WICHITA, KAN. - A professor at Wichita State University plans to create a university center with an ambitious name: The Center for the Internet of Everything.
Step one: Plant a small garden on campus where plants will message irrigation pipes telling how much water they need. The garden will model how to save water and billions of dollars in caring for the world's crops and lawns.
In the second and subsequent steps, Ravi Pendse's students and partners -- including NetApp and Cisco -- would develop innovations linking computers, smartphones, social media and the billions of sensors now being attached to, well, everything.
Stan Skelton, director of strategic planning and advanced development at NetApp, said his company hopes to work out plans with Pendse this semester to establish the center. The center will not require tax money or buildings, Pendse said; it will operate as a mobile group of students, faculty and business partners and be financed with private money. The only expenses necessary so far: a few hundred dollars for seeds and sensors.
NetApp and Cisco are international companies that create data storage and network underpinnings for the Internet. They've partnered with Pendse and his students for years.
"Students get firsthand experience working with an industrial partner," Skelton said. "And they with their projects allow us to try riskier innovations, or projects that we might not do ourselves."
Pendse and his business partners think an "Internet of Everything" will be inevitable. Right now, he said, there are actually several Internets.
There is the Internet of information. With Google and other search engines and the storage of data and cloud computing, it has been a powerful tool humans use to organize information.
Facebook, Twitter and other social media are the Internet of people, networking on a planetary scale.
There is an Internet of places: for example, in Wichita these might be WSU, Cowtown, City Hall or restaurants.
Unseen by most of us, however, is the Internet of things -- billions of sensors attached to machines or people, all with wireless capability. The OnStar driver protection system installed in many cars is a system of sensors that communicate to machines and people hundreds of miles from the car, for example.
The Fitbit wireless activity tracker that Pendse wears records his every step, whether he's on the treadmill or walking across campus. These sensors, billions of which surround us already, will multiply and play a big role in our lives, he said. Cars will drive themselves, and talk to one another and to roadways and destinations, which will reply.
There will be smart fabrics, he said. If we have a medical problem, we can put on a shirt, and the shirt will talk to our doctors, giving information about whether we're sick. Soon, Pendse said, there will be smart pills we can swallow that will send a message from our intestines about whether we took our prescription, if we're sick or if we have early-stage cancer.
By most estimates, Pendse said, about 15 to 16 billion smart devices -- such as desk computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets -- are permanently connected to the Internet. There are only 7 billion people on the planet, so that's how ubiquitous these devices are, he said.
By 2020, only seven years from now, Pendse said, technologists think there will be 50 billion smart devices and 200 billion sensor devices, talking to one another, doing tasks for us, doing some thinking for us.
What his Internet of Everything will do, he said, is more coherently bring all these devices in line.