Collection No 2

Internet of Things

Unlocking the Power and Potential of the Internet of Things

In the second part of our three-part series exploring the evolving Internet of Things (IoT), Annie Hsu, Associate Strategy Director in frog’s San Francisco studio, examines what standards and platforms are needed to enable its expansion.

A good working definition of the Internet of Things holds that IoT “allows people and things to be connected anytime, anyplace, with anything and anyone, ideally using any path/network and any service.” Current manifestations of this definition include the ability to identify the origin, speed and type of bullet fired from a gun anywhere in a city. And, the ability to monitor vehicle and pedestrian traffic to suggest, in real time, optimal travel routes throughout a city. In essence, we’re using new technologies to collect and analyze data to discover and communicate new insights about the world around us.

While this working definition serves as a promising foundation for an vast number of products and services, the IoT remains strangely elusive. A new set of standards or a universal platform is required to truly unlock its full potential and spur further development.

If we compare the IoT to the web, we see a clear difference because there was a golden child – the browser – that enabled the explosion of the web ecosystem. Prior to the browser, we were using ftp feeds for file transfers and usenet for discussion forums. With the industry coalescing around http and HTML, we suddenly had a uniform and universal standard for content access in the browser. Today, we’re barely aware of the presence of the browser: it’s simply a window into an infinite set of content types.

Finding a browser-like solution for the IoT, however, won’t be quite as straightforward. In the future, IoT will require a diversity of settings, which means we won’t have the luxury of dealing with a consistent end point (like a browser). Moreover, the complexity of creating and maintaining an IoT system — which includes sensors, actuators, communications protocols, and device provisioning processes, among others — poses unique challenges. This complexity escalates rapidly when you multiply the high volume of devices by the myriad of use cases across industry sectors such as retail, agriculture, manufacturing and transportation.

Despite these hurdles, a number of companies are making headway in the IoT and standards are becoming available. New communications protocols like CoAP and MQTTaddress the unique needs of the IoT by enabling lightweight data transfers between IoT endpoints like sensors (“dumb” objects with low computing power) that are connected through relatively unreliable networks. Companies including Thingworx and Axeda are trying to build platforms that will make it easier to create and manage IoT systems (much in the same way that Dreamweaver made it easier to create and manage webpages).

Once there is a clear path for developers to obtain easy access to the platforms and protocols that enable the creation of new IoT systems, computing systems will be better able to interact with each other – and the world around us – to deliver new value to us in unique and novel ways.

Annie Hsu

Annie creates new consumer products for Fortune 500 companies across a breadth of industries including healthcare, retail and consumer electronics.

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