Tag Archives: San Jose Mercury News

Is IoT the next industrial revolution?

Writing for the San Jose Mercury News, Steve Johnson notes that billions of ordinary items — ranging from factory equipment to prescription-drug bottles — are being fitted with microcontrollers and linked to the Internet.

“By outfitting the globe with billions of connected gadgets, experts foresee a world in which more elderly people survive once-life-threatening accidents, since doctors and emergency responders will be alerted the moment their patients fall,” Johnson explains. 

“[In addition], fewer planes will crash, because every part on every aircraft will be electronically monitored so they can be quickly replaced at the slightest sign of failure. Wines will [also] get better since vineyard operators will know precisely when their grapes have the perfect sugar concentrations for picking.”

Microchips implanted in dairy cows could help production, a potential innovation that would be part of the IoT. (Tony C. French/Digital Vision via Getty Images)

According to Cisco, at least 10 billion devices (many of them phones) are already linked to the Internet. These include smart cars, “intelligent” pill-bottle caps and advanced connected thermostats. 

In addition, says Johnson, cows in England are being connected to the Internet to track their grazing habits, while thousands of smart trash cans allow waste-management officials to remotely check how full each container is in real-time.

Unsurprisingly, a recent General Electric (GE) study recently concluded that the Internet of Things could add as much as $15 trillion to global GDP over the next 20 years. 

Describing the trend as “much like the Industrial Revolution” of the 18th and 19th centuries, GE confirms the world is at “the cusp of another wave of innovation that promises to change the way we do business and interact with the world of industrial machines.”

Every facet of society, says Johnson, is expected to be transformed by the Internet of Things.

“[This includes] our ability to better protect the environment, boost farm production and get early warnings of structural weaknesses in bridges and dams to enabling people to remotely control their lights, sprinkler systems, washing machines and scores of other gadgets at home,” he added.

Going beyond wearable tech

37-year-old Amal Graafstra doesn’t use a key, fob or password to access his car, home and PC. Rather, Graafstra simply waves his hands which are implanted with a number of RFID chips.

Implantable technology proponent Amal Graafstra of Seattle demonstrates how one of the doors to his home can be unlocked by passing either of his hands past a sensor which reads the signal from an implanted RFID chip. (Courtesy of Amal Graafstra)

“In the next 10 to 20 years we will see rapid development in bioengineered and man-machine interfaces,” Graafstra told Steve Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News. “The trend is going to push the boundaries of what it means to be human.”

As Johnson reports, the current trend to outfit people with electronic devices that can be swallowed, implanted in their bodies or attached to the skin via “smart tattoos” will likely revolutionize health care and change the way individuals interact with devices and one another. 

Although critics have labeled the trend intrusive, advocates say it will ultimately help make life better for everyone. Indeed, some researchers envision a day when devices placed in people will enable them to control computers, prosthetic devices and many other items solely with their thoughts.

 Unsurprisingly, Bay Area companies have expressed significant interest in implantable tech.

This X-ray depicts the hands of Amal Graafstra, founder of Dangerous Things. He has had two radio frequency identifier inplants in his hands which he uses to unlock his car, computer and door to his Seattle home. (Courtesy of Amal Graafstra)

For example, Google’s Motorola Mobility filed a patent application in November that proposed an “electronic skin tattoo” for the throat – with a built-in microphone, battery and wireless transceiver – that would allow users to operate various devices via voice commands.

“Eventually you’ll have an implant, where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer,” Google CEO Larry Page was quoted as saying in 2011. 

Similar research is being conducted elsewhere, including UC Berkeley where scientists proposed implanting people’s brains with thousands of tiny sensors dubbed “neural dust” tasked with gathering detailed. Eventually, says lead researcher Dongjin Seo, the electronic swarms may be capable of controlling devices via thought or stimulating malfunctioning brain regions to restore limb motor control for paralyzed patients.

Stanford doctors have already gone a step further by implanting the brain of a Parkinson’s disease sufferer with a new device that gathers detailed data on the “neural signatures” of his illness. Ultimately, scientists hope the information can be used to create a new device to  ease Parkinson’s symptoms with electrical impulses that automatically adjust to patient activity.

The full text of Steve Johnson’s article, titled “Computerizing people may be next step in tech,” can be read on the San Jose Mercury News here.