Breakthrough Innovation: From Senseless Sensors to the Internet of Things and Everything

It's hard to escape the media hype on the Internet of Things, the Internet of Everything, or the Industrial Internet. Whether its valuation on the size of the industry ($7.1 trillion by 2020 according to IDC), estimates on the number of sensors(50 billion by 2020 according to Cisco), or futurists predicting the disruption and opportunities coming from IoT technologies that connect the physical and digital world, the media will leave you little doubt that this will be the next big, very big technology paradigm.

IoT Today

But today, what you are mostly seeing is more devices, more innovation in application context specific sensors, or very small networks of connected devices. Examples include home automation networks, wearable fitness devices, transit optimization, smart cities addressing growing energy needs, and beacons in retail stores. The costs of sensors have dropped, and the skills to develop the device and applications are more accessible, so entrepreneurs and corporations already in the device or sensor market can experiment and potentially break through with a market leading product.

Some of these devices will succeed, and the scale will create new technology challenges. Will network infrastructure keep up with the added bandwidth requirements for these devices? Will new security and privacy challenges created by these devices get addressed sufficiently before vulnerabilities are exposed?

Internet Enabled "Senseless Sensors" or Greater Intelligence?

Still, I think this is still the world of senseless sensors. The software in most of these devices largely have local context. Wearable gadgets largely benefit a single user and the parent corporation that gets access to the aggregation of all the data collected. Home automation connects devices in a home with no broader context around neighborhood. Beacons will enhance the experience in the store you are visiting and its parent, but do not provide a local context yet.

Now imagine a shopping mall that finds an intelligent way to pool data between retail outlets, aiming to keep shoppers spending time and money in the mall for longer time periods. What happens when cars communicate to neighboring ones to help avoid collisions? What happens when health monitoring sensors can be programmed to share selected data depending on context to family members or physicians?

Now, think what happens when these same sensors also have logic to respond to its environment. Your car alerts you to slow down, or your physician adjusts your medication levels. So the device not only measure and respond to local conditions, the rules implemented also include variables of greater context.

This to me, is the beginning of the promise of the internet of things.

Breakthrough Success Requires Partnership and Standards

Technology companies are now forming coalitions to pave the way to this future. There is the Open Internet Consortium led by Intel, Dell, and Samsung that is focused on sensor interoperability. Then there is the Industrial Internet Consortium led by IBM, AT&T, Cisco, and GE aimed to accelerate the growth of the industrial internet. In digital health there is an emerging battle between Google Fit, Apple HealthKit and the Samsung Digital Health Initiative all aiming to help control or share fitness data or "create a healthier world".

These coalitions and future partnerships will either accelerate IoT breakthough capabilities or create new barriers, or both. Only time will tell if device manufacturers and software developers will have multiple competing standards to contend with, or if these partnerships will establish an IoT data and integration backbone.

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