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‘Internet of Things’ The internet, in its current form, is largely used to connect human beings. However, we are moving into an era where most of the nodes on the web will be devices, including printers, utility meters, monitoring devices, cameras and domestic appliances. The phrase ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) refers to this phenomenon of making physical objects instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. But what does this mean? On a simple

level it is about having a smart energy meter that monitors all of the energy each of your different appliances are using. For the energy company this reduces running costs by eliminating the need for meter readers, meanwhile customers can become more aware of the energy they are using. At a more sophisticated level, it

could mean having a fridge that senses when you have finished the milk and so automatically puts milk in your online supermarket shopping basket. In the automotive sector, it could mean cars warning each other about ice on the road ahead, or your satnav being aware of where the nearest unoccupied parking space is. Earlier this year, Google launched Android@Home, which is a major step towards turning IoT into reality. The platform allows you, with the right sensors, to control all of your home appliances using your Android mobile or tablet device as a remote control.

Domestic robots Robots in the home are a big feature in science fiction, often taking the form of a humanoid butler or assistant. So far, however, the sorts of robots that are actually emerging in this field are either expensive toys – such as Pleo the dinosaur or NAO the ‘dancing droid’ – or robotic appliances such as the vacuum-cleaning Roomba or floor-washing Scooba. Roboticists see a lucrative market in

creating carer robots to help tend to the elderly or infirm – with nursing shortages and an ageing population, there’s a viable market for domestic robots. However, these are likely to play very functional as opposed to social roles. For example, Bestic is a feeding robot developed in

Roboticists see a lucrative market in creating carer robots to help tend to the elderly or infirm

Sweden by Sten Hemmingsson. It picks up food off a place and lifts it to the user’s mouth, allowing patients with long-term care needs to feed themselves. Robotics expert and Founder of DesignSwarm Alexandra Deschamps- Sonsino explains: “On top of allowing patients to feed themselves it allows cuts in healthcare services at home. This is an important aspect of living with dignity and maintaining self-esteem when ill.”

Personal health monitors Devices are emerging to enable you to monitor your bio-data and track the progress of long-term illnesses. So instead of Googling symptoms, these devices

would allow you to get quick, conclusive feedback about your health that could be easily communicated to your doctor. A research team at MIT have developed

a ‘medical mirror’ that has a built-in webcam and a program that tracks your face and measures subtle variations in the brightness of the skin produced by blood flow and heart rate. Ming Zher-Poh, the creator of the mirror, explains: “Every day when you look into the mirror, not only do you see your physical appearance, but you also get a snapshot of your health or physiological information. This data can also be transferred through the internet to your healthcare provider, and will help identify patterns and spot deviations.”

Bestic, a feeding robot developed to help patients with long-term care needs to feed themselves

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