The Future – A Story from the Year 2020

There are many advantages in an IoT (Internet of Things) Home. One of them is the drastic reduction of unnecessary noises. The sounds of the doorbell, the kitchen appliance timer, the telephone ring, even the smartphone ringtone, have all been banished from my home. Instead, any time my attention is needed for something, I get soft, slowly pulsating lights that bring it to my awareness. This is all courtesy of the IoT Lights that dot the ceiling in a grid pattern throughout the house.

This is something I appreciate especially when listening to music. I cannot imagine how people used to tolerate having their Beethoven symphony rudely interrupted with harsh sounds from unexpected sources. I also appreciate the many other benefits of IoT Lights, such as the way its illumination follows me wherever I go, making sure I have sufficient light no matter where I happen to be, while conserving energy in the other, unused parts of the house by keeping the LEDs there turned off.

I am expecting a visit from a colleague today, so when I notice the IoT Lights pulsating by the front door, I know he has arrived. “Okay IoT,” I say, “show me the visitor.”

I have IoT Displays set strategically in the walls throughout the house, as well as some IoT Mini Projectors that can project information onto normally blank walls. Advanced image processing, facial recognition algorithms coupled with cameras throughout my house all ensure that IoT Home knows where my eyesight is directed at all times, much like a Samsung Galaxy phone tracking my gaze. When I tell IoT to show me something, it intelligently selects the nearest available displays, which are usually close to me, within my field of vision, or both. Other IoT Displays continue to remain blank or display programmed content — in my case, the great works of Impressionist masters. IoT Displays in unused rooms remain off, just like the lights.

Presently, I see that my friend Robert is at the door, so I exchange greetings with him via the audio / video hookup, and ask IoT Home to let him in. Our purpose is to do some brainstorming on our next IoT project. We know we can do it via video conferencing, but we also know that we can be much more creative when we interact in person. That probably means we’re both too old for the rapid advances of modern technology.

“Mind if I borrow your bathroom?” Robert asks as he enters the house.

“Of course,” I reply, realizing that it is his first visit, so he does not know the layout of the house. “Okay IoT, show directions to bathroom.”

Overhead, IoT Lights in a straight line go on and off sequentially, like the runway lights of an airport. They help Robert find his way to the bathroom easily. When he’s done, the lights direct him back to the living room.

We settle down in the comfortable sofas, drinks in hand. We agree to have IoT Home record our discussion so we can relax and rattle off whatever ideas come to mind. If at any point we want to go off topic or go off record, we can simply tell IoT Home to pause recording or stop altogether. IoT Home respects Robert’s privacy, so nothing about him will be recorded without his knowledge and consent.

I take the initiative to kick things off: “So, as you and I spoke of previously, we both see tremendous potential in online maps as a starting point.”

“Yes,” Robert says. “They are extremely popular and very useful, but there is a lot more we can do with it. The simplest example I can think of is that we can have it show a lot more info than driving directions and current traffic. At the bare-bones minimum, we should also have it show local time and current weather conditions.”

“Got it. When clicked on, the current weather condition can expand into weather forecast,” I suggest. “This will help people plan for an event somewhere without needing to open another browser tab to see the likely condition at a particular location on the day of the trip.”

“Good idea, but that is still the old paradigm — the same one we had even before the likes of Google Maps or Bing Maps. The IoT initiative will have much more emphasis on real-time information as well as different kinds of information. For example, the event I’m planning may be as simple as me taking my kids to the park this afternoon. In that scenario, it would be useful to me to see how things look in my area, and not just the weather. I would also like to find out about humidity and air quality. My son has asthma, so this is actually very important to me.”

“I see where you’re going,” I nod in agreement. “Another similar example is that if I’m thinking about doing some surfing today, I may want to know how conditions look right now. If there are surf cams for my favorite beaches, I would want to look at them. It would be a natural and smooth interaction if I can go directly from a web-based map to a street-level view by the ocean to the surf cams, or from the web-based map to the cams directly.”

“Yes, there is a lot we can do to integrate real-time video intelligently and strategically into online maps, but let’s stay with IoT for the moment. There’s already inexpensive sensors out there, such as the Smart Citizen, or Twine from Supermechanical, that can collect environmental information in real time: temperature, light level, noise level, humidity, air quality, etc. All we need to do is collect this information via API and make it available as layer that can be turned on or off in an online map.”

“We can help with that,” I offer. “My company has the API development experience to take this idea and create an application. This application will work with the collected environmental data, and display it in various ways on a map as a proof of concept. With sufficient data gathered over time, we can even show time-based variations or trends, to assist with emission regulations, urban planning, promotion of public transportation or carpooling, encourage the use of hybrid or electric vehicles, and so on.”

Robert considers this thoughtfully: “How do you propose to deploy these devices all around the city?”

“We can start out with an initial seeding deployment of a hundred units, just to have meaningful data to show on a map. After that, we can crowd-source it and let the movement generate its own momentum. For instance, perhaps your company can provide some sort of incentive as a stimulus for participation…”

We explore the ideas a bit further, and then circle back to the topic of integration of real-time video elements into online maps.

“Let’s say I am heading out for dinner with my wife, and we pull up a map of the local area to help us pick a restaurant.” I call up a map showing my city. It appears on several IoT Displays nearest to us, and then zoom in to our immediate vicinity, following my hand gestures. These gestures are not so different from using one’s fingers on a smartphone or tablet, except I can do it in the air and trust IoT Home’s Kinect-like ability to interpret my gestures accurately.

“We select the kind of restaurant we like, and we look at the review ratings to narrow our choices down to a handful.” Following my narrative, the online map now shows five restaurants not too far away. “We want a romantic place, so we zoom further to the street level to see what it looks like. Normally we would finalize a choice at this point… but what if we can go further?

“Suppose I look at the restaurants and I see that some of them have a public webcam that I can look through, or a public video conferencing contact for making reservations. Each offers extra value to us in helping us pick out a nice place, and each one can be a source of advertising revenue for your company.

“I look at one the webcams and see the tastefully decorated foyer of the restaurant. I look at the daily special advertised by the restaurant, and then connect via video conferencing to ask questions, and eventually make a reservation.”

“There may be privacy concerns with this scenario, whenever webcams are involved,” Robert points out.

“We can address it the same way we do today. Private individuals who wander into the webcam’s field of view will have their faces blurred, similar to how it is done now in Google Street View, except it’s all real-time processing and the blurring follows the face even when it is in motion.”

Our discussion continues for another hour as we ponder the many implications of this technology. Then, Robert goes back to his office, intending to start developing the technical aspects of the ideas. He knows that the transcribed notes from our discussions will be waiting for him by the time he reaches his office and sits down at his workstation.