In 5 years there will be at least 50 billion machines on the Internet and only a minority of them are going to be operated directly by men. Most of those devices interact with its surroundings making the physical environment smart and sensitive to change. The environment that our stuff resides in is what I like to call the Thingyverse.
The “Internet of Things” is just a part of this because in this it is all relevant and connected on a global scale. Try to see it from the user perspective. They perceive their surroundings and what it can do, the internet and the communication options are extended surroundings which gives the idea of having those people and devices close. This is the same with controlling your thermostat or airconditioning remotely. This is not the Internet controlling it, but bringing the control button to your phone. Like calling somebody on the phone and feeling this person close.
In the whole debate covering the Internet of Things most of it is deeply centralized. But the end-user has no clue about it, they do not care about Big Data or about protocols to make their devices in house interact. They care about what happens in their Thingyverse which holds their stuff and the functions they do for them. And this environment is becoming more and more digital.
Only a handful cases work at the moment and they are very direct and strict using ‘extended’ functions. Basically that is technology that is in most top level luxury cars, now made available for the home. Just watch an old episode of Knight Rider and see that all technology shown is already possible. This is the level of connectivity we could envision without even knowing about a global Internet and a social revolution online.
So what factors can the digitalisation of the Thingyverse bring into the game:
- location : the bubble of stuff becomes bigger in the same manner as it became bigger with the phone and email
- replication : it starts with configuration and goes on when 3D printing evolves
- sharing : limited resources will make sharing a need
- management : manage and connect these things without having a day job controlling it
The user has her stuff in his Thingyverse connected via what she sees, feels and hears extended by services on the Internet of Things. Defining a successful strategy for these services always involve getting the full picture and not only the world through the eyes of the Internet (or should I say glasses).
The biggest difference between a Thing and an online service.
Let’s first talk about what Things we are talking about and why these things have to be on the Internet. In the end it is just a matter of economics and Moore’s Law. Computing power gets cheaper and faster in an exponential rate so computers that were the size of your desk 10 years ago, are now matched by your mobile phone. Simple computing electronics and sensors are already miniaturised that they can be placed anywhere as part of a sticker, including a battery to power it for almost 2 years. So envision these smart patches being smarter than your mobile phone in 5 years having batteries that keep on going for a decade.
Let me give an example of what the change will be. You can buy a webcam for your house that allows you to control it remotely and you can even put some intelligence in it by adding an infra-red sensor that activates the camera. Imagine you add some intelligence to that camera and it recognises everybody in the house and looks up unknown people. You never have to enable this again since it is always active. The camera can also detect your physical fitness by detecting changes in colours in your face. Since intelligence is available locally there is no need to send all the data online, it just needs to connect to you to communicate the outcome.
This is one of the biggest changes in computing where we have centralized computing in the cloud, and where in the world of smart things it becomes a distributed environment again. And this is validated through the just released specifications of HomeKit and Android Home where they focus on distribution rather than putting everything in one cloud.
So that covers the interaction between users and their Things, how about the rest?
As stated earlier, only a minority of things are operated by humans. When a car interacts with the highway for optimal and autonomous driving it is unattended. The smart grid asks your home devices to reduce the energy load for 5% for the next 5 minutes in order to handle higher grid loads. Or the public transport system slowing down some trains and busses for several minutes to make sure that travelling people get to it. This kind of interaction is ubiquitous and will have the most impact on the world. One thing they have in common is that they are not personalized but they are covering the majority of cases.
This is where the Big Data systems come in and where direct communication is needed. Companies managing and delivering these services will be the next generation telecom providers. They are evolving from Telco to Thingco.