Decoding the Internet of Things

Remember that Coke machine in Wean?

Thursday, April 6, 2023

A coke machine and portrait photo of David Nichols - text The Beginning of IoT

The era of smart devices, otherwise known as the Internet of Things (IoT), all began with humble origins: a vending machine in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science. In the early 1980s, David Nichols, a computer science graduate student now working at Microsoft, enjoyed having a Coca Cola from the vending machine in the department. But because the machine was four minutes from his office and would occasionally be out of stock, Nichols wanted a way to check whether the walk would be worth it or end in disappointment. Along with some other students, Nichols was able to wire things up so that you could find out whether there were cokes in the various columns of the coke machine. The wires attached to the in-stock light indicators in each button and through some coding and work with network packets, eventually anyone could sit at any computer in the computer science department and find out the status of the machine — whether the drinks were stocked, and if they were cold or not. As Nichols said, "we didn't think we were doing anything that amazing. it was just like, 'great, now I can find out whether I have a coke.'" Internet-connected appliances have come a long way since then. CNN's Anna Stewart recently investigated how the Internet of Things began with Nichols and is still changing the way we live on her show "Decoded." Watch the segment.