Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Internet of Things

I recently joined Mocana Corporation  as VP of Products, and the biggest drivers for my decision was their vision around the "Internet of Things".  I spent many weeks interviewing with the CEO (Adrian Turner) and key executives - after doing a lot of research and thinking became quite excited.

The Internet of things (IOT) is based on the trend of all devices becoming smart and communicating freely.  Think about the possibilities in all aspects of life - the home, workplace, manufacturing, medical, military, etc.  Right now I have over 14 wi fi enabled devices at home, but no way to coordinate them or set policy - and if you include non-IP devices there are about another 30 more at home (phones, cars, water sprinkler system, appliances etc).  

Imagine if I could network these devices, and connect them to other information sources.  I could configure an Internet based weather service to communicate with my sprinkler system, and turn off if rain is expected.  My airconditioning could turn on automatically based upon a GPS read of my distance from home (check out my GPS location with the gadget on the right side of the blog).  

Think about every device or article having an electronic id, so it can be tracked anywhere on the face of the earth - theft could become a thing of the past.

Think about a medical provider being able to securely monitor a patients health across the Internet - and give them advice about diet, exercise etc. Or call an ambulance if their implanted pacemarker detects a heart attack.

The opportunities are endless.

Open Standard are critical to the IOT - we live in a world where proprietary standards are no longer accepted, and companies cannot expect to make money by long term customer lock-in. One of the most important standards for the IOT is the broad use of Internet Protocol (IP) communications. IP is the backbone that enables universal device communication.

To enable these open standards, 27 companies founded the IP for Smart Objects (IPSO) organization.  The IPSO Alliance is an open, informal and thought-leading association of like-minded organizations and individuals that promote the value of using the Internet Protocol for the networking of Smart Objects.  Mocana is a key member of this organization.

The IPSO Alliance will perform interoperability tests, document the use of new IP-based technologies, conduct marketing activities and serve as an information repository for users seeking to understand the role of IP in networks of physical objects. Its role will complement the work of entities such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) or the ISA which develop and ratify technical standards in the Internet community. 

Work such as the IPSO will help device manufacturers understand the need to IP enable their devices, and even or silicon vendors to add IP capabilities to products.  For hobbyists, take a look at the ardiuno microcontroller - itself open source (yes, open source HARDWARE) - a very cheap and easy way to IP enable almost any device.

However, as with the first generation of connecting IP devices, there are massive concerns around management and security. Look at the security problems in the IT industry, and magnify the issues by the exponential size of the IOT.  Most vendors are not too concerned about security and management at the moment, but all that will change as the size of networks increases, and exploits start to occur.

Think of the device manufacturers, they know how to build devices, but have no experience in connecting them to the Internet.  There is a massive opportunity to help these companies create the secure "glue" to enable the IOT.  

This is what I'll be focusing on moving forward.

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