IoT: Not just smart fridges

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term that has been bandied about for some time now, but lots of people still have no idea what it means or, at best, think it has something to do with fridges re-ordering food you're running low on. Actually, this was the answer I got from my girlfriend when I asked her about IoT. She was also rather sceptical about the whole concept, since the fridge wouldn't know her plans for the week (in/out, entertaining, etc.) nor whether she actually wanted any more of that product.

“It could send me a list by text, I suppose,” she suggested doubtfully, “but I wouldn't want it re-ordering stuff I didn't like or buying more milk just before I go on holiday.”

And therein lies part of the problem. People struggle to see how IoT would really work in their lives and many IoT “solutions” seem to be solving problems that don't actually exist. All of which has sadly made it hard for the public (and the press) to take the topic seriously. Furthermore, people think that it must all be very difficult and so they shy away from trying to create IoT solutions themselves or in the classroom.

However, the Internet of Things is so much more than smart fridges (and even they are rather cleverer than their press would suggest). In essence, IoT is when any everyday object has Internet connectivity, which allows it to send and receive data. So, a plant pot that sends you a text when your plant needs watering, or a house alarm that sends you an email when someone enters your home. It's about building useful, connected devices that make everyday life easier.

IoT is expected to just keep growing, with an estimated 25 billion IoT devices to be in use by 2020. So the big question is: where will we find the expertise to design and create all of these new tools, when we don't have enough computer science and engineering graduates to meet existing demand for their skills?

When trying to predict the future, I think it's useful to look at history. If we go back 20 years, only experts created websites. Nowadays, most people create their own, thanks to platforms, such as Wordpress, which allow users to customise their websites to fit their needs perfectly. These platforms were a success, because they made the process much simpler by removing the need to install tools or configure a server; users could simply be guided step by step in their web browser.

If we really want to achieve the IoT vision of smart, connected cities and homes, we need to encourage and empower young people to realise that they can similarly contribute to the Internet of Things today and help shape their digital future. Designing the products for tomorrow doesn't need lots of fancy equipment; you can get started with a CodeBug!

Indeed, at a CodeBug workshop last year, one attendee created a prototype IoT application that warned if a child safety gate was left open - a problem familiar to his family. This powerful example shows how CodeBug brings innovation into the hands of everyone; inspiring a complete beginner to create a device to solve his own need, which could even be commercialised into a new product (with the help of a professional embedded engineer or two).

As with web-developers, there will still be a need for professional engineers and technologists to turn ideas into robust, reliable, well-engineered products. That's why we've created the more powerful, Internet-connected CodeBug Colour - to give secondary school pupils (and others) an easy-to-use device that helps them learn more about coding and electronics and can be used as a basis for developing IoT products. And hopefully, inspire some of the people who will be making 25 billion IoT devices a reality.

Just to finish...shortly after our discussion on IoT, my girlfriend let out an exasperated sigh in the kitchen...she'd run out of washing powder.

“I doubt you can design a 'clever cupboard', which knows what I need, though,” she challenged sweetly, “but maybe you can make a device that I can yell 'need washing powder' at and then when it detects me entering a supermarket, it can yell my reminders back at me, so that I don't forget things.”

Although I probably wouldn't go about designing it quite like that, it seems that there is perhaps room in her life for an IoT solution after all!

If you're interested in learning to create your own IoT devices, why not back our latest kickstarter campaign to get an ESP32-powered CodeBug Colour (with built-in wifi and bluetooth) at a special kickstarter offer price?