The Internet of Things, For Openers

Global events, data, analyst predictions and future trends — the Internet of Things has continued to capture our attention as we speed endlessly toward a mass “connected things” world….

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IoE Cisco

Facts, trends and market expertise driving the numbers. The future predicted and re-predicted — depending of course on which market source and/or expert you follow. And while I had fully intended to write a blog focused on these expert predictions as well as current and future trends, including in AV/IT, it was the bit of the history-searching to build into this that brought me in a whole different direction.

What I came across involved a vending machine at a well-known university in Pennsylvania, which became known as one of the very first Internet-connected “appliances.” This was an Internet-connected Coca Cola machine, developed around 1982 by four Carnegie Mellon University students in the School of Computer Science department, where the machine had stood for quite some time.The following are excerpts from this highly interesting technology breakthrough titled “The ‘Only’ Coke Machine on the Internet.”

Hi, I’m the CMU CS Department Coke Machine. A lot of folks have written a quite a bit about me in the last couple of years, and most of them can tell you more about the history of me and my family than I can. Before I worked here, my Mom, and I think her Pop (heh heh :-)) used to sell sodas to the folks in the computer science department. In fact, my family has been here longer than most of the students, and even a lot of the faculty. We moved to the third floor of the computer science building (Wean Hall) in the ’70s. I still sell Coke in bottles, but they’re big 20 oz plastic things these days. They go for 50 cents each, which I guess isn’t too bad considering inflation. And at least they don’t break inside me any more like the glass ones used to. What a mess…

Tom Lane, a computer scientist dedicated to open source software, who holds a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, was referenced here:

Tom Lane had the following to say about us:

Since time immemorial (well, maybe 1970) the Carnegie-Mellon CS department has maintained a departmental Coke machine which sells bottles of Coke for a dime or so less than other vending machines around campus. As no Real Programmer can function without caffeine, the machine is very popular. (I recall hearing that it had the highest sales volume of any Coke machine in the Pittsburgh area.) The machine is loaded on a rather erratic schedule by grad student volunteers. In the mid-seventies expansion of the department caused people’s offices to be located ever further away from the main terminal room where the Coke machine stood. It got rather annoying to traipse down to the third floor only to find the machine empty — or worse, to shell out hard-earned cash to receive a recently loaded, still-warm Coke. One day a couple of people got together to devise a solution.

They installed micro-switches in the Coke machine to sense how many bottles were present in each of its six columns of bottles. The switches were hooked up to CMUA, the PDP-10 that was then the main departmental computer. A server program was written to keep tabs on the Coke machine’s state, including how long each bottle had been in the machine. When you ran the companion status inquiry program, you’d get a display that might look like this:

                             EMPTY   EMPTY    1h 3m
                             COLD     COLD      1h 4m

This let you know that cold Coke could be had by pressing the lower-left or lower-center button, while the bottom bottles in the two right-hand columns had been loaded an hour or so beforehand, so were still warm. (I think the display changed to just “COLD” after the bottle had been there 3 hours.)

The final piece of the puzzle was needed to let people check Coke status when they were logged in on some other machine than CMUA. CMUA’s Finger server was modified to run the Coke status program whenever someone fingered the nonexistent user “coke.” (For the uninitiated, Finger normally reports whether a specified user is logged in, and if so where.) Since Finger requests are part of standard ARPANET (now Internet) protocols, people could check the Coke machine from any CMU computer by saying “finger coke@cmua.” In fact, you could discover the Coke machine’s status from any machine anywhere on the Internet! Not that it would do you much good if you were a few thousand miles away…

(Which is not to say that I haven’t had a lot of electronic visits and kind email from folks all over the country and all over the world.)*


Here is the CMU SCS Coke Machine Homepage, last updated Jan. 2014 (it is no longer updated).

And bringing things more toward the modern day, in May 2010 Chris Varenhorst, a graduate student from MIT in Computer Science (he later received a Master of Engineering), purchased a 30+ year old Coke machine to connect it to the internet. His quote: A few months ago I picked up a functioning old soda machine off Craigslist. This machine was built in 1977 and has been comfortably vending soda the same way for over 30 years. That’s boring, lets make this retro machine a little more modern! 

Honestly, while I could have researched and come up with numerous facts, figures and analyst predictions, I found the combined information in this blog to be highly enlightening — and where expert viewpoints are concerned, I’d certainly like to hear what those appearing at InfoComm on June 16th have to say concerning IoT and AV/IT.

The Opening Keynote: The Internet of Things will be led by noted journalist and author Nick Bilton of The New York Times, and include what is described as a “dynamic group of thought leaders” from Cisco, Crestron, Harman and Samsung who will debate the future of the Internet of Things (IoT), its applications, and its impact for the commercial audiovisual industry. These panelists will also share their views on the growth potential for IoT, implications for security and privacy, and open specifications for interoperability.

You can see more about the opening keynote here — this is free for all attendees. I do hope to be there to learn from these experts and add to my current knowledge-base on IoT, especially in terms of AV and IT as well.

* You can read the full story The “Only” Coke Machine on the Internet here.

Read more on Chris Varenhorst and “An internet controlled classic vending machine” here. (Chris is currently an engineer at Dropbox).

Block quotes provided through Ironpaper blog Internet of Things Market Statistics – 2015