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November 5, 2010

The Internet of Things (Millions of Them)


“The Internet of Things” (IOT) (also known as “the Internet of Objects,” “Cloud of Devices,” and “Web of Things”) is a term denoting the networked interconnection of everyday objects equipped with a new generation of wireless sensors and two-way “active” RFIDs (active in that they have their own power source, or can parasitically extract energy from their environment), presumably taking on the topology of a dynamic, self-configuring, wireless mesh.

Originally, the public didn’t quite take the idea seriously, and even now it’s easy to poke fun at what The Economist calls “the democratization of sensors.” But jokes about your refrigerator ordering groceries has become the proverbial sizzling, exploding opportunity amongst entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and manufacturers.

The IOT concept probably goes back to the days of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), though the present concrete formulation originated with the Auto-ID Center in 1999, then situated at MIT. Such an object Internet would streamline the production and flow of goods and services (no waste or excess stock) and you could never “lose” an object or have it stolen, since the system would always “know” not just what is, but where it is and perhaps what it is doing at any particular moment. To achieve this, of course, the Internet would need to employ the vast address space of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) rather than the current IPv4 with extensions.

A recent report from Analysys Mason suggests that this Internet of Things will encompass 16 billion connectable consumer devices by the year 2020.

The report, entitled, Internet 3.0: the Internet of Things, actually says that 16 billion connected devices is probably a conservative estimate.

“Taking into account the uncertainties inherent in forecasting new technologies 10 years out, we believe that a realistic maximum number of devices may be 44 billion, and 6 billion a realistic minimum,” said Jim Morrish, Principal Analyst at Analysys Mason and author of the report. “That’s a worldwide average of between 0.8 and 5.8 devices for each person alive in 2020.”

Back in April 2010, Ericsson President and CEO Hans Vestberg predicted that in 10 years there will be 50 billion web-connected devices.

The initial driving force behind the nascent thought rapidly-expanding IOT phenomenon lie in industrial machine-to-machine (M2M) systems, such as the consumer energy meters, or “smart meters” used in the green, energy-saving, intelligent electric grid. M2M communications equipment continue to fall in price, and so more and more manufacturers have installed this technology, and have begun to even incorporate it into various types of household devices, cars and security systems.

The first incarnation of IOT with which a consumer may experience will probably be a smartphone handset, within which resides aggregation and filtering functions, management and control functions, and the actual devices that comprise the consumer IOT. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have all set up business units dedicated to identifying and developing lucrative M2M opportunities.

“The most direct potential consequence of the IOT is the generation of huge quantities of data. In a hypothetical IOT environment, every physical object (and many virtual objects) may have a virtual twin in ‘the cloud’, which could be generating regular updates,” said Morrish, who also leads Analysys Mason’s Mobile Content and Applications research programme.

Companies such as Precyse Technologies ( have devised things such as their “Smart Agent—a next generation active tag that gives assets the ability to Sense, Think and Talk: communicating their location and status to other assets, people or IT systems.” Precyse prefers the term, “asset network.” By using their Asset Tracking Visibility server, enterprises can identify, track, monitor and control their critical assets and processes in real time.

Dave Tribbett over at the Taste The Cloud blog, lists a non-exhaustive list of data types that will be found in future IOT flows:

• Location (coordinate), accelerometer (orientation), speed, direction,
• Measurements, readings, mechanical properties, physical properties,
• Video feeds, audio feeds, image captures,
• Statistics, volumes, capacities, delta’s (changes),
• Operating and environmental conditions,
• Biometric and various bio sensor data,
• Stock (inventory) information, item location, item condition (expiring, depleting, etc).

Tribbett notes that “Leveraging web services creates the opportunity for any and all devices to participate in the SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS services provided by cloud computing.”

Even giant IBM is trying to take the lead in this area. IBM’s Smarter Planet group produced a 5 minute video explaining their take on the Internet of Things. IBM hopes their Smarter Planet initiative will transform the whole world via smart IOT solutions.

Also note that the Steering Committee of the International Internet of Things Conference (IoT) is calling for proposals to host IoT 2012, the 3rd conference in the series. IoT 2010 is to be held in Tokyo, Japan, on November 29–December 1, 2010. IoT brings together experts from both academia and industry for an exchange of ideas and discussion on the future of how the Internet will invade the real world of objects.

Not everyone, of course, is enthralled with the idea of an Internet of Things. Some even liken it as a harbinger to a sort of techno-apocalypse. For example, “Tony” over at the Technofascism Blog (“News on the rise of the machine”) writes:

“Well, from the perspective of the vast spy agencies, the internet has one fatal flaw: if you’re not on it, they can’t spy on you. Bummer. So, to get around this little inconvenience of privacy, the latest push is to get every physical object in the world online. That’s right. Everything from your car, to your toaster, will eventually be connected and controllable through the internet. It seems that the Gods on Mount Olympus have had such great success with the virtual world that they now want to bring everything into it. And that means more control for them and less freedom for everyone else.”

Certainly making the whole planet Intelligent must not be done willy-nilly. Matters of both security and privacy must be pondered in great depth. Someone must be both responsible and accountable for what is about to happen.


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