Exploring the Internet of Things

  October 04, 2013

[caption id="attachment_14298" align="aligncenter" width="298"] Illustration by Heather Scoggins[/caption]

No story left a bigger impression on me when I was a child than an apocalyptic nightmare from Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, first published in 1950, titled “There Will Come Soft Rains.”  The four-page story features no living characters—save for a lone, gaunt dog—but is nevertheless packed with action, intelligence, and social commentary.  Tiny robotic mice dart out to clean the carpets, pancakes and eggs are prepared for breakfast by kitchen appliances, a children’s nursery transforms itself at naptime into a colorful virtual jungle, bathtubs fill themselves at the appointed hour, and beds adjust their warmth to accommodate the nighttime temperature.

It all happens automatically, day after day, within the last surviving home in a city destroyed by an atomic bomb—until the house finally catches fire and burns to the ground, leaving only one automated wall standing, its computerized voice chirpily announcing another new day to no one.

Nuclear holocaust aside, it’s a perfect depiction of what we now call a “smart house,” which is just part of a larger trend devoted to turning everyday objects and appliances into intelligently optimized extensions of our digital lives.  It’s a trend that has been widely dubbed “the Internet of Things” (IoT), and over the next few years its goal of wiring together every object in our world is going to be increasingly hard for developers to ignore.

We already take our smart phones for granted, but what about smart watches and smart houses, smart cars and smart ski goggles?  Everything around us is getting connected to the net and imbued with intelligence at an accelerating pace, and within the next decade the world as we know is going to be wired in ways that even Ray Bradbury’s striking vision of a fully automated house couldn’t foresee.  His household appliances sprang into action at a certain pre-programmed time of the day, but I doubt anyone writing in 1950 could have imagined that you’d one day be able to instruct your oven to preheat itself from a device in your pocket while you were out finishing your grocery shopping in town.  Bradbury’s story features an intelligent nursery with soothing sounds and nature scenes projected on the walls, but what about an intelligent one-zee for your infant, delivering updates to your phone about your child’s breathing patterns, temperature, sleeping position, and activity levels, along with its machine-washable built-in audio baby monitor?

internet-of-thingsThese examples are just the tip of the IoT iceberg, which is rapidly rising above the murky surface of the technological sea, gleaming with potential in the light of the capitalist sun, inspiring consumers with its smooth, sparkling vision of the future—and causing developers, engineers, and product designers everywhere to sit up and take notice, lest their supposedly innovative companies crash into it unawares.

Later this month in Barcelona, Cisco is hosting what they’re billing as the first annual Internet of Things World Forum and creating sharable infographics to help promote their company’s excitement for the trend, which CEO John Chambers describes as “the fourth wave of the internet.”  If that isn’t enough conference action for you, in November there’s a second IoT “World Forum” convening in London, hosted by Machine 2 Machine magazine.  The IoT trend has been recently covered by Wired, the New York Times Magazine, and Bloomberg Businessweek, and tech sites like ReadWrite devote continual coverage to all aspects of the IoT world, which is, in fact, a very broad field, spanning everything from smart houses, cars, tools, and appliances to wearable computers and the growing masses (especially in San Francisco) of “quantified selves.”

By all indications, we’re soon going to be living in a world in which the distinction between the online world and the real world is rendered meaningless.  With Augmented Reality tech like Google Glass already blurring the divide, freeing our attention from the 2D prison of glowing rectangles, the internet is going to permeate our lives in a whole new way when it’s imbued in nearly every physical object we interact with.  And the potential of this fact to disrupt life—and business—as we know it is profound.

Here at SmartBear, we’re avidly tracking the ascent of IoT, which already poses greater problems—and potentials—for smooth API communication than anything we’ve encountered to date.  The security risks posed by all devices remotely accessible are enormous, to say the least, making clean, efficient code increasingly important; and having all devices connected to each other is going to make preventing load bottlenecks more relevant than ever.  At this early stage it’s simply impossible to predict the many ways in which developers are going to be affected by the IoT revolution, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to find out.  So, over the next few weeks, we’re going to be looking at some of the ways in which the Internet of Things is changing the way both developers and IT engineers do business, and how the IoT vision of leaving no stone un-intelligent is going to be creating a brave new world for us all.

Stay tuned…

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