Responding to her Friday morning alarm, Stacey gets out of bed. Simultaneously, items throughout her house begin preparing for the day. Although it is cloudy outside, the interior is lighted with tones of a beautiful sunrise, per Stacey's personalized lighting scheme. The water heater makes sure the shower will be to her preference. When she enters the bathroom, her motion starts coffee brewing and breakfast cooking in the microwave.
As Stacey eats breakfast, her caloric intake is monitored. The morning headlines and stories are projected onto the wall next to the table. A green indicator says every device in the house is working perfectly, although she would have been notified before anything had come close to malfunctioning, and a repair order would have been automatically issued. The display lets her know that her trip to work today will take 37 minutes via an alternate route due to heavier than normal traffic on her usual route.
Before she leaves, Stacey thinks about dinner. The display says she should have the chicken tonight or it may spoil. Her phone beeps and tells her that the grill needs a propane tank refill. She hits "auto" to arrange the soonest possible refill delivery based on when her schedule indicates she will be home and able meet the delivery.
Stacey gets in her car which has already been brought to her ideal interior temperature. The car automatically exits her driveway, at the first available gap in traffic. According to the car's display, her trip today will cost more than usual due to the congestion toll on the alternate route. She realizes she could have avoided the extra toll by leaving a little earlier.
When Stacey arrives at work, she glances at her large office display and sees that all plant processes are functioning normally. The display reminds her of the SETI project, but instead of searching for intelligent life in the universe, the programs running behind the scenes are analyzing and displaying rivers of data generated throughout the plant to discover any anomalies, unusual resource needs, overages, or special opportunities.
With the exception of the autonomous car, all the underlying capabilities described above exist today and are part of the Internet of Things. What does not yet exist, though, are the software and services to aggregate and manage the discrete capabilities to make them commercially available.
Defining the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is simply a concept wherein machines and everyday objects are connected via the Internet. Within the IoT, devices are controlled and monitored remotely and usually wirelessly. IDC predicts that the IoT will include 212 billion things globally by the end of 2020. That sounds like a big number, but for context, in 2014 there are over 10 quadrillion ants on the planet. Although ants are not yet members of the IoT, Wifi-connected bees are now in development to help with pollination. MIT is working on smart sand that will be able to move and duplicate 3D objects, and Harvard has already developed 1000-robot swarms. Throw in smart dust motes and IDC's 212 billion IoT device estimate begins to look conservative.
The Depth and Variety of Internet Things
Not long ago, devices on the Internet had to be wired to a fixed location. One of the important drivers behind the Internet of Things is how easy it has now become to wirelessly connect mobile items to the Internet via WiFi, Bluetooth, or proprietary wireless communications protocols.
Smart IoT devices include everything from structural health monitors for buildings to smart egg trays that know how many eggs you have and how old they are. Home automation devices include Google's Nest, and two competing families of home and healthcare IoT systems: ZigBee and Z-Wave. The Vessyl smart drinking cup that monitors exactly what you are drinking, the HAPIfork tracks your eating habits, and the Beam tooth brush reports on your brushing history.
Although cars may not yet be autonomous, new models have many Internet-addressable capabilities including remote start, remote climate control, location tracking, as well as the currently-latent ability to track many of your driving habits. Every time you hear a warning beep, another item of data is recorded.
Almost anything can now be connected to the Internet of Things via wireless sensors, such as the Node+ series, which measure temp, color, CO2, and other metrics.
Displaying all the data and video
It is one thing for IoT devices to generate data, but another to store and display it all. Although any Internet-connected display can be used with IoT data, the smartphone may be the most common display and control device, and in many ways is driving IoT innovation. Still, the range and diversity of display devices is exploding in the same way all IoT devices are multiplying. Need a larger display? Switch to Apple TV or Google Chromecast. Need hands-free? Switch to Google Glass or your smart watch or ring. Research is underway to communicate directly to your visual cortex and auditory brain.
After her workday, Stacey gets back home and she feels like getting some exercise. A glance at her phone tells her that during the day she consumed 700 more calories than her fitbit has recorded her burning. As she gets on her treadmill, it automatically, but safely starts up her workout.
Her phone beeps to remind her that her son is swimming in the Oahu North Shore Open Water swim in 15 minutes. She really wants to watch it live, so she activates her druper app that allows her to rent almost anything, anywhere at any time. She rents and dispatches a drone with a camera from a depot in Oahu and gives it the swim course coordinates. The live image from the drone is projected on a nearby wall.
The phone beeps again, this time indicating a text from her sister, "I've just landed Pearl Jam tickets for tomorrow night, NYC! Meet me at my apartment ASAP." This instantly becomes her highest priority, so she does three things. She requests transportation through an Uber-like service to NYC where her sister lives. She sets everything in her home to "idle" status, and clears her calendar. The latter two operations have been preconfigured and are triggered by a single message. Before she leaves the house, she switches the display of video feed from the Hawaiian drone to her Google Glass, so she'll have an uninterrupted view of her son's race.
As her trip to NYC begins, she receives an ominous warning regarding her diabetic father's glucometer. All readings are normal, but the anti-virus monitor has detected an attack...
What are the consequences of the Internet of Things?
The benefits, based solely on products that exist today, let alone the unimagined combinations of emerging capabilities, are tremendous. More than ever the smartphone has become the remote control for life. Data is available at your fingertips on everything imaginable. But there are a number of challenges and disruptions ahead. These challenges include technical issues, business issues, requirements for new and evolving skill sets, legal and legislative difficulties, and social complexities.
Unbundling and Aggregation
One of the most disruptive aspects of the IoT is that it enables near-complete unbundling and almost-arbitrary aggregation of all conceivable products and systems. The process of unbundling and aggregation is not entirely new, but the IoT takes it to a new and more accessible level.
Historical examples of unbundling include the MP3, which unbundled individual songs from complete CD albums. Blogs unbundled individual articles out of complete newspapers. Earlier on the technology timeline, IBM had sold completely bundled computing solutions that included all software and services, until DEC came along and successfully sold smaller, unbundled computers to which you could add your own software and services. AOL successfully sold an aggregated online product, until the Internet provided easy access to all the individual content.
Over the last thirty year, there has been a pattern of aggregation, followed by unbundling, followed by re-aggregation. As DEC started to aggregate their products back together, Microsoft and Intel offered a new unbundled computing approach. Apple and Google offered unbundled versions of Microsoft's aggregations. The process continued with Whatsapp, Instagram, and Twitter unbundled messaging, photo sharing, and status updates from Facebook. The ultimate unbundled product today may be Yo, described as a one-bit communication app, whose sole capability is to send the message, Yo, to predefined recipients, triggering predefined activities through aggregating apps like IFTTT.
Occulus Rift is an aggregated full-immersion virtual reality display, that creates virtual worlds that are so realistic users have been known to rip it off their head in terror. Google provides an unbundled version of these capabilities, called Google Cardboard, that you assemble yourself using your smartphone, VR apps and a Bluetooth game controller.
The ultimate unbundling, still well over the horizon, is programmable matter, in the form of buckminsterfullerene (bucky-balls) or nanotubes, which can be theoretically combined into any shape and function.
IoT Challenges and Opportunities
Just as with technology revolutions of the past, including the telegraph (1840s), railroads (1880s), and the early days of the Internet itself (1990s), the IoT creates revolutionary opportunities both for businesses and individuals. Those who understand the underlying IoT fundamentals, possess the needed skills, and can meet the technical challenges will have a major advantage.
The IoT offers several major categories of opportunities. First there are the basic components and devices that connect to the network via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The next level includes entirely new aggregated products and systems that combine these devices in new ways, like home management systems. The third level and by far the largest and fastest growing consists of all the services providing customized solutions to businesses and consumers. These include data analysis services to help make sense of the vast amount of Big Data generated by the IoT. Of the >$1 trillion IoT market predicted for 2020, 58% is made up of managed services, with the other 43% going to enablement hardware (4%) and network services (39%).
The IoT gives businesses new ways to instantly connect with customers. Just as Airbnb opened up the concept of renting homes and rooms over the Internet, all sorts of Internet devices and services can now be rented on demand, for example drones and robots. Doublerobots is already offering their robot for remote test driving via the web.
All existing businesses must understand the impact of the IoT on their operations and rethink their business models. Business models are shifting from discrete product sales, to recurring revenue models. The IoT provides the opportunity, rapidly evolving into the need, to monitor and respond to customers in near realtime. Individual products no longer exist in a vacuum; interactions among devices from multiple sources and vendors must be understood and taken into account. The battle over the concept of the home command center between Nest/Google, Wink/Quirky, Homekit/Apple, Insteon, Smartthings, and Revolv is an example of companies trying to gain control over an important segment of the IoT.
Products and bundles can be remotely reconfigured and repaired quickly. Customers can be provided with tools to do their own reconfiguration. Ultimately, adaptive systems will reconfigure themselves to customer needs. Agile businesses that can customize and personalize their products to their customers' immediate needs have a strong advantage.
Insurance concerns and opportunities; example autonomous cars, but also data will make it easier to assess risks; opportunity for new pricing models: insurance premium tuning based on health and driving data
The Internet of Things is bringing changes to government. On the municipal scale, San Francisco has already implemented SFpark, which enables drivers to locate open parking spaces with a smart phone app and also pay through the app. Parking fees vary by block, time of day, and day of week. A new era of congestion pricing is being ushered in for state highways.
Participation in the IoT begins with a solid network infrastructure so that all the things, devices, phones, displays, and controllers, can easily communicate. Wi-Fi is an important means to provide wireless connectivity. Today, access is provided by 802.11n or 802.11ac standard access points. Chips are now in development for 802.11ah, a lower power standard to meet the needs of future IoT devices.
Because it is easy to bring so many devices of a wide variety into the range of a Wi-Fi network, it is extremely important for the network to handle high volume and density of the devices, and to be capable of discriminating between permitted and rogue devices. The whole concept of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) takes on new meaning with the enormous range of mobile and wearable IoT devices. Each device is capable of generating an enormous amount of data that must be stored, protected, and analyzed.
Gartner predicts that by 2017, users will download 268 billion apps, half of them to wearable devices. Users will be providing personalized data streams to more than 100 apps and services every day. It is important for businesses to understand these application and data flows and be able to identify bottlenecks.
Powering the mobile sensors and controllers presents a challenge. Batteries must be kept small, but still provide a usable life between charges. Research into the concept of the ambient energy harvesting, that is, using readily-available ambient heat, light, vibrations, even jaw bone motion to power IoT devices, will have strong benefits to the IoT.
The recently reported breaches are indicative of the need for overall better protection of sensitive online personal data. The IoT puts many more doors on the Internet that need to be securely locked and monitored. Early this year, Proofpoint, a security-as-a-service vendor, issued a report stating that 750,000 phishing and SPAM emails had been sent by home-networking routers, connected multi-media centers, televisions, and refrigerators.
The massive Target breach was caused by a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company. Stealing personal data and corporate data is bad enough, but the prospect of hacking into life support systems and even embedded medical devices is life-threatening.
Social and Legal Concerns
All the new streams of data becoming available on the Internet raise difficult privacy and moral issues that are only starting to be addressed. Who owns the video streaming in from Google Glass and the healthcare-related date streaming from other wearables? What happens when autonomous devices run amok?
The IoT encourages a new level of outsourcing, and with it concerns about service availability, response times, issues of scalability, price structure issues, defining project completion, and intellectual property ownership.
How Can You Prepare?
The growth of Internet of Things opens up opportunities for businesses and people with the right skills. These skills include network design, data analysis, data security, and engineering. Mckinsey projects the need for 1.5 million additional managers and analysts "with a sharp understanding of how big data can be applied" in the United States. Gartner has predicted there will be 4.4 million global big data jobs by 2015, only one-third of which will be filled.
And finally, the IoT is opening up new avenues for humor: Near Future Laboratory "offers" surplus networked pillows, weather-sensing hair extensions, and the MeWee Monitor through their TBD Catalog, which the company describes as "a printed catalog you ritually pick up every morning to browse on your mostly boring, everyday ordinary driverless commute."
Follow Vala Afshar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ValaAfshar