Skip

Give me examples of web services that make something happen in the physical world
February 4, 2011 3:35 AM   Subscribe

Give me examples of web services that make something happen in the physical world (e.g. send a letter, make a phone call)

I'm fascinated by the idea of interfaces between computer programs and the physical world. I'm particularly interested in the kind of things that you can make happen in the physical world by writing a computer program. For instance, using Twilio I can write a program that phones somebody up and plays a recording. Using PostalMethods I can write a program that sends a physical snail mail letter to someone.

What other examples are there of interfaces (probably web services) that let a piece of software have an effect on the physical world?
posted by primer_dimer to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Web commerce sites. You fill out a form, enter a credit card, and a few days later UPS drops off a package at your front door.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:50 AM on February 4, 2011


Web commerce sites. You fill out a form, enter a credit card, and a few days later UPS drops off a package at your front door.

OK, but can I write a piece of software that causes that to happen, rather than sitting in front of a computer and filling out a form? I'm sure that the answer is 'yes' for some online retailers, but I'd be interested to know which ones.

Of course I realize that I could always write a screen-scraping program to fill out the form, etc. but I'm more interested in services where doing this sort of thing programatically is a core part of the service.
posted by primer_dimer at 3:54 AM on February 4, 2011


An illegal and uncool example.
posted by jbickers at 4:13 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, I'm currently writing a system to talk to web services that connect mobile phones, add blackberry and port the numbers between networks, and it's all web services (except, not truly "web" as I'm communicating with private web services that have highly restricted access). Was this the kind of thing you were looking for?
posted by BigCalm at 4:22 AM on February 4, 2011


An illegal and uncool example.
posted by jbickers at 4:13 AM on February 4 [mark as best answer] [+] [!]


Can't believe I forgot about that!
posted by primer_dimer at 4:33 AM on February 4, 2011


Well, I'm currently writing a system to talk to web services that connect mobile phones, add blackberry and port the numbers between networks, and it's all web services (except, not truly "web" as I'm communicating with private web services that have highly restricted access). Was this the kind of thing you were looking for?
posted by BigCalm at 4:22 AM on February 4 [mark as best answer] [+] [!]


No exactly... I was more thinking of examples of services where John Q. Programmer could sign up for an account and start playing around. Your example sounds more specialized.
posted by primer_dimer at 4:34 AM on February 4, 2011


Faxaway is one of many email-to-fax gateways on the internet; a client of mine is internet-inefficent, so rather than emailing her new orders, the website faxes her.

With various home automation widgets, you can make all sorts of real-world things happen.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:46 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


This guy has written a script that automatically buys him something at random, fitting various requirements. It's not a U.S. site, but an example of something interesting and fun.
posted by thorny at 5:15 AM on February 4, 2011


I used a company a few years ago that had hundreds of mobile phones hooked up to the web. I think they were soldering wires onto the phones' boards so they could "press" buttons and get screen output.

You could book time on different handsets and test your software - send and receive SMS, do hardware resets, all that good stuff, even use the cameras. The photos were all black, so I assume the phones were sitting in a cupboard somewhere. Yeah, here we go: www.deviceanywhere.com
posted by Leon at 5:35 AM on February 4, 2011


Some students at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program built a script that waters a bed of wheatgrass based on people's tweets. You might be interested in ITP's list of student projects, others of which might also meet your criteria.
posted by rebekah at 6:02 AM on February 4, 2011


Blinkenlights is technically not web, but it does allow you to treat buildings as low resolution displays-- one pixel per window.

There used to be a Magic 8ball powered by lego mindstorms online, but it appears to have succumbed to entropy.
posted by pwnguin at 6:05 AM on February 4, 2011


Beyond mindstorms, there's also Arduino, which can do a lot of stuff on HTTP command if it's got an ethernet shield. For example, see this Web toggled LED tutorial. I imagine you'll find a lot of arduino web service projects via google searches.

Speaking of google searches, there's a search that finds a bunch of 'accidentally public' security camera web UIs. Some of which let you move and direct the camera. I won't link to it, partially because it's evil/hackery, but also because I don't remember it and I need to go to work soon.
posted by pwnguin at 6:10 AM on February 4, 2011


I guess it falls into the category of web commerce, but Seamless Web is one of my favorites. Place order, food arrives.
posted by kimdog at 6:11 AM on February 4, 2011


Amazon Fulfillment Web Service does this. I believe UPS/FedEx also have APIs that let you programmatically create shipments and schedule pickups.

This isn't really an official API, but there is (or was) a command-line client for Domino's pizza's online ordering system. I'm not sure if it still works; it hasn't been updated since 2009.
posted by teraflop at 6:15 AM on February 4, 2011


burrito [-n "name"] [-t

Filled in correctly, this would get you a burrito.
Tired of standing in line at La Costena? This file documents an
automatic facility for sending a fax to La Costena that orders 1 or
more burritos, quesadillas, tacos, and whatever. The command will
compose the fax, and send it to your favorite PostScript fax printer,
for direct transmission to La Costena, and no paper at this end will
be generated. Then, when you get there, your food will be waiting.
No worries.
Later versions, apparently by mefi's own plinth, included a "[graphical] user interface [that] involves throwing toppings onto a tortilla."
posted by zamboni at 6:24 AM on February 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


I won't link to it, partially because it's evil/hackery

Those open cameras are often the result of the lazy security contractors who physically install them but don't do much in the way of helping the new owners lock them down. Many of them are even left unconfigured with the factory default admin passwords (Axis camera owners are notorious for this...they probably don't change their wireless router defaults either!) Usually if you search for parts of the camera applets session variables you'll find quite a few on Google.
posted by samsara at 6:41 AM on February 4, 2011


Niko was a robot you could control via Twitter, but it has been offline for a while now. It would move and then tweet you a picture of where it was. I was going to post it to mefi last year, but it was never reliably taking commands.
posted by cashman at 6:44 AM on February 4, 2011


In the, basically pre-web days of the early 90s I remember Videoducks: if you happened to have an ISDN videophone then you could call up a (premium) number and see live footage of a duck pond. You could then use the keys on your phone to aim and fire a water pistol at the ducks (who did not seem to mind awfully). To my surprise I see this business is still running.
posted by rongorongo at 7:02 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Google Voice allows you to call other people's phone from your phone. You enter in the number you want to call and Google Voice will call your phone.

You pick up your phone and you are automatically connected to the person.
posted by 47triple2 at 8:32 AM on February 4, 2011


With various home automation widgets, you can make all sorts of real-world things happen.

One of the X10 companies started giving away free controller kits - I was lucky enough to get one. There was a surge in bottlerocket-related projects after that, and I'm pretty sure that the br package is still out there and available for download. Here's the debian how-to, for example.

About as far as ever I got was turning on the all the Christmas lights in the house via a cron job.
posted by jquinby at 8:48 AM on February 4, 2011


There are apps that let you control your Tivo/Fios DVR.
And apps that will unlock/start your car for you.
posted by CathyG at 9:22 AM on February 4, 2011


Did you see this project?
Every tweet tagged with #steelersnation twirls the towel one time.
posted by zamboni at 9:30 AM on February 4, 2011


This is sort of the exact opposite of what you're looking for, but Caleb Larsen made a sculpture that perpetually sells itself on Ebay.
posted by theodolite at 9:47 AM on February 4, 2011


Wakeruppr is like your hotel wake-up call. Personally I think it's one of the most useful web services out there and I use it everyday :)
posted by meta.mark at 10:11 AM on February 4, 2011


Lots of modern machinery is controlled over ethernet. Many of these machines have built in webservers. Often you can write custom webpages for them that actually control the machine. I doubt many of then are exposed to the public but in principle thay could be.

Here's a few examples:
Pneumatic Valves
Motor Speed Controllers
Servos
Serial ports
posted by Confess, Fletch at 1:41 PM on February 4, 2011


Oh, many network printers have a web interface through which you can do stuff. Many copiers do as well.
posted by jquinby at 2:21 PM on February 4, 2011


Well - read-only - the one, the original... Internet Coke Machine
posted by jkaczor at 3:36 PM on February 4, 2011


A few years back I wrote a script that would make my Asterisk box telephone me and play a message to let me know that a torrent had finished downloading and was copied on to the media server.
posted by dirm at 4:59 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older Is "gets spoilt" pro...   |  Can a (possibly stray) cat mak... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post