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10 Surprising Things Connected to the Internet

Here are 10 things you may not have known were connected to the Internet, that also link to a trend in smart products hitting the marketplace.

Many are aware of the well-publicized Google Glass that pairs the Internet with a set of shades. What takes some by surprise, however, is how many other products have followed suit.

The trend has been dubbed with a variety of titles, such as the “Internet of Things” and the “Internet of Everything,” titles which — considering their ambiguity — could easily be dismissed for sheer lack of definition. However, a new report published by the Center for Data Innovation showcases just how diverse these “things” connected to the Internet can be.

bigbelly trash cans, trash cans, smart trash cans
1. Trash Cans

Yes, that’s right, even garbage cans now be online. In this case, they come from BigBelly Solar company that has created a solar-powered trash can and compactor that uses its online connection to alert sanitation crews when it is full. While this trash can receptacle be found in certain cities, corporate campuses, colleges and parks, the report identified Boston University as a user that was able to use the receptacle’s waste data to reduce average weekly trash pickups from 14 to 1.6.

 Photo: Flickr/Elvert Barnes




2. Bridges

Bridges are best when sturdy and without missing pieces. In order to improve safety, researchers and engineers in the U.S. and around the world are using bridge sensors that can detect structural changes. In South Korea the technology has been put to use in the Jindo Bridge with more than 600 wireless sensors. Locally, researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park are using the sensors on the state’s I-495 Bridge to send automated email and text alerts to engineers if a structural threat is detected.

Photo: Flickr/Joel Burslem

3. Parking Lots

Whether to reduce congestion, help with trip planning or enforce parking violations, smart parking sensors are being put to use by businesses and municipalities alike. ParkSight, a company specializing in parking sensors, is offering businesses a network of self-powered, wireless parking sensors to collect real-time data on the occupancy of individual parking spaces. The information is then transmitted to parking facility operators and drivers. For drivers, the sensors are handy because they can tell them where spots are available, the cost of use, and the maximum time limit for parking. For facility operators, the sensors can track parking violators and be used for digital signage.

Photo: Flickr/Doug Waldron

4. Buses

In St. Louis, the public bus service MetroBus is using electronic sensors to collect information on bus speed, engine temperature and oil pressure. Service technicians then receive computer recommended suggestions on the vehicle’s maintenance needs. According to the report, the improved maintenance — or preventive care for buses — has saved the city $5 million per year in servicing costs and another $5 million in personnel-related costs.

Photo: Flickr/stlphotoblogger


Colorful bars of soap on white towel
Three bars of soap of orange, white and green colors, next to a double sided bathing sponge with a porous texture. All these hygiene items are on top of a folded white towel made from a fluffy fabric.
Horia Andrei VARLAN
5. Hand-Washing Stations

This is a product that could benefit the food service industry’s infection-conscious consumers. HyGreen is currently using their hand-washing reminder and recording system in hospitals to prevent the spread of diseases. The system works by detecting when someone is washing their hands by logging a worker’s location, ID number (via a small electronic badge) and the time. If an infection does occur within a hospital, the system provides hospital managers with better data to understand how and when it may have occurred.

Photo: Flickr/Horia Varlan


Washington Redskins Training Camp July 31, 2012
Keith Allison/
6. Helmets

Offering parents and coaches a record of blunt force, a small and flexible sensor now links helmets to the Web. The sensor hails from Shockbox, a company that pitches the helmet sensor as a way to eliminate the guesswork on possible concussions and to improve injury notifications to parents.

The Shockbox mobile app shows the direction and severity of impacts while also noting the name of the player and the date and time of the event. If a concussion-level force does occur, parents and coaches can get notifications immediately through the app. According to the report, athletic head injuries cause 21 percent of traumatic brain injuries among U.S. children and teens.

Photo: Flickr/Keith Allison

7. Egg Cartons

Produced by the companies GE and Quirky, the Egg Minder, is an egg carton that notes the number of eggs in the container and the length of time they’ve been sitting. The smart carton works by using sensors implanted in the bottom of each the 14 egg cups. A line of LED lights in the tray display which eggs are oldest and need to be used first. The tray also functions as a grocery list reminder, sending a smartphone alert when eggs are running low.

Photo: Flickr/Mark Turnauckas

8. Pill Bottles

Prescriptions are prescribed for a reason, but that doesn’t mean they’re heeded. In response to our forgetful nature, Vitality has invented smart pill bottles, "GlowCaps," that act as a gentle reminder when a patient has forgotten to down their typical dosage. The pill box triggers a series of escalating notifications that include flashing lights, text messages, audio reminders and phone calls. The tiny canister can detect when a patient opens and closes the bottle and notes each opening as a dose. As an added benefit, family members, caregivers and doctors can have access to dosage reports online. The report’s research said the smart pill bottles from Vitality have increased medication compliance in users from about 70 to 95 percent. The health-care costs linked with noncompliance with prescribed medications is estimated to be $290 billion annually in the U.S.


9. Water Monitors

If homeowners are looking for a real-time account of their water usage — to identify a leak, be more conservative, or just check the accuracy of a utility bill — Belkin Echo Water has created a water monitoring system that can put home plumbing online. The system employs sensors to chronicle water usage through the vibrations in pipes and then use algorithms to analyze those vibrations, identifying water fixtures (including showers, toilets and irrigation) and logging when each is used, how long, and the amount of water consumed. The system is expected to be rolled out to the public in 2014.

Photo: Flickr/fox_kiyo

10. Air Quality

Digital products can now send air quality data to a smartphone. One such product is the Air Quality Egg, a device that senses and collects data about air quality in a home or office. The data is gathered in real time and is relayed over the Internet where a website aggregates the data from every “Egg” in use. The result is a network of air quality data, reporting on levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen monoxide. While the EPA  publishes daily pollutant levels from centralized locations in metropolitan areas, the Egg offers specific data for personal use.

Photo: Flickr/SmartCitizensCC

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.