Most retro depictions of the future showed the world full of interactive appliances, where ovens and lawn mowers talked and did all the work on their own. Most of these projections failed to predict the personal computer and world wide web, and thus, for the first fifteen years of the 21st century, we’ve looked back and laughed at the way things were expected to turn out.
It’s the digital revolution that the perceived super-appliances of the future are finally being made. Companies specializing in embedded computers have seen demand skyrocket over the last five years. Mobile app developers are barely keeping up with market pressure to produce software for just about every want and need. The two are combining to create the Internet of Things.
What makes the Internet of Things? It’s the increasingly vast network of computers and devices interconnected via the web. Small-scale, seemingly limited embedded systems are being synced to remote intelligence mechanisms, producing a world of toys, gadgets, machines, and even vehicles which are both self-controlled and linked to computer networks and systems across the world.
Web-connected embedded computer systems have made their way into practically every facet of daily life throughout the industrialized world. In developing countries these devices are seeing a particular popularity thanks to low-maintenance, ruggedness, and the propensity to be used by a community instead of just one family.
Examples of where embedded systems are providing the cornerstones of the Internet of Things include:
The aviation industry has been a leading user of embedded systems since their infancy in the early-to-mid 70s. Commercial airliners are equipped with a multitude of computer systems which both operate the majority of onboard systems but beam out and receive data on a second-by-second basis. Flight plans are digitally uploaded into cockpit computers. The automotive industry is stepping up its user-end systems installed directly into vehicles as well. Tesla Motors recently gained attention by remotely installing a software update in their Models S and X allowing for autopilot, granted the driver must still be at the wheel at all times.
Everything from MRI machines to smart thermometers is sending and receiving data courtesy of embedded systems synced with the world wide web. It’s soon possible for doctors working in developing countries to do blood work in a patient’s mud-brick home with no running water and have results beamed back almost instantly. Surgeons will be able to check up on recovering patients miles away courtesy of wearable devices monitoring blood pressure, sugar levels, and so forth.
The home is seeing a rapid upgrade across the board thanks to the Internet of Things. Live audio and security video feeds of property can be viewed and replayed thanks to the collaboration of embedded computer systems and sophisticated mobile phone app design remotely. As was the dream of Walt Disney and other old school futurists the kitchen and living room are getting the biggest facelift thanks to this improved technology, with refrigerators, microwaves, TVs, and even the lighting being tethered to the Internet.
Needless to say, the technology being built around embedded computers and mobile applications are changing the face of the workplace. It’s not uncommon to see touchscreen computers lining the floors of factories, plants, and refineries whereas before these “roughneck” environments were practically devoid of digital technology. Teams of construction workers, landscapers, and even lumberjacks are being instructed by supervisors to provide hourly progress reports via a tablet computer.
The “world of tomorrow” envisioned decades ago may seem a little silly, but they weren’t entirely off-target. They just a little ahead of themselves by skipping a step in predicted progress. To have ovens, planes, and factories running themselves we needed the digital revolution to happen first. The Internet of Things is swiftly making yesterday’s version of tomorrow a matter of fact for today.