Love. Who do you love? Is it your family members? Your friends? Is it yourself? I love my grandmother. So it broke my heart to learn that she slipped in the bathtub, couldn’t get up, and sat there all night — naked, cold, and alone, until her home attendant came the next morning. If that happened to someone you loved, I know you would be crushed too.
My grandma lived by herself. With a big beautiful heart, she refused a 24/7 home attendant because she didn’t want to use up government resources for those who might need it more. But the only solution in this incident was for someone to have been there to notice her fall and help her. Someone could also have called her, noticed she didn’t pick up, and went over to check on her. She could also have pushed her emergency button but it was out of reach. What if no one ever stopped by and no one ever called though? How many days would she have sat in her bathtub, naked and alone? Helpless?
No human knew she fell. But every single object in the house knew. The bathtub knew she was there all night. Her clothes knew that she didn’t put them back on. Her slippers knew that they were stopped at the bathroom. Her bed knew that she didn’t come to sleep. For all our lives, humans have depended on one another. What if we could expand our dependence to things? What if we could awaken the physical things around us and somehow have them tell us what they know? What if we could tell them to do certain things if they notice something?
What is IoT?
We don’t actually have the power to awaken non-living things. That would be creepy. But we can engineer this idea. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the concept of connecting hardware devices (everyday physical things, sensors, and actuators) embedded with software (applications and programs running behind the sensors and actuators) to a network (e.g. internet, wifi, cellular, bluetooth, LAN, WAN) to enable them to collect and exchange data, with minimal or no human interaction needed.
One component involves embedding sensor software into hardware. For a high level overview, let’s not worry about how we create this sensing ability but just know that there currently exists sensor hardware that can sense heat, temperature, moisture levels, pressure, speed, light, GPS location, electric currents, vibrations, sounds, and similar variables. Sensor software analyzes and processes this “sensed” data. Another component involves collecting and exchanging this processed data. An actuator enables the reactions and controlling of systems. Each IoT device can be programmed to do different things with the data. The data can be stored on a cell phone app for humans to access and control or the IoT device can be programmed to automatically perform certain actions with other connected devices when data outside of normal ranges are sensed.
Different ways to use IoT (Photo Courtesy: Stanford Engineering, Tom Lee)
So if I knew about IoT back then, I would put sensors on my grandma’s bed to have it collect data on body heat. I might incorporate machine learning to let the bed know that my grandmother is most definitely in bed by 11pm. I would program the software to send me a text message whenever no body heat is detected (e.g. “Something’s odd. Grandma isn’t in bed and it’s [timestamp] right now”). I would also make her an IoT bracelet that she wears everywhere, even to the shower. The bracelet would have sensors to sense her body vital signs. If she loses consciousness or her blood pressure isn’t in acceptable ranges, I would program it to call the nearest home attendants until one confirms they’re coming over to check on her.
Two Reasons for IoT
When I think of IoT, I split them into two categories. These devices are either created to solve problems to help those who need it most or they provide a more luxurious, entertaining, improved lifestyle. In fact, two of the very first IoT devices are good examples of each. Let’s take a look.
Solving problems/Helping those who need it most
In 1999 when Kevin Ashton coined the term “IoT”, he was frustrated that his local store was out of stock of the lipstick line that he was managing for Olay at the time. He discovered that no one knew the shelf was empty and no one knew the item had to be reordered. So he invented radio frequency identifications (RFID) to track the supplies. This eliminated the need for humans to manually check inventory and let the IoT alert them when inventory should be reordered
Using Iot to control appliances in homes (Photo Courtesy: Apple Home app)