Yet RFID tags, wireless sensors and, for that matter, digital cameras (so far the most widely deployed sensor thanks to the popularity of mobile phones) are only half the story. Many objects no longer need an electronic tag or even a barcode to be automatically identified. For example, Goggles, a service offered by Google, can recognise things like book covers, landmarks and paintings. Users simply take a picture and send it to Google’s computers, which will send back search results for the object.
Many of the innumerable machines and devices that populate the physical environment also already come with some data-generating digital technology. More and more are getting connected so that they can communicate the information they contain to the outside world. Examples range from coffee machines and refrigerators to aircraft engines and body scanners in hospitals. These can all now phone home, so to speak, and provide their makers with fountains of data.