Breathe New Life into Old Gadgets with the IoTIZER

Connectivity is growing more and more vital these days. As more devices are becoming connected to the internet, older models are becoming obsolete. However, developments are underway to connect even old gadgets into the Internet of Things (IoT).

Whether or not every device you own actually needs Internet connectivity is up for debate. However, connectivity usually comes at a price. It also usually involves buying a brand new gadget because new hardware, software, and services are required.

If connectivity is important to you, there are few options available for older devices. After all, things were initially designed for human interaction, not the internet. But one device is about to change that.

IoTIZER is a prototype of a mechanical hijacking device (MHD), designed to replace human interaction and manipulation of existing products. As the name suggests, it can IoT-ize anything designed to be operated by a human–potentially giving a new connected life to your stuff.

Making life easier and more connected

The IoTIZER MHD is capable of handling anything with an interface that can be pushed, pulled, or twisted. It was inspired by a 2D plotter with the ability to rotate and extend, and also includes an extra degree of freedom that allows it to push buttons. A small stick-on adapter enables additional motions, like turning knobs. The software, designed to make operation as easy as possible, makes the MHD accessible for people without much in the way of technical background.

As of now, the IoTIZER is a research-through-design project from KAIST in South Korea. A number of prototypes were sent to the homes of users. According to the researchers, 14 participants from the initial trial liked the fact that the MHD was so customizable in terms of operating times, sequences, and conditions—adding functionality even to devices that already had some level of connectivity. Because MHD uses physical hardware to interact with physical interfaces, even non-technical users had success in setting it up.

The paper doesn’t directly address the cost of the MHD. With three motors and some other electronics in it, it’s not likely to come cheap. If there’s one specific device that you’d like to automate, many cost-efficient alternatives are available (like connected power switches). Or, it could even be cheaper to buy an entirely new device. But doing so is wasteful, whereas the MHD potentially gives a smart new life to many old things.

It’s also possible to build your own MHD device if you know what you’re doing. But for the vast majority of people, a DIY approach isn’t practical. Buying something that works out of the box and comes with a friendly app seems like it would be worth a cost premium. Although, the IoTIZER is not commercially available, and may never be commercially available, so if you’re really into the idea, a DIY version might be the way to go.

The future of MHDs

The researchers shared this interesting take on the future of MHDs at the end of their paper:

One potential solution to these challenges is a mechanical hijacking robot rather than a device. Recent technological developments are introducing personal service robots into the home. If these robots are commercialized before the full deployment of the IoT, they could more intelligently provide the MHD experience.

Personal service robots with the ability to manipulate objects the way IoTIZER can will not be in most homes for at least a decade. Although, it’s interesting to think about what you might be able to do with the addition of a small camera that could recognize things like sounds or flashing buttons, or basic text. Perhaps we just need to expand our idea of what a personal service robot actually is—if it’s just a little box with a couple of servos and some sensors that can intelligently hijack whatever we want it to, that could be good enough.

While the IoTIZER is a novel idea, waiting for a more cost-effective alternative would be a better idea–however long it would be. Until then, we may have to maximize the devices we have now. Or throw the old gadgets out.

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