The Internet of Things is a concept that is often tied to a vision of the future, mid- and long-term horizons, reflections on what can be achieved and an infinity of possibilities that can open up in a moment that never quite seems to arrive. There are many high expectations attached to this concept, leading, inevitably, to skepticism on the part of those who do not see the returns that they had in mind or, worse yet, of those who were never excited about it and gave up with a simple “Why would I want the internet in my fridge?”.
When a concept or a paradigm such as the Internet of Things appears on the scene, it is difficult to predict which path technological evolution will take, what applications will be truly relevant and which specific function will cause a complete revolution. It is enough just to look back a couple of decades, to the 90s. The Internet began to enter homes on a massive scale and was no longer reserved for such environments as business, the military or research. “But what is the Internet for?” was a recurring doubt in those days. Back then, explanations centered on e-mail, virtual museum visits and something truly futuristic: the videoconference. While the portals of the Internet grew like weeds, uniting every kind of service on its main pages, Google acted as the only and almost humble search engine. At the same time as this unprecedented technological bubble was swelling (and later burst), the cement was laid for one of the greatest empires of the network. Who could imagine it? In the naïve version of the Internet of the 90s, there was no place for selfies, tweets or vloggers, and tagging a picture meant writing some reference about it on the back of a 10×15 print. Yes, pictures were made of paper and a telephone with a camera included sounded like some invention out of Mort and Phil.
The Internet of Things did not get left behind. Mentioning disappointment with the internet in our fridges earlier was not an arbitrary thought. Years and nearly decades have passed and it is still not uncommon to find a refrigerator with Internet access at the technological fairs typically attended by these appliance manufacturers, as if they are fulfilling a promise they had made to someone who had a futuristic vision of such a thing during the rise (and fall) of the dotcoms. I’m not saying that an appliance such as a fridge has no place in the Internet of Things. Just the opposite, in fact. But now that it is possible to purchase things without even getting off the sofa or using a computer, having web access on the door of your fridge has no real value.
When we talk about the Internet of Things, we are not talking about bringing internet access to daily objects, which seems to belong to the innocent and somewhat cyberpunk vision of the technological world of the 90s, but rather the idea of connecting daily objects to the internet in order to profit from the many possibilities that this form of nearly instant communication can provide between various systems and elements. This is possible in large part thanks to the significant improvement in communications networks and storage and processing systems, as well as the huge evolution and sensible reduction in size of the technology providing the necessary connectivity to any device.
Thanks to technological advances, a fridge can be connected to the Internet and can send information on how it is working, allowing for the detection of patterns in its variables that may reveal some future failing, alerting the owner to get it repaired before a costly failure that could ruin all of the food inside or even just cause a disproportionate consumption of electricity. A timely warning can change everything. Perhaps a use case like this one in a space dedicated to one of the technological fairs previously mentioned does not get covered on TV or in newspaper articles as it is not really very visually appealing nor does it come with a demonstration full of lights and colors, but it converts the association between fridge and Internet into something reasonable and even desirable, into something useful.
In order to carry out the preventive maintenance of this fridge, it is necessary to collect a large quantity of data on the functioning of similar fridges, with a deep enough history to reach reliable conclusions and make valid predictions. This means bringing to the table one of the key aspects of the Internet of Things: data. All connected devices generate data. A lot of data. Some even collect too much data to be stored and processed indiscriminately. It is necessary to be selective. This presents a new challenge for the world of Big Data. Perhaps it is unnecessary to store all that data on temperature or the rate at which the compressor turns every second. Taking a measurement every hour or in the context of certain events (such as the opening of the fridge door and the few moments afterward) can be much more efficient at providing the necessary information.
This integration with Big Data, in its turn, demonstrates how the Internet of Things can maximize its potential through integration with other technologies. Cloud platforms take center stage when it comes to facilitating the development of use cases because of the moderate cost incurred by the implementation of a complete technological platform, if necessary. The manufacturer of the fridge does not need to make a costly investment in a data-dedicated center in order to offer their preventive maintenance service.
However, this can go beyond just preventive maintenance. The fridge can integrate a reader capable of identifying which foods are found inside the refrigerator (if they are labeled with RFID, for example), allowing the owner to know at all times what they have in their fridge and even in what conditions. Of course we could (and will be able to… and can, in fact) do our personal shopping automatically based on our consumer patterns. But isn’t it also wonderful to think of being able to find out while you are standing in the supermarket whether or not you have a certain item at home in the fridge? In the end, the Internet also tried to bring all of the world’s museums into our homes in the 90s, but seeing a work of art in person is not at all the same as looking at it on a computer screen. We will continue going to the supermarket even though a fast delivery service for food and other products, arriving at home in under two hours and ordered from our mobile phones, may sometimes seem like the best invention ever.
The Internet of Things (at least in the short-term) is not going to bring us into a world of science fiction, full of screens and holograms, but it can make our daily lives much safer, more comfortable, more efficient and even more intelligent. All of this is more than enough to convince a skeptic that, after all, it’s not such an absurd idea to include internet with fridges and to not just be excited about the future and what is to come, but to be excited about the possibilities offered today. There is no excuse, IoT is already a reality.