Feet of genius show we’re all connected to the Internet of Things

The online and physical worlds are merging, requiring less human involvement. Rhodri Marsden examines how a new era of unprecedented super-connectivity is changing our lives

The London 2012 Olympic Games will be the most connected ever. Not only in terms of media coverage sent digitally across the world, but also the countless devices behind the scenes that we’d never think of as requiring an internet connection, such as the environmental controls adjusting heating and air conditioning.

We’re currently living and working amid an Internet of Things, where the number of devices connected to the internet is increasing exponentially – and this doesn’t just mean profound changes at global sporting events, but also in our homes and offices. When a Digital Multimedia fridge freezer was announced by the electronics manufacturer LG back in 2006, people wondered why a fridge needed an internet connection, but five years on the concept isn’t so unusual; at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, over 50 per cent of the gadgets on display had some kind of internet connectivity.

Humans are playing a smaller and smaller role in the exchange of information online; we’re becoming an ever-shrinking component of this Internet of Things, with the number of connected devices reaching 50 billion by  2020. “It’s a concept which we are going to see explode over the next few years,” Ian Foddering, chief technology officer and technical director for Cisco UK, says. “More than ever before, people are driving devices to become internet enabled – and the power and data that they can produce is staggering.”

The term Internet of Things was coined back in 1999 by the British technology pioneer Kevin Ashton, who envisaged a time when the internet would be so ubiquitous that the notion of “going online” wouldn’t be a conscious act; the internet and physical world would become inextricably linked to one another. His prediction began to be realised during 2008 or 2009, when the number of devices connected to the internet outnumbered the people using it. The term started to be more widely circulated and today The Internet of Things is referenced in the same breath as a whole heap of technologies: smart objects equipped with sensors that push information across the internet; virtual personalities; machines that control themselves without human intervention; ambient intelligence, where computers can sense and react to the presence of humans; and, of course, the network infrastructure that quietly pulls all this stuff together.

The “things” themselves are being developed and launched all the time. We’re seeing remote controls for television sets that can sense who is holding them and offer tailored viewing choices on screen; bathroom scales that don’t so much speak your weight as tweet your weight; web-enabled thermostats that replace those fiddly plastic boxes with intelligent, reactive devices that can create your own “personalised temperature schedule” after a week of use. As already mentioned, the London Olympics will rely on online thermostats – but the event’s safety and security will also depend on the internet, with CCTV cameras hooked up to the network, while the logistics of moving athletes in and around the city will also rely on internet technology.

The motor industry has been at the forefront of the Internet of Things. It’s not difficult to transform a car into a wi-fi hotspot, embed a screen into the dashboard and bundle iTunes, Spotify, Facebook or Twitter with the car to allow entertainment and interaction during the journey. But companies like Ford and Volkswagen are now moving towards the kind of connectivity that bestows a kind of intelligence on cars. Ford and Bug Labs recently launched their open-source car software, Open XC, that’s able to perform tasks like monitoring fuel efficiency and traffic, while upgrading itself automatically over the air. Volkswagen, meanwhile, has announced its “Urban Intelligent Assist” system for the Audi range that’s making gentle nudges towards the eventual goal of autonomous driving. When Google began testing a fleet of driverless cars a couple of years ago, people were horrified at the implications – but internet-enabled navigation equipment, cameras, sensors and lasers can, in theory, drive a car better than any human. And if the number of lives lost in traffic accidents can be drastically cut, as Google claims, why not place our faith in technology?

But the Internet of Things isn’t all about offering humans opportunities for saving time and effort; it has a more important role to play in terms of managing and allocating the world’s resources, thus providing us with information to help tackle problems such as poverty. A Dutch company called Sparked has conducted tests where sensors have been implanted in the ears of cattle, allowing farmers to monitor their health, track their movements and improve yields as a result. As sensors like these become ubiquitous in all walks of life, they’ll be able to help authorities to monitor usage of utilities, or health services to keep track of hospital equipment, while initiatives such as Nasa’s Planetary Skin Institute can tackle the problems of food, water and energy security. Often, the solutions to any problems detected by the Internet of Things can be deployed automatically; they become systems that, in effect, take care of themselves.

With so many responsibilities transferred into the hands of technology, can we trust the internet to cope with the additional burden? Cisco’s network infrastructure will be taking the strain during the London Olympics, but there are global challenges posed by the Internet of Things – not least the need for each of the billions of new gadgets and sensors to have their own unique IP address. This is part of the reason for the current switchover to IPv6, a more secure new system that increases the potential number of addresses from 4.3 billion to something totally future-proof: more addresses, in fact, than there are bacterial cells on the planet.

Then, all these sensors will need to be powered; this will require substantial innovation in the world of alternative energy sources. One of the biggest breakthroughs came this time last year, when a commercially viable nanogenerator was announced at a meeting of the American Chemical Society – a system whereby our own body movements can generate electricity. “This development represents a milestone toward producing portable electronics,” Zhong Lin Wang, lead scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, says. “Our nanogenerators are poised to change lives in the future.”

We’re already at a point where running shoes for Olympic athletes can monitor performance and send data instantly back to training camps; soon those sensors will be powered by the act of sprinting.

There’s no doubt that the Internet of Things will change everything. “This may seem like a bold statement,” Dave Evans, chief futurist for Cisco, says. “But consider the impact the internet already has had on education, communication, business, science, government, and humanity.” Devices will gather, analyse and distribute data, talking to each other directly and developing their own intelligence, thereby heralding the next evolution of the internet.

“With a trillion sensors embedded in the environment – all connected by computing systems, software and services – it will be possible to hear the heartbeat of the Earth,” Peter Hartwell, senior researcher at HP Labs, says. “And what does it mean for the next big event?” asks Cisco’s Ian Foddering. “What does the future look like where everyone and everything is connected?” It’s a question that may be answered in just a few Olympic Games’ time.

READ MORE

Making the Games happen How Cisco is playing a part in London 2012 The London 2012 competitors will make the headlines, but what happens behind the scenes is just as important. That’s because these Olympic and Paralympic Games aim to be the most technologically connected Games possible, reaching a vast global audience of billions through a multitude of media channels. Read more...

Life & Style
techHow a 'grey brick' took over the world of portable gaming
News
peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Sport
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
sport
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

VIDEO
News
Coren Mitchell, who is the daughter of the late broadcaster Alan Coren and is married to comedian David Mitchell, produced a hand to make poker history at the 98th EPT main event.
peopleJournalist and TV presenter becomes first ever two-time winner of the European Poker Tour
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Database Team Lead ( Leadership, Sybase, Computer Science)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Database Team Lead ( Leadership, Sybase, Compute...

C#.NET Delphi SQL Developer (C#,DELPHI,SQL)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET D...

VB.NET SQL Junior-Mid Level Developer (VB.NET,SQL,Excellent com

£25000 - £35000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET S...

Trade Support, Application Support, Operations Analyst, CRM MS

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Harrington Starr: Trade Suppor...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players