The fictional writings of HG Wells, Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov are coming true in so many spheres. The submarines that Verne envisaged and video conferencing that Asimov spoke about are reality today. HG Wells’ Time machine may take a while, perhaps.
But there is plenty of geeky stuff happening that makes the present look like the future they talked about in science fiction stories. And the year 2014 seems to be very, very special: it may go down in history as the year when the “internet of Things” evolved from a buzzword to reality.
Making cities smarter: StreetLine (www.streetline.com)
Finding a parking slot for your car is an urban problem. In some cities, it is not unknown for people to drive around for hours looking for a slot. Some people leave that hassle to the driver, but for the majority, it is a real-life battle.
Now, imagine an app that lets your smartphone find out where parking slots are available, and even which parking lot is cheaper. All this is done with smart sensors embedded in the ground that talk to each other. A city could take this up and consolidate all parking, eliminating clutter and making our cities smarter and cleaner.
Never lose stuff: Tile $19.95 (Rs. 1,240)
You are heading out of home in a rush, and cannot find your car key. Sounds familiar? Soon, this particular headache will be a thing of the past. You can buy Tile (which comes with a subscription to their cloud service).
Stick the device on whatever you want to track, and see its location on your smartphone. When you are getting closer to the device, your phone lets you know it. If it is out of sight, you can get the device to beep so that you can locate it.
If it is in your stolen wallet, you can hotlist it, and the moment it comes near another Tile user, it sends you a location alert. The Tile’s battery lasts roughly 2 years, and it is small and thin enough to fit anywhere.
Making you healthy: TellSpec ($320; Rs. 9,840)
A handheld portable laser scanner that looks and feels like a mouse. Point the laser at your lunch, for instance, and it will analyse the food. The technology works by measuring how the photons in the laser change when it hits the food.
No more counting calories, this is the real McCoy! Of course, you can use it at stores to analyse stuff before buying them, too, so you can avoid allergies and chemicals and choose the nutrients you need.
The information is sent to a cloud server, analysed in real time and feedback sent to your phone in real time to help with your decisions. There you have a status update for your food!
Drive safer, better: Automatic ($99.95; Rs. 6,200)
All modern cars have an OBD2 or on-board diagnostics port. The Automatic is a dongle device that plugs into this slot and connects to the Internet via your smartphone.
It analyses your driving style and gives you tips on how to get better mileage, sends the location of your parked car to your family (helpful if someone else needs to pick up the car) and also alerts your family in case of an emergency or an accident. In the US, it also connects to emergency services.
Better indoor living: Cube Sensors, starting $299 (Rs.18,540)
Is your partner snoring because it is cold or because the moon is full? Is the air-conditioning/heating working optimally? Know your own room better with cube sensors that can send data to a cloud server via to your smartphone.
Analysing the data can help you improve the environment at home/office, save money and make life better. When the ambience is healthy, the cubes emit a colourful glow.
We have discussed here just a few examples of what is happening in the world of Web-linked gizmos. India’s own inventors are working on things we are yet to hear of. But there are several challenges for the internet of Things to really take off, stable and secure connectivity and long battery life being two top concerns.
Here’s to 2014, the year when the Internet moves to a new class of devices.