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The Internet of Things isn’t going to magically take over our homes. The process will be more gradual — and it’s already happening. Here are five ways the Internet of Things and mobile devices are already helping many consumers manage their living spaces.

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You probably missed the recent news that semiconductor developer ARM introduced mbed, a new operating system for its line of embedded chips.

Embedded chips are tiny devices that can be placed in any object to deliver digital awareness (“the backbone for most mobile devices,” according to Mashable’s Pete Pachal) and this new operating system adds significant strength to ARM’s product line. “Think constant connectivity, support for multiple wireless standards (including LTE), secure wireless connections and low power,” Pachal writes.

 

So why does this matter to you and I? Simple — it means that we are one step closer to revolutionizing the way we organize our homes and live our lives. Welcome to the Internet of Things.

What is the Internet of Things?

“Simply put,” Forbes contributor Jacob Morgan explains, “this is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of.”

Imagine a closet that instantly tells you what clothes are available and creates a weather- or activity-appropriate outfit for you. Imagine a bathroom that guides you through your daily grooming routine, reorders new products for you and reminds you to scrub the shower — or, better yet, just does it for you.

A new study from Savant Systems, a home automation technology developer, reports that nearly 50 percent of American consumers believe that the Internet of Things will be a normal part of their household routine by 2024.

“Consumers have spoken,” Savant CEO William Lynch says, “and (they) want convenience and ease of use from their smart home technology.”

The Internet of Things is in our homes (and mobile phones) today

There generally isn’t a sudden, radical moment when technology changes our lives. The effect is usually subtle — one day we’re arching an eyebrow at a newfangled iPod, and 13  years later, we’re walking around with supercomputing telephone-cameras in our front pockets.

Similarly, the Internet of Things isn’t going to magically take over our homes. The process will be more gradual — and it’s already happening. You and your neighbors can manage many aspects of your homes from your phones today.

Five ways the Internet of Things already helps many consumers manage their homes:

 

1. Home heating, cooling and safety.
You may have heard of Nest — there were plentiful headlines when Google bought the fledgling home automation developer for $3.2 billion in January 2014. The Nest Learning Thermostat self-programs based on your home heating and cooling patterns, saving energy and money.

Nest also offers Protect — smoke and carbon monoxide detectors alerting you of emergencies, which room is affected and your proximity to immediate danger. Nest is accessible using mobile devices and integrates with select Mercedes vehicles, Whirlpool products and Dropcam cameras.

 

2. Making electrical connections.
Home technology producer Belkin wants you to ask, “Can I WeMo that?” The suite of WeMo products includes the Insight Switch, a digital outlet that enables you to monitor energy usage and turn electronic devices on and off; the Light Switch, which allows you to turn room lights on and off remotely; the LED Starter Kit, which manages lighting for your entire home; the Crock Pot Slow Cooker for your kitchen; and NetCam WiFi Cameras for home security. Each of these products can be controlled with a mobile app.

 

3. Lost keys: a thing of the past.
There are currently over a dozen app-controlled devices that can be looped onto your keychain, making misplaced keys a relic of an earlier, simpler age. Top picks include the Kensington Proximo, which costs about $60, has a six-month battery life and allows you to retrieve your keys from a distance of 150 feet, and the StickNFind, which costs about $50 and can be stuck on anything — not just keys.  Both products work with Apple and Android phones. Check Postcapes.com for a full list of key locators.

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4. Avoiding (or addressing) home catastrophes.
Several digitally-integrated home security products currently exist or are in the late stages of development. These systems are capable of monitoring your home for the four key indicators of potential problems: motion, heat, water and door movement. If you’re out of town and, say, your front door inexplicably opens, a product like WigWag will send you a text alert. Fire, blown pipes, even thirsty plants can all be on your need-to-know list.

 

5. Wash your clothes from your phone.
“There couldn’t be a more perfect example of our absurd obsession with the internet of things than the connected washing machine,” Wired’s Kyle Vanhemert writes. “Nothing so concisely symbolizes just how ludicrous our mania for connectivity has become as a smartphone app that helps you wash your socks.”

After that scathing societal criticism, Vanhemert proceeds to pen a love note to Berg’s Cloudwash prototype: a mobile-operated washing machine that allows the user to preset a wash (if you wanted to load the machine at night and start in the morning, for example); time a wash (maybe you want to let that stained shirt soak extra-long); and shop (need detergent? order it from Amazon).

You can’t buy Cloudwash (yet), but LG’s SmartThinq and Whirlpool’s 6th Sense Live technology are giant leaps towards smart laundry.

My appliances aren’t very smart yet. Am I falling behind?

 

Not necessarily. The market for many devices billed as shining examples of the Internet of Things has been reticent. As Drew Hartwell writes in The Washington Post’s The Switch blog,

Whirlpool, the world’s largest appliance maker and builder of nearly 2 million washers and dryers in North America every year, would not share sales numbers for its “smart” appliances. But its companion iPhone app, WashSquad, hasn’t exactly blown anyone away. The app, which also lets users assign laundry chores to family members and gives tips on erasing stains, has in the last year been reviewed only 21 times. It peaked at no. 243 in the iOS store’s “Lifestyle” category late last year, fell below 1,500th in January and hasn’t resurfaced ever since, according to data from App Annie, an app-market research firm.

The Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald picked up Hartwell’s column and ran it with the headline, “Why Whirlpool’s smart washing machine was a dumb idea.” Harsh.

The Internet of Things will become part of our lives as the technology becomes more practical. Hartwell notes that “if you’re wondering who would want to buy an Internet-enabled washing machine, you’re not alone. Even Whirlpool’s not so sure.”

Berg’s Cloudwash machine, however, earns accolades from Wired’s Vanhemert  because it “shows how technology can be harnessed to make simple, sensible improvements to unglamorous appliances…(and) at no point in the wash cycle does it urge you to post your activity to social media.”

It’s already happening.

The Internet of Things isn’t coming — it’s here. As it becomes more refined, we will adapt. In a decade, we’ll probably wonder how we ever left home without shutting off our utilities from our phone.

Thoughts?

Are you a Nest or WeMo user? Do the implications of the Internet of Things make you a little edgy? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share in the Comments section below or Tweet us at @LifeStorage.

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About the Author

Ben Kirst

Hey, everyone -- I'm a guest blogger here at the Life Storage blog, which, based on my lifelong battle against clutter, messes and household chaos of all kinds, makes this a bit of a dream come true. Best birthday ever? I got a Dyson.

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