The Internet of Things arrives in the Hubble household

We bought a baby monitor. It’s the sort of thing you never thought you’d use, until you needed it.

The aim of the game was to allow us to make noise after baby bedtime at 7:30pm. Which can be a lot of noise as I defeat the in-laws at Skip-Bo – an updated version of the Uno card game.

So this requires several closed doors between us and the sleeping baby. But those doors stop us from hearing whether the newborn has woken up, which is a no-no.

As I write this, one of those doors has magically opened itself thanks to the draft. Whoever built our flat managed to fit most of the doors so that the latches don’t go into their housings. Any door can be opened by even the feeblest of ghosts.

But back to the baby monitor. We bought one for less than a third of what our former parental class colleagues chose. It was delivered by Amazon the next day. And it is proving to be rather impressive, so far.

The camera switches to night vision automatically. It is connected to our smartphones instead of having to mess about with any additional device. And it sends us alerts based on the baby’s motions and noises. We get a recorded video of any snuffling and face rubbing.

But here’s the kicker. If some sort of monster crawls out from under the bed and peeks up over the cot’s mattress, the camera swivels to face it, allowing us to capture the evidence. So far it has only caught my wife, but there you go.

Anyway, this little device has dramatically improved our lives. We can behave like normal human beings after 7:30pm each evening now.

If only there was a corresponding device to fix the 4:30am wake up times. But it seems that blinds which actually block out the light are not yet available in the UK.

Now imagine a future where such devices are omnipresent, omniscient and almost omnipotent. Where everything is linked up and capable of doing what you want it to, without you having to tell it to do so.

Not only do the blinds block out the light, but they rise and fall when you want them to, for example.

At risk of offending you, think about it like this…

For better or worse, a lot of your prayers would be answered by technology, sort of. Saying out loud “I wish I hadn’t forgotten to buy basil” would make basil appear in your garden. “I need to defrost the freezer” would make the freezer defrost itself. “Does my baby daughter have a fever?” Her clothing will tell you before you even think of the possibility. Want a burger and soft drink before you tee off at hole number 9? That service is under development already by a company called Flytrex.

No doubt this is a concerning vision of the future. Instant gratification can be a dangerous thing. As Garth Brooks would say, “Sometimes I thank God, for unanswered prayers.”

But if I can get used to the idea of having a camera in my bedroom, which uses the internet to send its data to whoever has the right logins, passwords and QR code, then perhaps we can all get used to other devices having the same connectivity.

For the record, our baby-monitoring camera discreetly reverses itself by looking up into its socket when it’s turned off. But it’s still an odd feeling having an online-operated camera in the room…

Anyway, as of last year, the only thing holding us back from the future we just imagined is our reluctance. The infrastructure to connect every device in our house is now up and running. In some places…

If you want a fridge which reorders your beer to be flown in by drone when stocks are running low, it’s now possible. The world just needs to catch up to technology.

And in one place, it hasn’t just caught up. A drone hotel is set to open in Guangzhou, China. The idea is to integrate as much drone tech as possible into your stay.

Excursions and transport will take place via drone. As will deliveries of stuff. And the entertainment, such as light shows, will be drone based too.

These drones will be UAVs – unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Financial Times recently profiled how the Covid-19 crisis jolted the drone industry into the future:

“The drone revolution was maybe going to happen in one year, two years, three years from now, but it has suddenly been brought to the top of the agenda,” adds Mr Le Lann.

EVA’s sudden expansion is just one example of how coronavirus is serving as a catalyst for deploying drones in new ways. Police in the US, UK, France and Italy are equipping unmanned aircraft with loudspeakers to enforce social distancing or communicate with the homeless.

Hospitals are transferring medical equipment and test kits to one another via unmanned flight. Designers are promoting drones with virus-zapping ultraviolet lights attached that can hover over and disinfect public spaces. Car dealers in China are even taking online orders and then delivering keys to the balconies of new buyers.

So drones are spreading. As are all sorts of other devices which use the internet.

But that’s a lot of information buzzing through the air. How do you sort it? How do you avoid a traffic jam of information? How do you ensure it’s fast and reliable enough?

That’s what 5G is all about. And not just for drones, of course. They’re just an “in your face” example. Soon they’ll be competing with my baby monitor and your flying pizza for space on the wireless spectrum.

Nick Hubble
Editor, Southbank Investment Research

Category: Robotics

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