The Era of Connected Devices is Upon Us
Riding on the coat tails of Moore’s law, the processing power of computing devices continues to increase while the cost of these devices continues to drop – technological deflation. Bell Lab’s Mervin Kelly was famous for his rule for new innovations: “Better, or cheaper, or both.”
Mainstream economists and financial media cry out that deflation is very bad: be very afraid, and fight it at all costs. For those of us in high tech, deflation is just another everyday occurrence. We expect it. “Better, or cheaper, or both.” This is the driving force of innovation in our economy. If the price point of a new invention fails to meet that of existing technologies, it’ll soon run out of gas.
The 19th century electronics revolution ushered in by the telegraph, radio, and the telephone morphed into the fantastic array of communication and computing devices available today. In my lifetime, I’ve experienced incredible technology milestones:
- The late 60s: The moon shots
- The 70s: Consumer calculators/8-track and cassette tapes/cable TV/pagers/mobile/car phones
- The 80s: Personal computers/arcade games/VHS versus BETA/CDs
- The 90s: The World Wide Web/e-mail for everybody/cell phones/laptops/PDAs/global video conferencing
- The 00s: MP3 players/DVDs/cell phones/HDTV/smartphones/fantastic game consoles
- The 10s: Self-parking and, soon, self-driving cars/learning thermostats/wearable devices/…
And these ignore advances in medical devices, industrial developments, or the Mars rover!
Looking at the list above, I separate devices into two main categories:
- General Information Appliances: PC’s/laptops/tablets/smartphones – any device that gives the user the capability to receive information from the Internet and store it locally, usually with a high resolution display and text interface.
- Specific Information Appliances: These devices are typically standalone, specific-function devices with little, if any user interface, yet still require some CPU-based device to derive their function.
What innovation would you like to bring to life?
The Connectivity Challenge
We are on the cusp of a ground swell of technological change, adding connectivity to specific information appliances to make them even more useful. Examples existing today:
- DVD players with the ability to wirelessly stream content
- Self-learning thermostats connected to cloud services
- Game consoles with the ability to act on voice commands
- Phablets that connect via Wi-Fi or cellular radio
This connectivity to everyday devices is rapidly becoming a reality, and it has become personal. It is something every development engineer at the Hackathon can experience, experiment with, and create.
This hackathon is about the connected car and home. I challenge you to scan your home and search out everyday devices that aren’t connected…yet. Some examples in my house: Appliances – the washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, cook top, oven, clocks, toothbrushes, home security system, smoke alarms, C02 detectors, hot water heater.
What about health and fitness appliances? Scales, workout equipment, glucometers, thermometers, devices to measure stress and record it throughout your day, shoes (how many miles have you logged and when should the heels or soles be replaced?).
For the car, where some connectivity exists, look for areas where it’d be useful to have additional information: Fuel level sent to your smartphone, speed-limit alert beacons for roadside construction, maintenance reminders sent to your e-mail or phone, appliances that adjust the user experience for your personal settings in your car. Is it me or have car consoles today become as hard to program as VCRs? You should know that I prefer push buttons and knobs – make it simple, stupid!
One of the major challenges for connected devices is simple configuration to the wireless system: Think – how do I get my C02 detector connected to my wireless router without a display and keypad interface? Once connected, data collection and control of the device is easy through cloud services or a smartphone app. The Hackathon is an excellent way to explore and try new ideas.
All of the above is possible in the near future. Just remember Kelly’s rule of thumb: “Better, or cheaper, or both.” With your imagination, sweat and elbow grease, you too can deliver the next biggest little thing.