Stop. Think. For a minute about the possibility of connecting your shoes to the internet through your phone. What for? You may ask. Well, how about an alert that lets you know your lovely and expensive lizard-skin shoes might not be an appropriate choice for today impending rains by the weather app on your Android or iOS phone. How cool!
Ah! I thought you might like it too! Well, it’s a new phenomenon and it’s called the Internet of Things (IoT). By now, the phrase has been well flung around and it’s pretty much gaining attention everywhere. But what exactly is the IoT about?
The Internet of Things, coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999, is a system in which real everyday “objects” will be connected to the Internet through the use of sensors to enable them communicate with each other, with users and ultimately enable us gather real-time information about the world around us. The IoT is fast absorbing into various industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, and communications as a million variety of intelligent devices are pushed into our palms daily. The benefits are acclaimed to be numerous and part of it will be to reduce waste, eliminate cost and make our lives more comfortable and secure.
Actually, the IoT has been pretty much around in some way – if you recall early buzz about phone apps that could allow you turn off the light bulbs back home if you forgot to do so, and sensors that automatically opened the doors or gates when you or your car came close. However, with the new IoT, there is a promise to do much more meaningful integration and advanced automation than just opening doors and turning off light bulbs. This Machine 2 Machine (M2M) architecture will not only be connecting your devices to the larger network but also bringing smart intelligence to the way they respond to us when we use them or even in our absence. Here are a few examples:
- The patio door does not shut behind you when you step out to take some air.
- Your oven communicates the status of the cookies you are baking over a PA system wired across the house.
- Automated systems in a car provides real-time update on traffic conditions and re-routes you if need be.
- Allergy reactions are averted through an automated system that crosschecks patient’s health-bio with medication in bottles that identify their contents.
So what is required for this to happen?
I believe that the first step to building such a robust technology will be to identify the required elements. First let’s talk about the device. Generally, a device is thought of as a smart phone or tablet. But in the M2M context, a device would be anything capable of being identified such that it provides data about itself, location or status which can be used to build a device-to-device collaboration & communication through the internet, and an intelligent decision-making system ecosystem. While you might assume Bluetooth or Wi-Fi as possible connection sensors, there will be a need for much more meaningful integration technologies. Sensors, RFID, electrical controllers and possibly new connection innovations will be very key for making devices identifiable.
Secondly, there will be a need for a standard framework and platform that all interested stakeholders can build upon. As we have experienced in the early years of the internet, disparate systems can spring up very quickly as companies rush to build their idea of the perfect ecosystem. However, the fastest road to success in the IoT is a framework agreed to and standardized by research and technology companies such that it is well understood, easy to use, is secure, can meet up to future needs, can integrate with existing technology and everyone can benefit .
Without delving too deep, issues such as security, reliability, accessibility, information integrity, management among others will be of utmost concern to the users. In addition to these, developers and software companies, on the other hand, will be tackling more technical issues such as identifying programming languages that can effectively port across devices, defining communication standards for sensors, handling event processing, big data analytics and storage models. Even manufacturing companies will need to decide on standard sensors, ports and other hardware related issues.
Lastly, everyone will need to put on their thinking caps to come up with really innovative solutions for device connectivity and the sort of decision-making that will truly provide value. I say everyone because I for one have always wanted to be able to call up my car keys whenever I can’t find them. O the hours wasted looking for misplaced car keys when a simple tap on my smart phone would have sufficed! Therefore, as developers think of how to power up a world of compute resources, a user’s ideas on ways real-time knowledge gathered can better enhance the world around us will be highly instrumental in ensuring that the IoT does deliver value.
Are you ready? The IoT is the next BIG thing and this is the time for you – users, developers, venture capitalist, tech entrepreneurs and technology enthusiasts – to be part of its formation.
Already excited? Check out openHAB.org , a German based start up with a home automation open source software running on Java. It boasts of over 2000 installations worldwide.
What are your thoughts on this? As a developer, what platforms do you think might be most suitable for a developing a clean and compact architecture? As a user, where do you think this is headed?