Distributed Monitoring and Control

This post is a loose collation of things that have turned up recently to do with the encroaching sensor-revolution.

Someone, somewhere else has pointed out that we’ve had successive waves of tech revolution, eg:

– the Computer Revolution brought about by cheap microprocessors
– the Communications Revolution brought about by cheap laser-switching.
– the Robotics Revolution brought about by cheap sensors

The last one is just beginning… the others have been going for a while, but are not anywhere near played out yet.

I think maybe there’s a bit of a misunderstanding about what robotics actually is – at this moment “robot” seems to include absolutely anything automated, and anything remotely controlled as well. Most washing machines are robots by the very loose definition that seems to pass in the blogosphere. In another corner is anything anthropomorphic, and in another, the more traditional “single-arm” robots that have been used in manufacturing for decades.

I think though that the dominant robotic form won’t resemble “droids” so much as “internet-leakage”… the much heralded “internet of things”. The internet is escaping… it’s getting out of the box… the boxes, and it’s ingesting and assimilating anything that uses electricity. We are right at the very very beginning of this… but it’s coming. I think that the robotics revolution is going to have a distinctly Web 2.0 flavour to it – and the dominant form is not going to be a droid or a manufacturing arm, but (like the internet itself) a human/machine hybrid.

Anyway, to that end:

1) Open Source Home Monitoring/Automation.

Home automation/monitoring is going to be huge. It’s going to be… defacto… default. I’ve gone on about this before, and (still) to the best of my knowledge, I don’t think it’s being done properly… and I think maybe it won’t every be… because it will always be evolving – so it needs to be a platform, much the same as the internet itself. The same way that there are huge numbers of web-developers, there should be huge numbers of home-app developers.

And this is where it starts. This is the physical compliment to Pachube.com

2) Siri has escaped – so that’s good news, I suppose – I don’t think Siri is a proper AI though. There are also alternatives to Siri… but I don’t think they are proper AIs either. By proper AI, I mean something that gets smarter… rather than something that is merely smart.

On the subject of Siri though – here it is being used to control a thermostat

Or to be more precise, a demo of the Siri proxy. This is not quite the same thing as the very pretty new “smart” thermostat, that learns from people’s behaviour…


This is what I mean about “getting it right”… the UI of this dial thing gets it right I think. The Semi-AI aspect of it is interesting – if it is linked to the brain-power of the web.

3) Little baby computerlet that can plug into anything

Looks like a thumb-drive, but has connectivity gear (wifi, bluetooth) built into it. Plug it into any screen, use a bluetooth keyboard and you’ve got a computer. It’s quad-core as well – so it’s got a bit of clout (for the moment). I think sometime soon the internet is going to eat broadcast television – ie: the box in the corner is going to get it’s info from the web, rather than broadcasters… this is going to make a huge different to the balance of power – which is probably no bad thing, because right now, the 4th Estate are not doing their jobs.

4) Body Monitoring… has a new poster-child,


Jawbone – a thing that measures… various things, coupled with software that measures various other things – which sounds like a bit of a chore to be honest, but if this can help people sleep better, then it’s going to sell by the truckload. I’d buy one.

This is another thing we’re going see a lot of – and god knows we (victims of first-world problems) need it.

I have a feeling that the essence of the Monitor/Control is the feedback loop… and that feedback loops might deliver results greater than the sums of their parts. Just a suspicion. I think this is the essence of consciousness – the feedback loop. Just a suspicion.