Connected Devices and Earl Grey Tea

The Captain.

The Captain.

“Connected devices” is a slightly more practical description of what we would characterize as a “Star Trek” future. When Captain Picard walks up to a replicator station in his ready room and demands, “Tea, earl grey, hot,” it’s only obvious to us watching that a hot mug of dark tea materializes for his enjoyment. But if you think about it in terms of our understanding of computers, so many questions arise.

For example:

  • How did the replicator know Picard was nearby?
  • How did the computer know how hot is “hot” for Picard? Did he have to setup his “tea preferences” when he first assumed command of the Enterprise?
  • How did the computer know he was giving an order to the replicator to serve him tea? Perhaps he just wanted to know more about the health benefits of Earl Grey tea. Or maybe Picard was having a laugh with Riker about, “This one time how I ordered ‘tea, earl grey, hot’ and I totally spilled it on my new uniform,” (which is exactly how Picard talks).

These questions may sound like a bunch of Trekkie nerds arguing over a lunch of ramen noodles and Mt. Dew, but a ton of research and product development is happening to bring our world closer to Picard’s reality. Work in this area can be called the “Internet of Everything” (IoT) or “connected devices”. The idea is that EVERYTHING – not just our laptops, tablets, and phone – will be connected wirelessly. Toasters, thermostats, cars, elevators, jewelry, clothing – all collecting sensory data and sharing it with other devices. What kind of world would that be? Some situations can be obvious (like your car talking to your phone), but others – not so much.

Auto-stocking peanut butter:
Wireless enabled RFID labels on every item in your pantry can sense what is thrown in the trash (like that empty jar of peanut butter) and automatically adds the item to the grocery list app on your phone. (Not so far fetched, considering there freezers now that can detect expiration dates.)

No-clap Clapper for bedroom lights:
The devices in your home analyzes your night time routine (toilet flushes, followed by toothbrush usage, followed by last check on Facebook on your phone, then putting your phone face down and on vibrate to not disturb you) just so that it can turn off the light when your head hits the pillow. (Check out WiSee – a technology using the wifi signal in your house to detect gestures and movement wherever you are.)

Heart attack sensing Hawaiian shirt:
Sensors embedded in your shirt buttons can sense heart rate, blood pressure, and other vital signs. Data is collected by your phone and streamed to your medical file in the cloud. Anything out of the ordinary is sent as an urgent message to your physician or other loved ones. (This isn’t so far from reality, as long as medical legislation and insurance companies can keep up with technology)

Ok, so replication technology isn’t on list here (although warp drive happens to be in the news lately), but sensing people’s proximity, transmitting data to a cloud or each other, and controlling the physical world remotely are all steps in the direction of a real Star Trek future (even if we haven’t gotten the “star” part of it yet).