For the average even quite technically advanced user, submersion into the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) is generally still quite limited at this time. If we can count ‘wearables’ such as the Fitbit and home security monitoring systems like Piper as IoT-centric devices (and we can), then these devices are some of the first and most tangible in this genre of technology. Also in this vein, UK-based British Gas users are now able to use the firm’s Hive heating and hot water control system; we have, finally, started to digitise our homes.
This being said, the arrival of electronically intelligent kitchen equipment from fridges to toasters to microwaves is still mostly the stuff of embryonic ‘Proof of Concept’ research labs. So what will it take before the Internet of Things truly blossoms?
If we afford any credence to industry surveys (and we should surely only afford a limited amount) then it’s interesting to hear Evans Data say that it recently questioned 1,400 developers worldwide and found that 17 percent were already claiming to be working on IoT-related applications… with 23 percent expected to begin projects by January 2015.
“We’re still in the early stages of development for Internet of Things,” said Janel Garvin, Evans’ chief executive. “[But at the same time] the required technologies are now converging with cloud, big data, embedded stems, real-time event processing, even cognitive computing combining to change the face of the technological landscape we live in, and developers are leading the way.”
More than merely embedded computing
It has been tempting to initially classify IoT as a close cousin of embedded computing, but with a connectivity quotient. To be clearer, if we already had embedded systems circuitry inside televisions, cycle computers and the hamburger ordering kiosks inside the more upmarket McDonald’s restaurants, then connecting those machines to the web makes them IoT units right?
Actually that’s only part of the answer; an ability to communicate and exchange (and store) data is crucial to making an industrial turbine sensor into an IoT sensor, but IoT devices must also exhibit interoperability, security controls, configuration management capabilities and perhaps even a degree of artificial intelligence.
So when will the Internet of Things start to power up? Evans Data’s Garvin says it’s all down to developers, but that’s been an easy battle cry to ape ever since Microsoft’s Ballmer went bouncing around the stage on his sudden programmer-propelled epiphany. If developers will truly lead the way, won’t they need IoT-shaped machine-to-machine (M2M) programming tools?
Translation into IoT-speak
This is the industry clarion call that firms like RacoWireless are trying to answer. The company’s Omega DevCloud aims to facilitate communication with IoT applications in a standardised environment. This means that IoT device data (in the shape of messages and commands) from “virtually any device” will be translated and presented into a standard format common to web developers.
“Our mission in everything that we do is to ‘make it easy’,” said John Horn, president of RacoWireless. “We see a very fragmented space as companies and individuals from all backgrounds are clamoring to adopt connected technologies. However, it has been a challenge for many to get to market because of the lack of industry standards and high upfront development costs.”
This set of cloud-based tools will wrap complex socket-based protocols in a standards-based and fully customisable restful API.
Raco’s director of software engineering, Adam Schaible says that Omega DevCloud is a web-based REST/JSON API built on a “hardened bi-directional M2M communication core” with an appreciation for redundancy and security. “No longer do developers need custom integration for specific devices, with DevCloud we’ve created a ubiquitous standard for IoT application development,” he said.
Are developers the only answer?
So yes software application development and the tools available for developers will be crucially important as the Internet of Things now starts to power up and flourish. But developers are not the only answer. The IoT also demands that we focus on the development of low-power processors, connectivity transport mechanisms (from Bluetooth and WiFi and onwards) and networking standards, specifications and protocols (such as the recently announced Thread backed by Google, Samsung and ARM) for all this stuff to work effectively.
It’s true to say that the Internet of Things is still pumped full of the IT industry’s hype and hyperbole, but standards are evolving and resources are coalescing fast. Today we have overlapping elements of Machine-to-Machine, embedded computing and pure thoroughbred IoT all jostling for headspace, the next phase should (theoretically) be easier.