The Rise of IoT – why today?
Ten years ago the principal devices accessing the Internet were PCs and laptops – it was a simpler world to understand and describe. But this changed rapidly in the years that followed. First came the smartphones which changed the way that people consumed online services and even interacted with the world.
Other computing devices followed; mainly consumer electronics but also more and more industrial devices. Still, at this point (around 2010, maybe even until 2012) the amount of devices more or less scaled linearly with the number of users and growth was mainly by establishing new geographical markets and increasing uptake. It was easy to tell what was connected to the internet and what was not.
In 2012, or around that year, something dramatic happened. Connections to the internet started picking up beyond the linear scale with people – connections became decoupled and machines and things started to take over. The most quoted number is that 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020. So assuming a conservative 10 billion connected devices today this works out to be a connection speed of 250 devices per second until the goals will be reached.
These are truly staggering numbers, even for someone who has been exposed to the visions of the Internet of Things from its inception – building for scale. This article looks for an answer to the question "why now?"
In 1989 Dan Lynch, the founder and president at the time of a large internet event called Interop (still a key event for the internet community) challenged John Romkey to build an internet connected toaster. He came through and unveiled the first true IoT device at the following year’s Interop '90. (Read more here: http://www.livinginternet.com/i/ia_myths_toast.htm).
In 1991 Quentin Stafford-Fraser and Paul Jardetzky hacked together XCoffee or as it also known – they created the Trojan Room coffee pot. An internet connected coffee surveillance application to help fellow computer scientists keep high on caffeine. (Read more here:http://https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/coffee/qsf/coffee.html).
But IoT from an application vision goes even back to 1962 to the Seattle World Fair. A fantastically curated video mainly around the Bell Labs pavilion called "Century 21 Calling" contains a surprising amount of similarity to today’s Internet of Things visions around the Smart Home. (Watch the video here: https://archive.org/details/Century21964).
The visions have been available for more than 50 years and prototypes for over 25 years. Why is IoT only becoming a commercial success today?
There are several reasons for this. But before getting into this, one more piece of the puzzle is needed. Ten years ago, a fantastic IoT prototype was developed as part of the FP6 European project called e-SENSE (Read more here: ftp://ftp.cordis.europa.eu/pub/ist/docs/ct/e-sense_en.pdf). It was a pioneer in connecting wireless sensor networks to mobile telephony. A body sensor network was developed as part of the project that measured several physiological parameters that were registered in a context service enabler on an IP multimedia service platform – the demonstration application was a mood based messaging service and a fitness tracker. It took more than three researchers one year to develop the prototype, which constantly crashed, and was not very user-friendly. And apart from a few citations, nobody really paid attention. (Read more here: http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-540-75696-5_10).
In 2015 the Alexandra Institute built a prototype of a tweeting coffee machine. Not impressive – there are many products out there that are similar. But it was built in less than one day using off the shelf components – it got quite a bit of traction in the Danish press. It also still works with almost zero maintenance and although an expert worked on the development, none of the work needed much specialist know-how. (Read more here (in Danish): http://alexandra.dk/dk/aktuelt/nyheder/2015/pressemeddelelse-kaffemaskinen-tweeter-naar-kaffen-er-klar).
Examining those two cases 10 years apart gives a good indication of what happened. Here is a reflection on some of the key developments only maturing after 2010 that leads to the rise of the IoT today.
1. The mobile revolution – maybe it is overstated, but it is a critical turning point in how companies started to perceive the internet. When consumers flocked to eCommerce platforms and later shifted access from desktop web browsing to the smartphone, there is not a single customer facing company that can ignore this trend. Companies needed a mobile strategy that allowed their software backend and services to adapt dynamically to how customers consumed services and how companies adapted their business strategies.
2. And exactly this brought about the rise of internet APIs. eCommerce in early 2000 was rung in by Salesforce, eBay and Amazon, followed by Social Media, kicked off by Flickr in 2004 and followed by Facebook and Twitter. Then as described in the previous point, 2008 started the real mobile API revolution. Companies needed to think more and more about a mobile strategy to keep up with the paradigm that mobile apps are data sources and that a high degree of agility is most likely required to maintain a viable business strategy overall. From 2010 Amazon offered EC2 and also previously S3, and today we are looking at AWS. And other players are of course there as well, e.g. Azure, OpenStack, IBM IoT Foundation / Bluemix, etc.
3. The precipitous fall in cost of components and services is probably equally important for the IoT to emerge as an economic player on this scale. Ten years ago, IoT motes as they were called, like the TelosB cost in excess of 100EUR and availability was scarce. Data services were also expensive – 100MB cost 100EUR using mobile networks. Today this has dropped by at least a factor of 100 and continues to fall.
4. The rise of the community – the IoT Meetup group has grown rapidly in the last few months and has reached nearly 300,000 members in December 2015 – in March 2015 it had just over 120,000 members. With the rise in IoT enthusiasts the increase in available tools, tutorials and software in general is staggering. Over 5000 Github repositories are now available with the key word "IoT".
5. This leads to how coding has developed over the years. Ten years ago three experts were needed to cover three key areas. Embedded systems and programming in C, mobile device application development and learning platforms like the Maemo application development framework and developing algorithms for physiological feature extraction using scripting software like Matlab. Today – programming has become much more accessible and development tools more widespread and user-friendly. Scripting is on the rise.
6. The combination of security, mobile, cloud, big data and IoT is as many described the perfect storm. But highlighting only one of the topics – advanced data analytics is probably one of the key drivers for the IoT to finally achieve commercial success. Without making sense of the many data streams coming together there is no meaning in data collection.
There are many more reasons for why we are seeing the rise of the internet happening today and not in the early '90s. And there will be drawbacks and problems for the market adoption of IoT such as security and privacy, interoperability and user-friendly design, but it is finally happening.
Mirko Presser is the Head of Research and Innovation for the Smart City Lab at the Alexandra Institute in Denmark working on Open Data and the Internet of Things in the context of Smart Cities for Citizens. He is also the vice president of the IoT International Forum since it was founded in June 2013. He has been studying and working on IoT and Smart City research since 2002, has published over 20 scientific peer-reviewed papers on the topics and has served on numerous scientific committees and steering boards. He has a Master's degree in Physics with Astrophysics and a Master's degree in Telecommunications and Systems Engineering both from the University of Bristol and received his PhD on the Mobile IoT from the University of Surrey. Mirko is a Member of the IEEE Communications Society and the IEEE IoT Technical Community.
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