Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Future fridges 'send milk alerts'

'Within five years humans could be receiving more texts from machines than humans'

Future technology will allow machines to send messages to your smartphone
Future technology will allow machines to send messages to your smartphone

The refrigerator could let people know remotely when they are running low on milk as part of the rapid advance of the internet, a university expert said.

Within five years humans could be receiving more texts from machines than humans, according to Dr Kevin Curran.

He said security should be the main priority for connected devices - especially since it is difficult to tell if a fridge has a virus.

"Within the next five years, using mobile devices simply for communication will seem outdated."

The University of Ulster reader in computer science said what he termed the Internet of Things (IoT) will allow consumers to interact with nearly every appliance and device they own.

He added: "Your refrigerator will let you know when you're running low on milk, your dishwasher will inform you when it's ready to be emptied.

"It's possible that you will be getting more text messages from your devices than from human beings."

He said some examples had already reached the marketplace, controlling the lights and temperature, closing the garage door while across town, receiving alerts from a smoke detector.

He warned: "However, like any new technology or idea, there are kinks that need to be worked out.

"If IoT is campaigning to run nearly every aspect of people's digital lives, we need to consider factors that will ensure a seamless and safe introduction. Three in particular - security, standards, and overburdened networks - require critical focus before mass IoT adoption."

He noted the ease and convenience of paying bills online and shopping also carried the risk of having personal information compromised.

"Security needs to be a main priority for connected devices, especially since it will be difficult to tell if a toaster or refrigerator, which has no visual interface, has contracted a virus or malware."

He said manufacturers needed to monitor their devices constantly for unusual activity on networks.

Apple, Google and Samsung are competing for brand loyalty, advocating that consumers use their exclusively integrated products.

Mr Curran added: "The problem with that approach is that each company is working under its own standard, so competing products can't compete with each other, strong-arming the consumer to stay true to one brand.

"This may be good for promoting brand loyalty, but for the IoT marketplace to grow and flourish, one dedicated standard needs to be created.

He said a good example of this was Wi-Fi, a universal technology which any device can access.

A recent report indicated that by 2020 there will be nearly 26 billion internet-connected devices on the market, Dr Curran said.

"With the dramatic increase in devices over the next six years, network infrastructure needs technological advancements to ensure a fluid user experience.

"With IoT still in its infancy, infrastructure development will need to be a primary objective for industry technicians.

"Since that probably won't be achieved overnight, a good alternative would be to limit the number of devices allowed on a given network.

"This will still allow a consumer to control features outside of the home but will limit the strain on networks and will maintain a level of privacy; people don't need to broadcast every time they walk in and out a door."

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