The Internet of Things: Talking socks and RFID trash

There are enough unique IPv6 addresses to assign an IP address to every item in the world, natural and man made. But how will we manage the conversation with our newly intelligent things?
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor

We are used to technology devices communicating with each other without our interaction. Devices all over the world track our location and report back to some big data store.

But it can feel a little disturbing to think about inanimate objects being sentient. Imagine 'things' having ‘knowledge’ which allows them to communicate with another 'thing' on the web.

To communicate with other things, each thing needs an IP address. And these seem to be in short supply. Asia ran out of IPv4 addresses last year, the last five blocks of IP addresses have been assigned to the registries and Europe is using up the last addresses it has.

Fortunately, IPv6 addresses have been available for a while now and the amount available is almost limitless, smashing the IPv4 limit out of the park. With IPv6 the possibilities for connecting absolutely everything together seems endless.

Cisco reckons that by 2020 there will be 50 billion items that could be connected together and capable of communicating. The IPv6 protocol gives us the option to assign approximately 3.4×1038 addresses to anything we want.

Credit: Smarter Socks


The massive increase in addresses means that many more things can be connected to the internet and communicate with each other. Now IPv6 addresses can be assigned to inanimate objects, plants and animals.

Animals that need to be monitored are obvious targets for RFID and wireless technology applications.

The Dutch company Sparked created a wireless system to track cows health. Triggers and alerts could tell the farmer when there were issues with the herd of networked cows.

Trashing Things

Applying RFID or wireless technology gives us endless opportunities to create the ‘clever network’.

How about a garbage can talks to a web service and on to a backend data store?

When you finish that box of cereal and throw it into the trash, a bar code reader, or RFID chip records that the item is empty and automatically orders a new packet of cereal from the store.

Clever technology could bring up its own challenges. Imagine trying to throw out an item that you hate. You could be bombarded with the same horrid item delivered over and over again. You could be in the endless loop hell of the cereal packet that just will not let you trash it.

Trash cans also could have drawbacks with spiteful neighbours throwing their trash, or the items that they do not want into your trash can. The Internet of things could have its challenges.

RFID chips are already being used in Cleveland that use RFID for waste management. The City apparently will monitor what trash you are throwing away. If you are not recycling, you are probably throwing trash into the main trash can.

The alert can mean that your trash gets searched and a fine levied.

In August Trimble announced that it has released an solution that wirelessly sends fill level and status information to a web portal that can be accessed. Fill levels are accessed hourly to optimise collections and save dumpster trips.

Talking Things

And wearable tech future couture now includes practical clothing. Talking socks are now here. Smarter Socks have an RFID tag into its socks and the company has even created an iPhone app to monitor your socks and ‘Allowing your socks to tell their story’.

You can see whether your socks are matched with their correct partner, how often you wash them and when your socks were produced.

The company currently has no information as to whether you will be able to order another pair if you throw them out and the tag is read by the trash can.

Theoretically every ‘thing’ on the planet could be connected – every tree, every leaf, every book, every shoe.

But will the noise of all things communicating deafen us all with the deluge of information? Socks should be silent.

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