Some of my fondest memories date back to the early 90's when, at Interop in San Jose, a company called Epilogue demonstrated how the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) wasn't just for managing routers and other network gear. To prove SNMP's versality, Epilogue showed how it could be used to manage other devices too. Like toasters. On this page I found through Google, John Romkey can be found talking about the early days of TCP/IP, network management, and the birth of ToasterNet:
If you put bread in the toaster, and set a variable in SNMP, the toaster would start toasting. There was a whole MIB written up for it, including how done you wanted the toast, and whether it was a bagel or Wonderbread. In order to figure out a matrix of how long to toast a bagel or Wonderbread to get it done to a specific doneness, I ended up with lots and lots of bread in my garage.
Those were the early Interop days. This was before Interop was merged with the primarily Novell-related Networld (yielding a new show; Networld+Interop) and it was when you couldn't find a person in the building with a necktie. There were a lot of ponytails, t-shirts and folks running around the show floor with utility belts on (for the "ShowNet") and after hours, there were Birds of a Feather sessions (BOFs) that were standing room only where engineers were openly discussing how they got things done. For some more tribal storytelling that conveys how magical and fun those days were -- a period when the Net's DNA was literally forming -- read this.
Today, 17 years later, while Networld is back to being just Interop again (it starts next week) and the folks like Epilogue founder Karl Auerbach who played a pioneering role at the old Interops are still playing a role at the new Interop, it is rather commonplace for networkable hardware to be remotely managed and controlled via something other than SNMP. For example, as the video below shows, by Java. This video of a Java-controlled robot (pictured above left) was captured at JavaOne last week where I spied several Java-controlled hardware items including a "real-time" unmanned helicopter (see it right, flying next to Java inventor James Gosling, photo courtesy of Jim Driscoll, as a part of JavaOne's "Toy Show"). I don't know why (after all, my DVR is remotely programmable over the net by Comcast and that's no big deal), these dynamically programmable devices really reminded me of the old days of Interop's ToasterNet. Anyway, here's the video of the robot: