If you thought Google already had enough of a presence in your life, you might want to think again. As they have now expanded past your computer and smartphone into your home, having last week bought smart thermostat company ‘Nest’ for an astonishing $3.2 billion. An expensive move by Google for a hardware firm still in the early stages of development, but also a strategic one, as Google has firmly staked its claim in ‘The Thingternet’ or ‘The Internet of Things’.
So what is Nest?
Nest is a thermostat that learns your habits and optimises the temperature of your home to suit you, saving you time, energy and money. It can be controlled remotely though a smartphone app, which gives you updates on the thermostat’s battery power and emergency alerts.
Along with the thermostat, Nest have also built a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm ‘Nest Protect’ that can distinguish between burnt toast and a real fire hazard, great for those of us who have overenthusiastic toasters. Nest’s smoke alarm is also connected to your smartphone and tablet, messaging you if the smoke alarm goes off and warning you long before your batteries run out.
Welcome to the smart home of the future.
But what’s ‘The Thingternet’ then?
Nest is an example of ‘The Internet of Things’ or ‘Thingternet’, a combination of the physical world and the virtual world. Smart chips attached to any every day object such as machines, buildings, appliances or cars that talk to each other. These sensors are now capable of sharing localised information, working with each other and ultimately working more efficiently.
The Thingternet will allow us to…
Connect with things and learn about objects in a completely new way.
Monitor things such as health, allowing easier access to healthcare.
Search for things – from our keys to your phone and even children!
Manage things better. Where is energy flowing? How is the traffic moving? How can we manage resources better?
Control things. Your thermostat, your washing machine, your television.
Play with things. Your environment can become part of your favorite game.
‘The savings for society, the interested parties claimed, would be incalculable. The ability to locate anything, anywhere, anytime would lower crime, cut inventory, reduce road accidents, save energy, eliminate waste.’ – The Economist
Sounds great, what’s the catch?
The potential impact of ‘The Thingternet’ on our lives and society is immense. While technologists praise it as a step towards a better, more efficient world, scholars and social observers have raised doubts and fears about this smart home of the future.
The risk of hacking and security is a major issue, and cyber attacks such as this one that took place last week could become an increasingly physical threat as criminals potentially have easier access to all of your data. And what does this mean for privacy and targeted advertising?
The Internet of Things is certainly vulnerable and there’s no doubt that we should approach it with caution. But with Google splashing out $3.2 billion on Nest, I’m hoping they’ve got some secure answers up their sleeve.
- The Internet of Things, Dr. John Barrett at TEDxCIT: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaTIt1C5R-M
- The Internet of Things Has Arrived — And So Have Massive Security Issues, Andrew Rose, Wired: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2014/01/theres-no-good-way-to-patch-the-internet-of-things-and-thats-a-huge-problem/
- The Internet of Things is Wildly Insecure, Wired: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/01/securing-the-internet-of-things/