Adam Smith

Wireless Data Everywhere, M2M Communication, and the Radio Tagging Problem

July, 2009

In defiance of California state law, when I hear a new jam on my car radio I pull out my IPhone, launch Shazam, and use it to "tag" the song. Then I scroll down, press "Share This Tag," type in my email address, and return my eyes to the road. Any number of days/weeks later, I download the mp3 and have it added to my collection.

This ain't bad, really. Five years ago I had to remember a lyric or two and use Google searches later to find the song title.

But it isn't the way of the future. I want a button on my radio I can press to skip the IPhone and Shazam step, at least. This would require my car radio to have a wireless data connection, which I don't think is far fetched.

In 2005 I was involved in a quasi-startup at MIT designing a GPS navigation device with a wireless data connection built in. We came up with all kinds of use cases:

  • Intelligent traffic awareness
  • Read your car's diagnostics sensors from your web browser 
  • Send your address book to your car   

Not bad. A year or two later a real startup was formed around this idea.

But there's so much more you could do with data connections everywhere:

  • Stream music from Rhapsody / Last.FM / etc to your car radio.
  • Accept credit cards at all vending machines. 
  • Have a toaster that "toasts" the CNN homepage news onto your bread. Just don't eat too fast! 
  • Have gym equipment that you log into to have it upload workout data to a web app.
  • Use a toilet that does fecal analysis on its way out to extract diet/health info that also gets uploaded to the web.  
  • Bus stops that show you how far away the next buses are.  
  • Electric razors that send you an email when the blades need to be replaced. 
  • Bathroom scales that upload your weight trends to the web. 
  • While you're at it with the vending machines, why not have them report back their inventory status?  
  • Not to mention drastically improving all kinds of other emptying/refilling processes: know when to remove coins from parking meters, when newspaper stands need to be refilled, etc. These don't sound like home runs but there are likely to be two or three that are within some vertical. 
  • While we're at it with the cars, why not have them radio back their position and destination to traffic control, so the stop lights can intelligently shape traffic in real time. E.g. the simple case is if it's late at night there's no reason the system shouldn't be able to give you mostly all green lights. 

Etc etc.

95% of devices are still not connected to the Internet. (Thin air statistic, but probably the right ballpark.) I hope we've hit that number down a notch or two by the time 2030 rolls around!

What about you - what new use scenarios would you like to see for pervasive wireless Internet connections?
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