MADISON, Wis. — At the risk of sounding a bit curmudgeonly, I have to confess one thing. While there’s certainly something positive to be said about the Internet of Things (IoT), I can’t help feeling suspicious, weary, and a bit turned off by the whole idea.
Aside from big-number projections (e.g., Cisco predicts 50 billion IoT devices by 2020), which would tempt anyone into becoming an IoT cheerleader, I haven’t seen a single credible-use scenario that might lure the average consumer onto the IoT bandwagon.
Honestly, it creeps me out to think about my devices at home talking to one another, doing stuff without my involvement, and talking about my habits -- good and bad -- to total strangers (advertisers, service providers, or just more machines), behind my back. There’s nothing warm and fuzzy about this. At all.
Smart LED lightbulbs hacked
I’m sure you’ve all heard about an incident, reported last week, in which smart LED lightbulbs leaked WiFi passwords.
This is a classic case that hearkens back to Asimov or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Once empowered by its network connection, the “smart device” -- in this case, a lowly light bulb -- outsmarts its human “host” and starts doing things nobody ever asked it to do.
Security experts at Context Security have released details on how easy it is to hack network-enabled LED light bulbs, showing how hackers could eventually turn the lights off and on remotely.
The way an LIFX light bulb, used by Context Security for this demo, is set up sounds all too familiar. The master bulb receives commands from a smartphone application and broadcasts to all the other bulbs over a wireless mesh network.
WiFi and 802.15.4 6LoWPAN Mesh Network.
(Source: Context Security)
The hacker was able to obtain the WiFi username, and password of the household the lights were connected to, by posing as a new bulb joining the network.
LIFX said it had updated its software since being notified of the vulnerability. But it’s not far-fetched to imagine that my networked smart appliances at home could suddenly get turned on and off remotely, by a total stranger, without my knowledge.
With this in mind, I’ve started asking industry sources for credible scenarios under which IoT devices improve my life by talking to each other. Readers are welcome to chime in below. Give me your best shot. Convince me why my washing machine needs to strike up a conversation with my gas grill.
Bill Morelli, associate director at IHS Technology, shared with me some use cases that have been presented to him by vendors.
- Room lights automatically get adjusted, sensing that I am watching a movie on a large-screen TV in a living room.
- Somebody rings a door bell when my baby is asleep. The bell, however, is set up to flash the room lights instead of ringing, leaving the baby undisturbed.
- If I accidentally leave my car’s headlights on when I come home late at night, a sensor in the garage automatically messages my smartphone, which, in turn, sends me an alert SMS.
- Similarly, if I left the iron on when I left home, I get an alert on my smartphone.
Early in June at its Worldwide Developers’ Conference, Apple unveiled what the company calls HomeKit, which reportedly helps users create and set up a specific “scene.”
- Users can put the home network into "night mode" so that lighting throughout the home can be turned off and all locks turned on.
- When "vacation mode" kicks in, lighting goes on and off randomly, sprinklers follow a schedule, and the motion sensor system is triggered.
Maybe there are brilliant ideas I haven’t heard before. But come on, guys. Is this the best you can do to talk consumers into IoT nirvana? These scenarios are straight out of the old home-automation catalogue. They’ve been shopped around and recycled for years.
Richard Doherty, research director of the Envisioneering Group, however, has a slightly different take on credible home-front IoT ideas.
- Even today, in many countries, there are attractive discounts for starting dishwashers during non-peak hours. In many areas, ensuring that your microwave, refrigerator, and washing machine motors do not activate simultaneously enhances longer appliance life while preventing blown fuses and tripped circuit breakers.
- IoT will need “peace of mind” allowances. For example, IoT could let us know if Grandma opened the fridge this morning or used her Bluetooth toothbrush.
- IoT will also create insurance access. Did Rick walk his requisite one mile a day to earn his present insurance discount?
- IoT offers public services. Are enabled air conditioners being throttled back 10% for brownout prevention?
Next page: IoT for infrastructure