Whole cities, like Songdo in South Korea, are being built to be fully connected via the 'Internet of Things'
IF the first wave of the internet was about connecting people with information and each other, the next frontier is about connecting objects to create a whole new “Internet of Things”.
And Adelaide is playing an important role in Australia’s move towards it.
IN June 2000, Korean electronics maker LG cut the ribbon on a new product line it no doubt hoped would do for food storage what Sony’s Walkman did for music– the internet refrigerator
The ‘Digital DIOS’ came complete with a net connection, video phone, webcam, email and online shopping capabilities, but the big promise was the ability for the fridge to keep a running stocktake of all the food inside, using barcode-scanning technology.
Better still, as Arnie Schwarzenegger demonstrated in the film The 6th Day
, the Internet fridge was smart enough to ‘know’ when you were running low on milk and to give you a gentle reminder to call in at the shops on the way home.
Alas, consumers were cold on the smart fridge, not least because it came with a price tag around $20,000, tried to solve problems people didn’t know they had, and was largely derided as an expensive gimmick.
But if the LG smart fridge, and the many competitor versions that followed, missed the mark as a mainstream consumer appliance, it also hinted at a future that only now, 14 years later, is beginning to become a reality.
A future where the internet is no longer simply a network connecting people and computers, but a system connecting everyday objects with us and with each other - an “Internet of Things”
“(With the IOT) physical items are no longer disconnected from the virtual world, but can be controlled remotely and can act as physical access points to internet services,” researchers Friedemann Mattern and Christian Floerkemeier from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
wrote in a paper on the subject in 2010.
So, the LG fridge was ahead of its time.
The IOT vision, Mattern and Floerkemeier argued, is grounded in the belief that electronics, communications systems and information technology will continue to get smaller, cheaper and more efficient and as they do, will be “increasingly integrated into everyday objects”, making them all-of-a-sudden “smart”.
At the same time, mobile phones have continued to evolve, with many now featuring touch screens and barcode readers, making them a perfect interface between people, objects and the net and creating a perfect storm for an IoT.
If you’ve got a washing machine, gaming console, sewing machine or Fitbit
, the revolution may already be in your laundry, lounge room or around your wrist.
And that’s just a small scratch on a very large surface.
Researchers like Mattern and Floerkemeier argue our emerging ability to make formerly dumb objects “smart” will give us new powers to observe, measure and interpret our world in ways, and at a level of detail, not possible before.
And that, many argue, could deliver benefits (time, money, improved safety and security) in every sector from retail and healthcare to waste management and local government.
Think cars that can communicate with each other on the road; signals to help locate lost property, escalators that only operate when they’re needed, and barcodes shoppers can activate with a smartphone to retrieve product information from the internet.
Even the Digital DIOS may have a place in a future when devices can talk to each other.
“…a smart fridge might reduce its temperature when the smart electricity meter indicates that cheap power is available thus avoiding the need to consume energy at a later stage, when electricity is more expensive,” Mattern and Floerkemeier wrote.
It gets bigger than that.
Right now, in South Korea, a company called Gale International is working to build the world’s first “smart city”, a $35 billion venture called New Songdo
that will be home to about 300,000 people, all of them wired to a digital grid.
“It’s going to be a cool city, a smart city,” Gale chairman Stan Gale was quoted as saying by tech sitefastcompany.com,
adding the company planned 20 more cities just like it in China and India.
“China alone needs 500 cities the size of New Songdo,” Gale said.
To help the vision become reality, the world, clearly, will require a new generation of skilled professionals.
And there, Adelaide is playing a major role.
The university plans to set up an academy at its Tonsley Park
building, where Cisco staff will train students to work with the latest digital technologies and where, the university hopes, they will help develop the products that will define the Internet of Things in Australia, maybe globally, too.
Pro-Vice Chancellor, Information Services Professor Richard Constantine said the university’s work with Cisco would largely focus on Telehealth and assisted living for the sick and elderly.
But the partnership was also very much about creating new jobs for SA.
“In the old days, if you didn’t have internet connectivity, your ability to prosper in your economy was pretty limited – that’s the same with the Internet of Things,” Professor Constantine said.
“They can track the number of items connected to the Internet of Things in a country – the greater the number, the greater your increase of GDP (Gross Domestic Product),” he said.
“We’re looking at creating jobs for South Australians and having people train in state-of-the-art technology in this area”.
He said the IOT was not just important - it was inevitable.
“Apple are looking at making announcements later this year in that area, probably under the guise of fitness applications and Google’s interested, so things are taking off as far as personalised wearable technologies that have got an IP address, that are connected to the internet, that are monitoring vital signs for fitness, for health. That sort of regime’s going to take off in the future definitely.
“You don’t need to be Nostradamus to know that’s going to happen.”
This story was first published in The Advertiser and on advertiser.com.au