The first device modified to include the internet wasn’t done by a brand—but the machine bore a signature logo. In the early 1980s, students at Carnegie Mellon modified a Coca-Cola vending machine to connect with Arpanet, the precursor to the modern internet.
The students’ lab was on the other side of the building, and the machine was often empty when they were craving a soda. So, they set up sensors that tracked the machine’s lights, inventing the first device in what would become known as Internet of Things (IoT).
The thirsty grad students were just tired of empty-handed soda runs, but they ended up being pioneers in a trend that may eventually trigger the fourth Industrial Revolution. That’s some deep futurism, but the present shows many brands integrating IoT technology in unique ways.
Procter & Gamble’s presentation
While Carnegie Mellon may have been the birthplace, it was a 1999 P&G presentation where the phrase “Internet of Things” was first put on a Powerpoint. Kevin Ashton believes he was the first person to use the phrase as he instructed P&G on how the company could use new RFID technology to improve supply chains.
Ashton went on to found the Auto-ID Center at MIT, and P&G became a leader in incorporating IoT technology into all kinds of household devices. The new toothbrush is pretty sweet, tracking where a person brushes and, in the future, may even rat them out to a dentist.
Nike+iPod brings the internet to fitness
Before Fitbit and the Apple Watch, there was Nike+. In collaboration with Apple, Nike+ allowed runners to put a small transmitter in their shoe. When released in 2006, the device corresponded with an iPod Nano or iPod Touch (the first iPhone wouldn’t come out until the following year).
The chip could measure total time of workout, distance traveled, pace and calories. Now every cardio machine at the gym will give you those stats and more, but at the time this product was revolutionary in how it brought tech to fitness.
Fitbit and Owlet use IoT to save lives
While Fitbit clearly states its goal in the name, a string of health-focused acquisitions has made it an important product in healthcare. In 2018, Fitbit acquired Twine Health, an internet-driven coaching platform that helps monitor patients with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.
While Fitbit is often used by elderly patients, Owlet protects the other side of the age spectrum. The company’s Smart Sock comfortably tracks a baby’s heart rate, oxygen levels and sleep. Being a new parent is a constant guessing game, and Owlet helps bring crucial data where it matters most. The brand uses an app to track that data, which in turn can serve as a marketing platform.
General Electric sees hundreds of IoT possibilities
Energy consumption is one of the most practical IoT implementations. In 2015 GE formed Current, a company that uses IoT to improve energy usage at every level, from boutique stores to entire cities. San Diego is using Current to optimize streetlights with the goal of reaching 100% renewable energy by 2035. In retail stores, Current claims that smart lighting systems can directly lead to increased sales and lower energy costs.
Your kitchen is talking behind your back
One of the internet’s favorite applications of IoT is the kitchen that can search the web. Refrigerators, toasters, ovens, dishwashers and basically every other appliance can come with some sort of internet connectivity.
Griffin’s Connected Toaster takes the guesswork out of golden sourdough, Samsung’s Family Hub fridge can do more than some smartphones, and Amazon’s Smart Oven uses Alexa technology to act as an oven, microwave or air fryer.
Smart locks simplify security
Locks are tricky. Combinations can be forgotten, or guessed by smart thieves. Keys are easily lost and not-so-easily found. That was the inspiration behind the August Home Smart Lock, first introduced in 2013. The lock connected with Bluetooth and used a smartphone app to open a door.
Not much has changed. Some smart locks use Wi-Fi, others Bluetooth. Many are still controlled with smartphones—all the home systems like Amazon’s Alexa, Siri and Google Home have smart lock integration built in. New models can even connect with Airbnb to help streamline the process of renting.
Connected cars save time and headaches
Digital maps, fuel gauges that count miles, smart security and Bluetooth are all common features in new cars on every car lot, but the history of connected cars is deep. In 1996, General Motors’ OnStar changed roadside emergencies forever.
Now, cellular vehicle-to-everything communication (C-V2X) is making it possible for cars to talk to each other. Ford and Audi partnered with Qualcomm to use C-V2X technology to allow cars to communicate with traffic lights and each other. While the car is communicating with the outside, passengers inside have never been so ripe for marketers. GM’s Marketplace, Adobe’s Sensei and Waze all provide unique ways for brands to push drivers to specific locations.