My colleague likes to laugh at the pretension he sees in the moniker Internet of Things:
"That's just connecting dumb objects, like this coffee cup, isn't it?" he says.
Well, maybe it is. A cup that senses when I've drunk my tea and creates an alert for a re-fill sounds excellent to me...
Such frivolities aside, this year we've seen a confluence of the hardware innovation, management software and standards that are needed to enable the Internet of Things to really get everywhere in 2012.
Take Pachube (pronounced "Patch Bay"), a platform that makes the idea of connecting machines actually make sense. My favourite Pachube example involves the Fukushima nuclear power plant. When it was compromised by the tsunami in Japan earlier this year, there was obviously an awful lot of interest in radiation data. By using Pachube's platform, developers could quickly and easily build applications, which used Geiger counter data (along with location and wind speed / direction), to provide genuinely useful services. One such application showed in map form where the radiation was and where it might spread due to the wind, whilst another set up alerts for people if the radiation levels exceeded limits where they were.
At the other end of the solution stack, let's not forget that connecting stuff costs money - there has to be both utility and an economic argument for doing so. This is where Cambridge-based Neul comes in. Neul has developed wireless network technology to meet the requirements of the Internet of Everything, enabling reliable, long-range wireless connectivity with "dramatically reduced costs". If anyone doubts this company's ability to take a lead in this most global of markets, it's worth remembering that the team behind Neul were founders of Cambridge Silicon Radio, which made Bluetooth ubiquitous.
Over the last year, we've met some of the brilliant people who are imagining the internet of the future. The Internet of Things isn't just about home energy monitoring any more - it has a role to play in applications and services as diverse as remote health monitoring and diagnosis; dynamic energy loading and pricing, and traffic management and road pricing.
We held a Hot Topics event, Demanding Devices, in November 2011 to explore the issues and challenges of designing for an Internet of Things. It was great to hear from our speakers and an informed audience as they imagined what a massively connected world will be like: the only certainty is that there's much more to come...