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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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The Internet Of Tools

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By now you have probably heard of "the internet of things" or, more accurately, "the internet of everything." Perhaps you have heard of GE's jet engine on-board diagnostic and analysis system that transmits engine data while in flight so that at the next landing spot crews can be ready to perform any maintenance work with parts and tools on hand so as to minimize downtime.

It is currently estimated that by 2018 some nine billion "things" will be interconnected via the internet. This is in addition to computers, smart phones, and iPads. Already washers and dryers can send a text message when the clothes are done, refrigerators can make menu suggestions for the ingredients inside and tell you when to throw out the lettuce, iTunes gives music recommendations based on prior listening habits, and your car reminds you when to change the oil. A miniature drone flies across fields of corn, mapping crop progress and micro-weather conditions. The cloud-stored data is used to direct the automated disbursement of fertilizers, weed killers, and pesticides where and when they will be most effective and with the smallest amount of waste. Smart automated planting equipment dispenses carefully hybridized seeds according to micro-climate conditions… that low wet spot in the field gets one kind of seed optimized for those conditions, the high, dry spot in the field gets another hybrid seed. And by the way, the seed company and the distributor know when, where, and how much seed was planted, and through the internet, replenishment orders are already in the works.

Amazing stuff, all this. A couple weeks ago I purchased a high definition wide angle color and sound transmitting surveillance camera, and in a matter of three or four minutes it was up, running, and transmitting live video to my iPhone. The camera can "see" in the dark, thanks to built-in infrared emitters, has a motion detector, and even has a tiny microphone and speaker. When I leave the house, the system automatically detects my departure, turns on the alert system and sends a notification to my phone when motion is detected. I need only to push a button to see a live feed anytime, anywhere. Using standard finger gestures on the touch screen of my phone, I can pan and zoom in on a specific area. Room sounds are also transmitted to my phone, and if I really want to spook my cats, I can press a button and they can hear me talking. All of this for less than $200. Amazing.

Some of this interconnectivity will enhance productivity. Some will jeopardize privacy. Some will entertain and some will annoy… but it is not hypothetical, theoretical, or even fanciful… it is here… now.

A small company called Nest sold a few internet-connected thermostats and Google promptly bought the company for $3.2 Billion. The Google folks, no slouches when it comes to making wise bets on future technology, certainly saw something of value.

Like anything that the government allows to operate in a free market environment, the cost of this technology will continue to plummet, the technology will flourish, and more uses will be discovered.

Figure 4 - This would be so sweet!

When writing the review of the JDS 2100-CKV dust collector I fantasized about a "dust bucket full" alert that could appear on my iPhone… that was no fantasy… it is doable today with off-the-shelf technology at minimal cost.

As bulletproof and downright fantastic as Apple products are, sometimes a program will "freeze" or "shut down." A diagnostic of the event is automatically sent to the software engineers at Apple who can analyze and write software revisions to prevent future occurrences. SawStop invented a system for quickly stopping and retracting a spinning blade when it contacts flesh. Is it fantasy to envision a report of a "triggering" incident that would be sent electronically and automatically to SawStop engineers? Perhaps in the "internet of everything" a table saw without a blade brake would just dial 911 automatically.

We all (I hope) have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in our homes and shops… when will someone provide woodworkers with a detector that measures dust content in the air and warns us when we should take protective actions? My weather station provides internal and external humidity readings and I can set the system to alert me if the humidity or temperature in the shop rises or falls above preset levels. Could a small RFID (radio frequency identification) tag be applied to pieces of wood that would not only catalog and identify, but that would also transmit moisture content? Again, off-the-shelf, existing technology. Let's deploy it in woodworking!

Many Festool tools adjust motor power in response to load. Is it a reach to imagine a drill press that auto-adjusts speed based on bit size and wood density? How about micro-chip imbedded router bits that automatically set the router speed for optimal use? Could a nail gun set the electronic pressure regulator on an air compressor, which, by the way, also has air moisture content alert capability?

Certain adjustments on certain tools are made rarely and I can never quite remember the proper procedure. When will manufacturers supplement instruction manuals with voice synthesis supported by a look-up database. "Siri, how do I set the drive roller height on my planer?" And, lo and behold, she could talk me through the procedure.

Again, these are not speculative or science fiction… the technology could be implemented in weeks, not months or years. Implementation is merely a case of modifying some existing gadget or computer code to our specific woodworking needs.

As long as manufacturers are considering RFID devices for cataloging and inventory, why not "hide" some radio tags in hand and small power tools, and just like the "Find My iPhone" app, we could have a "Find My Tool" app that would track down a lost or stolen tool.

On my wrist is an "Up" band that measures the number of steps I take each day, active time, inactive time (like sitting here at the computer writing this), and the length and quality of my sleep. Tiny motion sensors do much of the work. Those same tiny motion sensors in power tools could transmit alerts if vibration exceeds factory specifications possibly indicating a need for lubrication, belt adjustment, or other maintenance.

There is no limit to technological possibilities. Every piece of stationary equipment should have a digital non-resettable hours counter. The hours counter would clearly alert us to routine maintenance needs, but would also prove invaluable to both buyer and seller when it comes time to trade that piece of equipment for something bigger or better… or maybe something with newer technology.

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