As we talk about the widely netted internet of things today, connected cars, phones, computers and every other device seems very convincible. But going back two decades, could we have imagined a ‘toaster’ being connected to the internet? Well, that’s a feat which was achieved by Simon Hackett and John Romkey by connecting Sunbeam Deluxe Automatic Radiant Control toaster to the internet.
Before we divulge into more details of what was done, let’s scroll quickly through the ingenious who unleashed this internet powered appliance. John Romkey is a founder of FTP Software, commercial TCP/IP stack provider and has developed many crucial bits of the internet that we see today. Simon Walter Hackett on the other hand cofounded Internode Pty. Ltd., an Australian Internet service provider.
Now coming back to how was the first ever IoT device made? The motivation for it actually came out of a challenge thrown to John Romkey at the Internet networking show, Interop by its President, Dan Lynch. Taking the challenge to their stride, the duo demonstrated the device at the 1990 Interop which became a huge hit. It had just a minor hitch, that it still required a human to insert the bread.
This shortfall was corrected a year later in the same show by introducing a small robotic crane into the system. This internet controlled robot picked up the slice of bread and dropped it into the toaster, hence automating the system from end to end.
So how did it actually work? To begin with, the toaster was connected to the internet via TCP/IP networking and had a single control, Simple Networking Management Protocol Management Information Base (SNMP MIB), which could turn the power of the toaster ‘on’. Once the command was given, it could switch on the power and the colour of the toasted bread depended on how long the toaster remained connected to the web.
Internet, which was still at a growing phase at the age, got the toast to ideally pop up from anywhere in the world! And that is a no small feat.
As amusing at it sounds, attaining it was no child’s play. The biggest challenge was to connect the toaster to the internet. It needed a computer powerful enough to get the normal protocol of the computers to be followed. In other terms, it was required to communicate digital standards that allows computers on the net to connect with each other. But the challenge was beautifully overcome and the results are for all of us to see.
Following the internet toaster, there were many appliances that underwent an experimental connection with the internet. For instance, in the year 2001, Robin Southgate, a Brunel student developed a toaster that could burn a morning weather report onto a slice of bread! This could be done by gathering meteorological information from the internet. The experiment was adopted later by Electrolux to produce a more detailed weather report. Other examples are that of iPlayer Toaster with a 7-inch touchscreen on its side, which was unveiled by BBC in 2009.
Today, with more than 300 million computers connected to the internet, we don’t see many household appliances as internet toasters today, but it was surely an exceptional demonstration of how internet could be made to do real-world tasks. And this first IoT device has set an inspiration to many connected devices that we see today.