Clive Thompson: The Internet of Things is finally arriving—and it’s bubbling up from the grassroots.

Source: "The Internet of Things is finally arriving—and it’s bubbling up from the grassroots. The Internet of Things is the long-prophesied phenomenon of everyday devices talking to one another—and us—online, creating odd new behaviors and efficiencies. Fridges that order food when you’re almost out of butter! Houses that sense when you’re gone and power down!

Back in the ’90s, big companies built systems to do tricks like this, but they were expensive, hard to use, and vendor-specific. The hype eventually boiled away. The Internet of Things turned out to be vaporware.
Until the past few years, that is, when the landscape shifted from below.
Hackers began using increasingly inexpensive sensors and open source hardware—like the Arduino controller—to add intelligence to ordinary objects. There are now kits that let your plants tweet when they need to be watered and teensy printers that scour the web and print out stuff you might be interested in. And there are oodles of “quantified-self” projects: “I know a guy who put a tilt sensor in his beer mug. It lets him know precisely how much he drank during Oktoberfest,” Arduino hacker Charalampos Doukas says with a laugh. “Sensor prices are going down; sizes are going down. The only limit is your imagination.”
Meanwhile, new cloud services have emerged—like If This Then That or Cosm—that let devices interact in unexpected ways. One employee uses If This Then That to sound an alarm if his company’s stock price drops below $100.
Indeed, the garage-born Internet of Things isn’t all whimsy and cats. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, many Japanese worried that the government wasn’t providing adequate data on areas outside the evacuation zone. So some hackers designed customized Geiger counters that automatically updated radioactivity levels on an online map. Soon there were more than 300 jury-rigged all over the country, so the public could see real-time radiation levels. “It was the largest nongovernmental radiation-monitoring network in Japan,” says Chris “Akiba” Wang, one of the hackers. A similar example recently emerged in earthquake-prone Chile, where a student modded a seismometer to tweet its readings. It quickly amassed more than 300,000 followers, who were grateful for the early alerts.