|Europe's leading residential technology trade magazine||Subscribe|
Defining the Internet of Things (6/6/2012)
By Tom Kerber, Parks Associates
The phrase 'Internet of things,' used prominently in conjunction with the concept of the connected home and lifestyle, represents the idea that all devices will eventually be connected to the Internet. Each hardware object in the real world will have an accompanying virtual object in the cloud, which represents the current state of the end device and retains its operational history. With this setup, a user can operate the device in the home remotely through an interface such as a smartphone or tablet computer that connects through the virtual object.
The Internet of things will multiply based on the continuing convergence of multiple technologies. Functionality will expand in waves as groups of different technologies become available.
While this process will not necessarily be linear, the functionality of each successive grouping of technologies is largely dependent on the results of the prior group. For example, there must first be broadband ubiquity before there can be multidevice control from a single, integrated user interface on any significant scale.
However, future solutions may leapfrog current approaches, removing obstacles and reducing dependencies on prior groups of converged technologies.
First Group of Converged Technologies
The first group of technologies is just now converging:
• Wireless networking technology, allowing all devices to become connected.
This grouping of technologies enables individual products to include remote monitoring and control as well as new features with expanded capabilities, and there are several examples of these products on the market today, for energy management, appliances, thermostats, and more.
EcoFactor for example, collects operational data from the thermostat and combines it with weather data and basic knowledge about the home to create an energy model, which it uses to automatically control the thermostat. Whirlpool's premium washer and dryer will include Wi-Fi connectivity. It has partnered with Tendril to provide the back-office integration that gives users remote monitoring and control capability. Tendril's platform has provisions for OEMs to collect proprietary data and analytics as well as interoperability, with the growing ecosystem of devices connected to the Tendril platform.
LG has launched a refrigerator that keeps track of its contents by scanning a grocery receipt with a smartphone. It suggests recipes that can then be made from the ingredients, lets the users know if food has expired, and even allows ordering of items for delivery. Samsung has included an LCD touch screen on its connected refrigerator that allows family members to leave a note, check the weather, pull up recipes, and even listen to music.
ecobee offers a smart thermostat that includes remote access and control for consumers and one for HVAC dealers. Its small business energy management solution includes a portal that allows business owners to control thermostats at multiple stores using a single user interface.
Second Group of Converged Technologies
Standards have a disruptive impact, opening markets to new entrants and giving consumers direct access to new products and services. The transition from proprietary solutions to open standards and finally to the default standard requires significant engineering development costs; therefore, the resulting benefit has to be commensurate.
Market incumbents will switch from a proprietary to an open standard only when market forces require it, either through regulatory or competitive pressures.
The first step in the transition to standard protocols is the transition to IP-based networks. IP will serve as a stable divider between network technology and the application space. Once the HAN (home area network) technology transitions to IP, there still needs to be a common method to name objects and interface with objects, so the need for common interfaces is obvious. UPnP is one standard that may emerge, just as it has in the entertainment space through DLNA.
Today there are several examples of platforms that provide interoperability across multiple devices that are part of a single network.
iControl has a Z-Wave system that it markets to the security and telecom market and a ZigBee system that it markets to the cable industry.
Some vendors such as AlertMe have developed a gateway which bridges across ZigBee and Z-Wave products. These systems deliver interoperability but only within a closed system of certified products.
Platforms such as Tendril, Arrayent, and People Power utilise the cloud to achieve interoperability. Their platforms use open APIs that could easily be modified to a standard set of APIs and are therefore more aligned with the architecture of the Internet of things.
Third Group of Converged Technologies
The third group of converged technologies will enable advanced coordination of devices, which will lead to numerous types of personal-assistant applications that will add significant value in consumers' daily lives.
Imagine a consumer receiving notification late at night that the time of a morning meeting has changed. The system would understand this information and adjust the clock for an earlier alarm. The system could reroute the commute to work around traffic or provide an appropriate bus schedule. It would also automatically adjust the settings in the home based on the family's schedule and location data. Voice data and voice commands would be an integral part of a family's routine, acting like a personal secretary to help plan the day.
The technologies necessary to deliver advanced coordination of devices include:
• Understanding of unstructured information and the ability to transform that data into meaning-based information. Meaning-based information may be as simple as "you like this" and will allow systems to take action on the basis of what something means.
• Connected devices having an associated software object that transitions from a passive to active object that can learn from its environment. The software object has the capacity to know how it is used and automatically connects itself to the data sources to provide value-added services.
In Japan, there are billboards that change messages being displayed based on automatic content recognition from real-time video. The automated content recognition classifies the people walking by the advertisement and then displays content best suited for that demographic.
Industry giants currently making investments in these technologies, such as IBM and HP, will lead in bringing the fully-functional personal assistant to life. There are a few waves of innovation between now and this third group of converged technologies, but the rapid pace of innovation could move through the necessary earlier steps quickly, outpacing social and cultural considerations that could prove to be bigger obstacles. The industries will have to address issues such as privacy, data ownership, and management of the massive amounts of information collected by these systems, in addition to the technological challenges, in order to fully realise this market vision.
Tom Kerber is Parks Associates' Director of Research for Home Controls & Energy. Parks Associates is an international market research and consulting company specialising in emerging consumer technology products and services. Each year, Parks Associates hosts executive thought leadership conferences CONNECTIONS, CONNECTIONS Europe, and Smart Energy Summit.
| newsfeeds | subscribe
to newsletter | submit
a link |