The IoP (Internet of Plants)
As an avid gardener, few things fill me with as much joy as the baskets of produce starting to come in from the yard this time of year. Or, in Leslie’s case, to see her massive wildflower jungle come into bloom on a schedule that makes sure her honeybees are rolling in nectar and pollen from the earliest in Spring (croci), to the latest in Fall (sedum.)
Gadgets are right up there, for both of us, though. And lucky for us, the Internet of Things (IoT) is sending runners into the garden everywhere we look.
For the past couple years, we’ve been ogling plant sensors like Parrot’s Flower Power ($60) – a little WiFi-enabled twig that uses a database to determine whether your plants are getting enough moisture, sunlight, etc. and then sends text notifications to let you know that the raspberries are thirsty and the shade plants are getting too much sun.
These sensors are novel, and might well be a very useful tool for the new (wealthy! – see $60 apiece) gardener trying to figure out what conditions each plant needs to thrive. But I can tell when my tomatoes aren’t happy; I don’t need a text to remind me that they need water. What I do need is something that will take the guesswork out of my watering schedule and ensure that every plant gets exactly what it needs. I find watering to be the most difficult and frustrating part of my garden; even with soakers on an automatic timer there’s a lot of wasted water and time spent manually fine-tuning the watering schedule. For instance, shutting off valves between soakers every other day to ensure that the raspberries get enough water and the tomatoes don’t get too much (and then forgetting to turn the tomatoes back on until they start pouting). I need a system that will automatically water each plant in response to what’s happening in the skies and below the soil.
Fortunately, garden gadgets are heading in exactly that direction. Another system, PlantLink ($79 for the system; $35 for each additional sensor), provides fewer metrics than Flower Power but works with optional smart valves ($65 each) for automatic irrigation control , adjusting the watering schedule on the fly in response to the current conditions and each plant’s specific needs.
If lawns are your thing, there are also a handful of other companies offering connected sprinkler systems (Rachio, GreenIQ) that offer smartphone control, and which also change your watering schedule in response to the weather.
But lately our eyes are on Edyn, a smart garden system that just achieved 300% of its Kickstarter goal (expected to start shipping in Spring 2015). Edyn’s smart garden system ($150 for each sensor/valve combo) consists of soil sensors and water valves designed by Yves Behar’s fuseproject – designers of FanTV (the sleek little set-top box coming soon to Time Warner Cable subscribers) and our beloved Jambox speaker.
Edyn combines the best features of the other garden gadgets – smart sensors that track moisture and nutrients in the soil and sun exposure, coupled with information from weather, plant, and soil science databases. Edyn uses these factors to adapt the watering schedule for each of your plant varieties, and smart valves automatically open or close in response to the real-time water needs of your garden (or the touch of a button on your smartphone). The system also sends you text messages to let you know that the tomatoes need fertilizer, or that it skipped watering today because it’s about to rain, etc.
While I don’t really like the part about being inundated by text messages (hopefully there’s a way to change alert settings), the premise of Edyn is really exciting stuff for any hobby gardener or small-scale farmer. If I can leave the watering to the cloud(s), my time can be spent on more satisfying work, like harvesting tomatoes and pulling bindweed.
Which brings me to a final question: How long until we see a pattern-matching robot that will seek out and destroy weeds and common pests, like a Roomba for the garden? Sign us up for that Kickstarter.
From OTT to IOT
Just as our focus in the lab is expanding from OTT-only to include gadgets outside the living room, so are many of the majors in the OTT world busily branching out into the Internet of Things (IOT). Let’s have a look.
For the past few years, the leadup to every Apple announcement always includes plenty of hype about Apple TV – a hardware update to the streaming player is always predicted, but never shows up.
That held true at Apple’s recent World Wide Developers Conference (handily abbreviated “the WWDC”), where there was once again no new TV-related hardware. Instead, a number of new developments on the IOT front:
Along with iOS 8 Apple is releasing HomeKit, software that runs on an iPhone or iPad and controls lights, security cameras, thermostats, garage doors – pretty standard connected home stuff. Apple has a certification program for hardware partners, and is already working with a bunch of companies, including TI, Honeywell, and Marvell.
HomeKit hardware partners
HomeKit will be controlled by Siri, so you can say something like “Siri, get ready for bed” and it will dim the lights for you. I don’t have much hope for that at this point, but maybe Siri will get a lot better with iOS 8. Speaking as someone who spent several minutes this morning trying in vain to get Siri to understand an address and give me directions, I sure hope so.
Perhaps more exciting: Apple is developing a framework called HealthKit in partnership with the Mayo Clinic and Nike, which pulls in data from 3rd-party apps to keep tabs on health metrics, over time, and allows clinicians to easily access information from your health apps. We don’t have much information yet, and clearly there are a lot of questions to be answered about security, but it’s exciting to see big companies getting involved in modernizing healthcare (more on that in a future post.)
In April, Samsung released the “Gear Fit,” a smartwatch with a pedometer baked in, to lukewarm reviews – apparently Samsung’s custom software leaves quite a bit to be desired.
Then, on May 28, Samsung announced the Simband — a wearable prototype that measures key vital signs like heart rate, heart rate regularity, skin temperature, oxygen levels and carbon dioxide levels – impressive, but not an actual product, yet.
Samsung also introduced SAMI (Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Applications), an open software platform for wearables and sensor technology. We like the potential of an open platform, and the health applications are potentially exciting, but we’re not sure Samsung will be the one to ultimately succeed (our own experiences with their devices could be a post all on their own.)
Back in March, Google announced its Android Wear initiative, extending its Android operating system to cover wearables (early arrivals to the market include smart watches from Motorola and LG; Samsung’s early Gear smartwatches used Android Wear as well). The Android Wear SDK is currently in Developer Preview, to be officially launched later this year.
And in other areas of the home, there are persistent rumors of Google subsidiary Nest (the gorgeous, automated thermostat) buying Dropcam, makers of the $150 WiFi security camera. What, you don’t want Google recording the goings-on in your home? They’re already reading our email, after all…
With all these gadgets and sensors in our homes and on our bodies, security is obviously a big concern — and there are currently some gaping holes that need to be filled. We’ll keep a close eye on what each of these massive companies does (or doesn’t do) to protect our data, in addition to how well the products actually work.
Read This Quickly, While We Humans Still Dominate The Internet
By now you’ve heard the hullaballoo around “machine to machine” computing, abbreviated “M2M.” And “the Internet of Things,” or IOT. And “the Internet of Everything,” or “IOE.”
Each characterizes how we’re attaching sensors and controllers to our physical stuff, for access and manipulation from somewhere else: Webcam-watching what’s going on at home. Lowering the heat from work, because you forgot to do it before you walked out the door.
The human math of this “connected everything” world is about to get interesting – or scary, depending on your outlook. Think about it: Seven billion people on the planet. About a third of us (according to an article in United Airline’s in-flight magazine last week) are equipped to use the Internet. That’s about 2.3 billion of us.
Here’s the question: At what point are more sensor-equipped things connecting to the Internet than people? My best guess at an answer: Soon. Maybe even very soon.
Let’s start by eliminating the computing things that connect to the Internet: PCs, laptops, tablets, mobile devices. The “thing” part of the IOT generally means something not originally intended to communicate with anything. Doors. Windows. Furnaces. Dog collars. Coffee machines.
The people who track M2M, IOT and the IOE (Cisco, Machina Research, Zigbee, others) say that already, about 2 billion (non-compute) things are taking regular sips of Internet, to send and receive information about their status.
Two billion devices, 2.3 billion people. See what I mean?
Then factor in efforts like Google Loon, which seeks to connect the unconnected parts of the planet, using balloons. Here’s a description directly from Google:
“Project Loon floats balloons in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and weather. They’re carried around the Earth by winds, and can be steered by rising or descending … people connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna, connected to a building.”
Google Loon could keep humans slightly ahead of machines, when it comes to Internet connectivity. But we’re still in a unique sliver of time, right here, right now, where we humans are still the majority.
As someone who studies bandwidth trends, I can’t help but wonder what M2M, IOT, and the IOE will do to the quality and availability of our (human) Internet connectivity. Picture it: All of our digital bits, running like a river, in one direction or the other, over the Big Internet.
On top of that, billions of chatty machines, taking a sip here, a sip there. In RF (radio frequency) terms, it seems kind of like “shot noise” – little spikes of electric charges. Billions of them. In the river analogy, showers of pebbles, relentlessly hitting the flow.
This is where the distinction that is the “managed” network comes into play, of course. The “Big Internet” is unmanaged. Service provider networks are, by design, managed.
So we’ve got that going for us…
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.