Physical Computing: It’s kinda sorta starting to happen!

// definition

Physical computing is a research field that studies human movement in relation to computer based interactions with everyday objects. In physical computing, hardware is designed for the convenience of people rather than for the convenience of computing (Papadimatos, 2005). The ability to trigger and orchestrate Internet related activity in everyday objects causes a whole new world to unfold. This brave new world is called “The Internet of Things”.

// why it matters

Mercedes-Benz, Ford and Audi are now marketing “connected cars.” Connected cars have smart phone apps integrated into dash boards.

In the Internet of Things, your world literally becomes “Your World.” Your movement, and other physical characteristics of your environment will allow you to determine the actions of the objects in your world. In the Internet of Things, the objects in your environment become capable of interacting with you in the same way that you are able to connect to and interact with the world through your smart phones. Like Spiderman, shooting an invisible web of energy, the world around you will connect you to the world beyond you like never before.

Some TVs, cars, washing machines and refrigerators are now capable of Internet connectivity. With over 50 percent of objects at this year’s CES being Internet connected, and over 9 billion connected objects already in existence (with over 24 billion projected to be in existence by 2020) the Internet of Things has arrived. It’s official. Physical computing is science fact, not science fiction (Macmanus, 2012).


Once upon a time (Psych! like right now) there was a small Cambridge, Mass tech start-up called Supermechanical, who created an itty biddy (2.5 sq. in.) device called Twine. Supermechanical raised over $500,000 for Twine on Kickstarter, a genius crowd sourced fund raising website. Twine was introduced with the promising headline: “Listen to your world, talk to the Internet.” Sporting  WiFi connectivity, and internal and external sensors, Twine is powered by 2 AAA batteries that allow the device to keep running for months. (As a power MacAir user accustomed to working around 3 hr. battery limits, I danced and shouted when I read how much battery mileage Twine has.) All this cuteness gets set up with the aid of an anti-nerd app downloaded from the Internet.

Twine empowers you to create Internet connected systems wherever you have Wi-Fi. The durable Twine unit has Wi-Fi, vibration and temperature sensors as well as an expansion connector that allows the addition of other sensors. Twine is the hardware that works in tandem with a cloud based service called Spool. Instead of programming, you create a set of “when…then” rules from a menu of conditions that will trigger a message being sent. In its Kickstarter offering, Supermechanical gives the following example how the rules work: “WHEN moisture sensor gets wet THEN tweet “The basement is flooding!”



What This Means to You

The Internet of Things means greater ease and access to communication and information in ways that have been seldom dreamed of. Undoubtedly the connectivity coin has a downside that comes along with the fun. The information generated as a byproduct of connectivity will be mined by marketers who will be able to track and contact potential customers where ever they go. Invariably privacy issues will prominent. So as this Brave New World unfolds, people will have to maintain a level of alertness for privacy compromises and use the power of purchase to enforce the importance of this issue.

// about upverter

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