When XBOX first announced its pending release of the Kinect in 2009, they did so under the codename “Project Natal,” and a lot of people completely freaked out. Part of the panic was due to the functionality of the device — the motion-sensing, webcam-enabled peripheral for the more traditional 360 was one (large) step beyond the Wii. But mostly, it was Milo.
Milo is Project Natal’s brainchild. Or really, just child: an artificially intelligent, virtual boy with the ability to recognize people, voices, and even emotions, and the capacity to respond accordingly. Now, he hasn’t made it into our living rooms yet, but people couldn’t help but stare warily at their computers after seeing Milo. Yet, four years later, we have refrigerators that tweet and the potential to save billions of tons of carbon not just through smarter use of technology, but through technology that’s smart.
It’s called the IoT: the internet of things.
The Basics: Getting Our Devices to Communicate
The concept of IoT is certainly not a new one. Comic book artists and sci-fi enthusiasts have been dreaming of worlds saturated with intercommunicating devices for decades. We’re not quite to the point where an iPhone can comb through work emails to inherently generate reminders, but we’re on the way.
Let’s take the Kinect example a little further: the device works by using infrared technology to map out rooms, objects and people in those rooms, and the movements they make. It reacts to pre-set voice commands and can even tell which person is standing in front of it — as long as they’ve already scanned themselves into the system. In order to then take all of that information and translate it into an interactive image on a television screen, it communicates with both the game console and the TV set. And it does it in real time, with no outside interference or direction from the user. Pretty cool, right? What’s really cool about this particular technology is that it’s available to the masses, unlike Bill Gates’ mood-affected paintings. Or personal nanobots (we still want the nanobots, Science).