Data for GOOD Design

How 25 Billion Smart Machines Are About to Make Your Life Way Easier

by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

December 17, 2015

Every day, over 3.2 billion people connect to the internet to check social media, read the headlines, shop online, and share more than 1.5 million gigabytes of data every minute. However, there’s another internet of sorts, one that exchanges almost as much data, without the celebrity gossip or commenting trolls. Using sophisticated sensors, location software, and even artificial intelligence, “smart” machines and devices are wired and talking to one another without any need to interface with humans, in an environment known as the Internet of Things (IoT). These things can range from your refrigerator to your car, from sprinkler systems to healthcare systems. Tech experts predict that by 2020, more than 25 billion smart “things” will be talking to one another.

As a result, the “smart home” is no longer a futuristic vision, but a reality to anyone with the time and inclination to install the technology. From smart light bulbs that can be customized to multiple settings, to smart thermostats that can turn on when they receive notification that you’ve left your office, smart technology can learn your preferences and act accordingly at the touch of an app.

Image via Z-Wave Alliance.

Many experts believe the IoT will continue to make our lives more efficient. One such proponent is Tim Lynch, who has a Ph.D. in the psychology of intelligent machines from Boston University and is the founder of behavioral observation software company Psychsoft. His company builds supercomputers for customers who need to do complex tasks, such as figure out weather patterns or do chemical modeling for cancer research. “With the IoT, our lights can turn on and off by themselves, our alarms can be set automatically when we leave, our doors can recognize us through facial recognition and open for us, our refrigerators can sense when we are low on food and order for us, our cars can get information on traffic patterns and send the best alternate route to our GPS, our computers can get the information we want automatically from the internet and present it to us each morning or track important stories and give us updates to our smartphone,” he says.

To achieve these sensitive levels of customization, sensors and location software—two components of artificial intelligence—are required. Software such as DecaWave’s “position awareness” will offer a GPS-like location software within a few centimeters of accuracy.

One of IoT technology’s most practical applications may be related to emergencies, says Mitchell Klein, executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance, a tech support nonprofit organization. “Imagine you have a hot water heater that springs a leak while you’re not home. With the right type of water sensor, it can send a notification to the water valve in the house, which shuts it off, then it sends a notification to the homeowner saying there’s a problem. There is only so much a human can handle, master, and control.”

The potential for improving energy efficiency is also immense—smart sensors could tell you where heat is escaping from your home, let you know when you’re using too much electricity, and automatically turn things on and off, then notify you or even a technician.

This "smart" helmet could save your life. Image via Fusar.

This could also extend to a much larger scale. Smart cities could have smart power grids that could respond to unexpected weather conditions. Smart roads could talk to smart cars to aid in traffic and accident prevention.

Daniel Bersak is the chief technology officer of Fusar, a startup that will be bringing a device to market in the next few months called the Mohawk—a small clip-on device that can be attached to any helmet. “If you crash, it will contact your emergency contacts on your behalf, and it even has a black box that locks all sensors and videos so you have a record of what happened.” The technology in Mohawk, and their forthcoming smart helmet, the Guardian, will also have the ability to determine the impact of the fall, so it can decide if you need an ambulance.

Bersak envisions a future that he says “is not far off,” when smart helmets can talk to the smart anti-collision systems in cars to keep both driver and rider safe. Klein is confident this technology will also soon offer elderly folks “dignity at home” at the end of their lives. “Soon, people can age quite gracefully in their own homes without having to go into assisted living. In many cases the technology can provide notifications between caregivers and medical professionals.”

Some IoT scenarios approach the absurd. Mickael Viot, Marketing Manager of Decawave, a software company that makes location sensors, suggests a future where personal robots carry our luggage and do our shopping. Other scenarios can sound a little alarming, such as when “all your environments will be aware of who you are and where you are,” he says. Yet either way, the Internet of Things has the power to remove time-consuming tasks from human hands, and free up valuable time and energy for greater quality of life.

Illustration by Brian Hurst

Throughout 2015, we're partnering with Progressive to harness the power of information. Each week, we'll put data under the microscope, asking how statistics and research can empower us to challenge our understanding of ourselves and the ways we navigate our world. Knowledge is the first step on the way to progress: Let's take this information and drive change in the world together. This is Data for GOOD.

— Like us on Facebook to get more GOOD —
How 25 Billion Smart Machines Are About to Make Your Life Way Easier