The IoT, Internet-connected toys, and your data-rich future

BuzzFeed’s Christine Sunu

BuzzFeed’s Christine Sunu

Christine Sunu wants to connect with you. In fact, she sees how everyone and everything—from your dishwasher to your stuffed animals—could be connected, via the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Sunu, the GE Internet of Things Fellow at the Open Lab for Journalism, Technology, and the Arts at BuzzFeed, discusses the IoT phenomenon, and where she thinks it’s headed, on Monday, September 19, 2016 from 4:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. in the D. H. Hill Library Auditorium.

Sunu’s visit is part of the NCSU Libraries “Making Space” series or talks and workshops that aim to raise awareness among women about access to tools and technology and lower barriers to entry for first-time users of makerspaces.

Sunu also leads an interactive workshop on IoT technologies from 6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. She’ll focus on internet-connected toys and the potential available in connecting emotions and technology. Imagine building a smarter teddy bear.

“Smarter. What does that mean?” Sunu asks. “A lot of times that means data—data being taken in from the environment and data being stored on the Internet and passed back through everyday objects.”

Sunu explains that the IoT is a network of digital, cloud-capable objects that gather that data, ranging from smart appliances like automated thermostats and door locks to embedded transponders storing a patient’s medical data to field sensors that help gather research data.

Imagine all the objects around you were smart. Your coffeemaker could recognize your voice and make you a latte exactly how you like it. Now, imagine all these objects could be aware of and in communication with each other via the Internet. Now, when your coffeemaker is running out of beans, it can ask your freezer if more beans are in there, and it can enter an item on your e-grocery list that pops up on your phone screen automatically when you enter the store.

These coffeemakers and refrigerators and their connections don’t exist yet, but the technology to make them does, and those products and applications are coming. Globally, an estimated 20 billion objects will be part of the IoT by the end of the decade.

Sunu will talk about some of those consumer possibilities, but she’s more interested in how the IoT can give people access to layers of personal data that enable them to customize and redesign their environment. Call it data empowerment.

“There’s a potentially great thing that can happen when you give users the ability to design for themselves,” she says. “I work with using the Internet to augment objects to which we have emotional attachment. Usually we’re using the Internet to automate, but I like to use it to better connect to ourselves and others emotionally.”

“What's exciting about IoT, especially when compared to something like the cloud, is that individuals are able to access tools and applications that can instantly become embedded within a vast network of people and devices,” says Lauren Di Monte, an NCSU Libraries Fellow who will help lead the workshop Monday night. “Anyone can add to this infrastructure to create custom tools that help them do more.”

Di Monte sees humanist potential in enabling people and technologies to connect between and among each other quickly and seamlessly. “The IoT offers an incredible opportunities to push beyond the capabilities of the single individual or the single company and harness the power of networked knowledge.”

Participants in the workshop will incorporate Internet buttons, which are small, programmable prototyping tools, into plush toys. The activities show how easy it is to get started coding, and how playful the coding process can be. “A lot of what people end up making is very whimsical and awesome,” Sunu laughs.

The free workshop is open to NC State students, faculty, and staff. Space is limited, so registration is required:

Josephine McRobbie