The Master of Digital Media program focuses on the interactive and engaging part of digital media. Could “internet of things” (IoT) applications be part of this? Are we really going to have games and stories that include bluetooth beacons and RFID tags? In a word, yes.
What is the internet of things?
The term was coined by Kevin Ashton back in 1999 writing in RFID Journal. Ashton, and many others, saw the coming impact of objects (“things”) that connected to the internet but were not computers in the traditional sense. Importantly, he noted that the internet of things would mean an explosion of information on the internet that was NOT created by humans.
In Ashton’s original definition, the internet of things refers to all the ways that the rest of the devices and objects in the world, beyond people and their computers and cell phones, were going to connect to the internet and each other. The typical example is the fridge that knows there is a new jug of milk inside, but of course it goes much, much further than that. The grape vines that alert the irrigation system that they need watering, the cow who has her nutrition tracked by the trough she eats from, the car tires that report their inflation to the vehicle. It goes on and on.
I use the last example, the car tires, to illustrate that the ‘internet of things’ is already here and in operation in ways that we are only starting to realize. The car might be aware of the tire inflation and put a warning light on the dash, but - in some cars - it could also alert the dealer or send you an email with a reminder. Little things, perhaps, but they add up. Also, they are based - quite often - on a sensor of some kind: temperature, pressure, humidity, location, acceleration, and orientation. And they are most powerful when these sensors are connected to each other and the network and the data they produce is being analyzed by software that can help make decisions based on this information.
IoT connection to cloud computing and big data
It is this profusion of information that makes the internet of things dependent on two other major developments: cloud computing and big data. The cloud computing aspect is necessary because these sensors (typically) contain no, or minimal, computing capability. They generate data, but they don’t process it. And when clouds of computing have to deal with large amounts of data - as millions or billions of sensors will generate - then you have a big data problem (and opportunity).
Which brings us back to digital media, engagement and entertainment, games and stories. How could the internet of things be important for a game or a story? Well, how about placing your game (story) in the most realistic, immersive, “3D without goggles” world that is possible to create? In other words, how about putting a game into ‘the real world?” You can do this, if you equip players (or participants in your interactive story) with the right kind of device that can interact with sensors and devices from the internet of things. Does such a device exist? Of course it does. The modern smartphone phone is fully equipped to detect, interact with, and provide the network ‘leg’ to an internet of things device such as a bluetooth sensor or RFID tag. Some of our students are already working hard at such applications, building the interaction and engagement into experiences that leverage the capabilities of sensors and beacons to augment reality and put more local information in players/participants hands. You’ll be seeing a lot more internet of things applications in the months and years to come!