as overwhelming as it was exciting. We were inspired by everything we saw, so here are a few thoughts on the present – and future – of the Internet of Things.
Making Everything Smarter
With over 3,600 exhibitors covering 2.6 million square feet, standing out at CES is an incredible challenge. But one that really stood out of the crowd was Samsung’s SmartThings. This exhibit was by far one of the coolest, most practical and relatable IoT booths I saw. It really helped me visualize precisely how a smart home would work and how it will make my life easier and better. The company was showing off a few new products: SmartThings hub, SmartSense sensors and SmartPower outlets. The SmartThings hub plugs into your router and serves as the home base for all peripheral SmartThing devices, allowing them to communicate with the Internet and each other. The sensors can detect movement, vibration, change in orientation, and temperature in whatever thing you attach it to – from a garage door to a window A/C unit. Plug lamps, electronics, and small appliances into the SmartPower outlets and control and monitor them from your smartphone. The best part about this system is any old device can have a sensor attached to it and can be controlled or monitored. It makes dumb appliances smart, allowing the user to have a connected home without having to buy a whole bunch of new products. The interoperability of this system and the ease of use really make the vision of an IoT world less of a pipedream and more of a reality.
Are We There Yet?
The light switch is a brilliant invention. It’s easy to use, it’s quick, it rarely breaks down, and it’s conveniently located at shoulder-height in the very room I want light. Incredible. The challenge for the Internet of Things is – can it make home automation as easy and convenient as a light switch? CES 2015 revealed yes, but that we’re not there quite yet. Still, huge strides are being made by designers, engineers, networkers, and makers as they create the necessary standardization decisions (not to mention establishing security criteria) that will lead to objects becoming even easier than a light switch. They’ll finally make our lives cheaper, faster, and more fulfilling. One notable at CES that shows huge promise is Mother. It’s a smart hub with tiny web connected ‘cookies’, each with built in sensors. Users can attach one (or more) cookie to any object and assign it a particular use through an app in the Sen.se web. Attach a cookie to the coffee jar and have it report when you’re low on coffee. Attach it to your shoes and have it count your steps. Attach it to the door and have it alert you when someone’s home. They’re opening the API so anyone can create apps that work with Mother and her cookies. And while at times the cookies slip into the trap of ‘too much data, not enough insight’, knowing that, for example, the cat-sitter actually scooped the cat litter that day is really helpful. In some ways, we are already “there.” The Internet of Things has security, has cross-functionality, has actionable data, has form and has function. What we need now is ways to make it “light-switch-simple.” CES 2015 was a huge leap in the right direction and I can’t wait to see what develops over the next year.
IoT = Creativity
I marvel at the creativity of what inventors, engineers and imaginative people think to do in today’s Internet of Things era. Walking around the CES show floor, it seems the possibilities are limitless. It is magical to see what we can now – and will in the future – do with technology. With broadband becoming faster and faster, and Wi-Fi popping up on street corners, I’m sure we are just at the beginning of what is possible. From connected toothbrushes that play games to connected whole-body massage chairs to selfie hairbrushes, there was the weird, the fun and the useful Internet of Things to see at CES. Below are just a few that caught my eye. Never leave the home again for beer with the Picobrew Zymatic, where you can brew beer from scratch at home in three to four hours, all controlled via Wi-Fi and a web browser. Special brew recipes are in a cloud-hosted library. For pet owners, there is the Petcube, a camera-type device where you can monitor your cat or play “chase the laser” with it while you’re at work (not to mention, share a link so your friends or the world so they can watch your cat hide inside a box). Meow! The Internet of Things also extends outdoors. The solar-powered Edyn garden and plant system continuously monitors water, light, soil nutrition and then automatically cross references the data with databases letting you know exactly what the plants need to thrive. And the Wemo Maker lets you control your massive lawn’s outdoor sprinklers from your phone, even creating a setting where the sprinklers won’t start watering when the forecast calls for rain. Do we need all of these things? Maybe, maybe not, or maybe we just don’t know yet. But I’m happy for the front row seat to watch as innovators dream new ideas, and excited for what is ahead.