By John Rudy
A new term is The Internet of Things. Many years ago when the internet first appeared. it was a means of connecting computers. What is now changing is that computers are being embedded in everyday objects. Your car has dozens of them, and even your thermostat has them. As computers become less and less expensive, it becomes easier to install them in refrigerators or washer/dryers– maybe even in light bulbs. But the latest in technology isn’t just about computers. It is about sensors gathering data which can be analyzed by a central computer and accessed over the internet.
Let’s take a simple example. Last April, I took advantage of MassSave and had three new replacement thermostats installed. The thermostats were wired to a hub and then connected to my router–that meant they could be found on the internet. I could install an application on my cell phone that let me remotely view and control them. Most thermostats allow one to program them these days, but with these, I can turn up my heat on my way home so that the house is warm when I get there. That is the good news. The bad news is that the thermostats may have inter-connection problems and shut down as they did when we were in Jamaica. That particular problem required that I physically disconnect and reconnect them, so even though I knew there was a problem, I couldn’t resolve it. This never happened with the old thermostats.
But there is a bigger fear, and that is that bad people are increasingly getting into the many systems on the internet. Would you want someone to turn your thermostat off? Of course, there is a password, but we know that passwords have been stolen.
In a few years, expect to see internet controlled door locks or ovens that you can control from a distance. A few years ago on Showtime’s Homeland, a piece of the plot revolved around a pacemaker that was hooked to a computer. The bad guys used this to kill the vice president. Insulin pumps are already connected to computers.
Your car hosts dozens of computers that manage everything from ignition to gas mixture to steering. There were some stories about a year ago about hackers taking over a car. It was overblown and not totally accurate, but in a couple of years, it just might be possible.
Now, let’s look at some really positive things learned from an article in Wired magazine. “When we rebuild bridges, we can use smart cement: cement equipped with sensors to monitor stresses, cracks, and warpage. This is cement that alerts us to the need to problems before they can cause catastrophes. And these technologies aren’t limited to the bridge’s structure.
If there’s ice on the bridge, the same sensors in the concrete will detect it and communicate the information via the wireless internet to your car. Once your car knows there’s a hazard ahead, it will instruct the driver to slow down, and if the driver doesn’t, then the car will slow down for him. This is just one of the ways that sensor-to-machine and machine-to-machine communication can take place. Sensors on the bridge connect to machines in the car: we turn information into action.”
Amazon Echo is already with us–and more is on the way.
A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature. In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .