Yes, Virginia, there really was an Internet Toaster.
In fact, it was a Sunbeam toaster. John Romkey and Simon Hackett were the hit of the 1990 Interop Internet networking show. John is shown above demonstrating the start of the internet of things more than twenty-five years ago. He used the Internet to turn the toaster on and off. Responding the criticism that a human still needed to insert bread and remove the toast, the pair returned in 1991 with a combined robotic arm and toaster. Also, internet controlled. Read the full story here.
John Romkey was the right guy to do the internet toaster. He invented the first TCP/IP stack for the IBM PC in 1983. He and his buddy, Australian Simon Hackett have formed various internet-related companies and continue to consult.
Some purists might argue that the first thing on the Internet was really the Coke machine in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University. It went online in 1982. In my mind, though, this was just a sensor. I support the toaster for “first thing” honors.
The 1990 trade show event was part gag, part precursor. The CEO of Samsung recently announced that 90% of his company’s appliances will be internet connected by 2020. Meanwhile over at Kickstarter, Toasteroid is seeking funding for its IoT toaster that will also print messages on your toast.
Internet Toaster Hacking 25 Years Later
Now to provide some reality checking. Last month, a reporter at The Atlantic magazine conducted an experiment to test IoT security. Andrew McGill created a virtual toaster online. He did this quietly, with no announcement or publicity. Internet search robots found his toaster and hacked it in forty one minutes!
Andrew’s story is worth reading. It highlights the pervasiveness of Internet hacking robots that are lining up against the Internet of Things – and you. The takeaway from this story is to make sure that the Firewall in your home router is turned on.