The "Internet of Things" is one of our favorite ideas here at Undercurrent. Kevin Ashton coined the term in 1999 to describe a system of networked physical items that feed data back in the system about where they are and what state they're in. It promises a world of smart objects that we're slowly coming to realize. Two interesting new projects caught my eye over the weekend that move us closer to realizing this dream.
Find More Things
The first interesting new project is tōd, a Kickstarter project raising funds to develop a system that enables your smartphone to keep track of small Bluetooth-enabled "Smart Beacons." These little gadgets can be placed nearly anywhere or affixed to nearly anything you like – such as on your pet's collar, to a piece of furniture, in your child's clothing. With a range of between 3-and-500 feet, the beacons are built to respond to their physical proximity to your smartphone and report three core pieces of data – whether they are 'in range,' 'out of range,' or if something is 'scheduled' to take place (such as someone arriving home).
Like RFID, the system employs a low-powered device that can passively monitor the status of objects and will work with or without an internet connection. Unlike RFID, however, Bluetooth provides a wider-range of potential activities to be programmed into the devices themselves. In addition to monitoring the status of the beacon, the beacons can be programmed to report a wide range of data to the network. Acceleration, temperature, and altitude data, for instance, could be returned from a beacon affixed to either a person or an object, providing crucial information about its movements. tōd promotes itself as a system to be extended through an App network, SDK, and API.
Make Those Things Smarter
The second development is Touché, a system developed by researchers from Disney and Carnegie Mellon. Touche enables everyday objects with capacitative technology like that found in smartphones. As Mary Brown explains at Ars Technica, the system "measures a wide range of signal frequencies to derive more information" than regular multitouch systems which tend to be binary (on/off, touched/not touched).
A system like Touché promises a more responsive set of objects that don't just know that you're interacting with them but can respond to specific types of interactions. Touché means doorknobs, for instance, will know the way they have been touched (grabbed with a full palm or just a few fingers, turned quickly or slowly) and can respond appropriately.
Together, these two new systems could move us closer to a smarter, more responsive world. Recognizing and tracking physical objects remains the key challenge to realizing the vision of the Internet of Things. tōd could bring us one step closer by not only making things easier to find but enabling them to tell us more about where they are. Touché broadens the range of responses possible from the object we interact with, effectively making the objects around us smarter. With both in place, we'd be looking at a more awesome future.