Billions of personal devices, millions of sensors, countless apps. Smart products that collect and use data to supposedly make our lives easier. Cars that fix themselves. Refrigerators that update our shopping lists, smart irrigation systems that deliver water only to those areas that are dry.
The Internet of Things is upon us. But how much of this promised technology will prove truly useful in our daily lives? And how much of it is just wishful thinking?
Here’s a look at five very cool, very smart products I believe actually do make the daily grind a bit more pleasant.
Smart parking. Let’s face it, parking will put even the most even-keeled person in a crabby, frantic mood. In San Francisco, the SFpark pilot project uses sensors for 7,000 of the city’s 28,000 meters to let drivers determine via their smart devices whether a particular spot on the street (or in a parking garage) is occupied or vacant.
The sensors’ data can also be used to adjust parking prices – using higher rates to create faster turnover on busy blocks and lower prices to draw drivers to areas with underused spaces. Of course, this also leaves you wide open to a parking ticket as the technology can send information to the parking enforcement officer when a car has over stayed its allotted time.
Smart teeth cleaning. Brushing teeth is not as simple as it seems. Brush too hard and gums can be damaged. Brush too softly and the effort is ineffective. Dental hygiene company Oral-B recently launched the SmartSeries electric toothbrush that links to a smartphone app via Bluetooth to help make that daily scrub of your pearly whites more effective. And if your brushing is less than exceptional, expect a message on your phone with instructions on how to do better next time.
Smart lawn mowing. If you would rather be doing anything other than mowing your lawn on a beautiful weekend day, then the John Deere Tango or the Honda Miimo might be for you. Robotic lawn-mowing machines can be programmed to adjust for terrain, weather, and pattern preference. Sensors scan surroundings and the mowers will turn around or shut down if obstacles are detected. Some machines will even send a text to your phone if they sense an unknown obstacle (think neighbor’s dog) during the grass cutting process.
Smart backpacks. School field trips. Large groups of small children running in all directions. A nightmare. But now smart tracking devices (as simple as a wrist band, a device placed in a backpack, or pinned to a shirt) enable parents, chaperones and bus drivers to make certain every child is where they should be. If anything unusual occurs— maybe the child decides to explore on their own, or gets separated from the group—the positioning system sends an immediate alert to both the child and the adult.
Smart medicine. Diabetes is a tricky disease to monitor. Activity levels, diet, and even body temperature can have a significant impact to glucose levels. Google has developed a lens made of soft contact material that could help diabetes patients keep track of glucose levels without the daily finger-pricking blood tests.
The lens is actually a tiny wireless computer chip that contains a glucose sensor and an antenna that’s thinner than a strand of hair. The lens is powered by tapping into radio waves and designed to send data to a smartphone or other device, allowing both the consumer and physician better management of glucose levels.
None of these options are inexpensive, so expect to pay – at least for now. Like any new technology or product it will take time for the cost to become reasonable for the average consumer.
Image courtesy of Honda