Internet of Things Series
So who’s up for a series of posts on the Internet of Things? I know I am, because it’s the most interesting and engaging thing happening with the Internet today. The developments in new ways of using spectrum, higher capacity wireline networks (in the gigabits), IPv6, and enhancements in security are all paving the way to connected homes, connected cars, smart cities, telemedicine, remote learning, artificial intelligence, and mobile computing. The engineering community builds networks so people can use them, and one way we want to use the power of ubiquitous, high-performance, resilient networks is to enjoy more comfort, safety, and control among our connected devices. So let’s begin with an overview.
Each setting has its own characteristics, with some overlap and some uniqueness.
There’s not much doubt that we’re on the way to more connected devices than we even imagined ten years ago. Not only can we install smart thermostats like Nest to keep the home at the right temperature, we can use these smart devices to monitor for fires, carbon monoxide, break-ins, and whatever else is happening around the way while we’re away. With the right options, thermostats can shut off heating and cooling to rooms we’re not using, control lighting, and save a bundle. You can even remotely operate your garage door, which you may want to do for a variety of reasons, such as allowing a delivery man to drop off a package when you’re away in a secure location without getting access to your house. And then there’s all that home entertainment stuff, not to mention Bluetooth toothbrushes and pressure cookers and water-saving lawn and garden irrigation systems.
We’re just scratching the surface with smart cars too. Obviously, the most exciting thing about cars is driverless transportation, so commute time is not dead time and vacation trips are more about enjoying the scenery than staying inside the lines. This probably won’t come to pass fully until computer companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon build their own cars, but there’s a lot of room for improvement in the ones we have. Smart navigation systems, adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance, easy to use music and video systems, automatic heating and cooling, automatic windshield wipers, fog lights, and defoggers, maintenance alerts, and connections to the outside world via email, text messages, and Twitter are already here in rudimentary form, and they’re only going to become better integrated and more functional as time goes by. Look up any new car to see the array of options, especially geeky cars like BMWs, Fords, and Mercedes Benzes.
Smart cities mean better traffic flow, more efficient electric grids, self-monitoring utility networks, instant access to first responders, micro-climate weather awareness, crime prevention, more efficient law enforcement, and better citizen information about what’s happening in and around the town. No city can be fully smart if the infrastructure doesn’t connect to homes and cars, and if its schools, offices, businesses, and recreational facilities aren’t as smart as the home.
Personal Health and Fitness
And all of this begins with personal sensors that monitor our location and state of health, sharing the information we choose to share with the services and sensors with which we choose to share. Home, car, and city systems can do more for us the more we share with them, but there are obviously limits. Similarly, health care is going to get a lot better as doctors and fitness coaches know the parameters within which our bodies function, what we’re eating, and how active we are. There are whole conferences on this sort of thing.
There are a number of issues, points of friction to overcome, and shortcomings to master before the IoT becomes a vibrant reality.
We don’t get very far into discussions of IoT before we face issues of privacy and trust; I couldn’t even list the locales without mentioning it. It’s certainly the focus of the Federal Trade Commission and of many in Congress. That’s fine, but I don’t see it as the main stumbling block. Consumers will come to realize the tradeoffs in making information available and do what they’re comfortable doing.
It takes ongoing investment in infrastructure to install the necessary sensors and control systems to make this all happen, and it is mainly sensors, controls, and communication infrastructure.
IoT devices seem to follow a trajectory: they begin as standalone devices with a single function – like temperature control – and then advance to connect to other devices to share information that will enable them to do their jobs better, acting either as a controller or a source of information to serve to a controller.
Everything in IoT is either a sensor, a controller, a computation device, or some combination of any two or all three. One of the most engaging tussles in the space is the contention for the role of master controller, but some devices don’t even aspire to it. Smart heating vents are happy to be told what to do for example, but Nest wants to be the center of the smart home.The main part of being in charge is listening to users and doing what they want, when and where they want, and that’s obviously not an easy task.
The Genius Butler
One of the primary challenges for the smart home and office is the creation of a genius butler/housekeeper/office manager/chauffeur that always knows what’s required. We’re going to need somebody like Jeeves who can translate our ever-changing whims into an objective state of affairs, and that means artificial intelligence will finally get called up to the major leagues. Is it ready? Probably not yet, but some astute early adopters are already calling for it.
Tying all the little brains into one big brain that makes them all sing will be the primary ongoing challenge, and a constant source of amusement, amazement, and frustration.
So there’s your overview, next time I’ll dive into one of these issues in detail. But for now, let’s bear in mind that privacy isn’t the paramount issue; making it all work together in some sensible way is the primary problem and the greatest opportunity.