The Internet of Things, or the IoT, is the hottest buzzword since hyperlocal-social-mobile. Everyone in the venture capital and startup space is using the term IoT.
It’s an exceptionally great way to get funded. IoT IoT IoT! Here’s $10 million dollars! I have seen it happen many times.
McKinsey Research claims that by 2025 the IoT could be worth over $11 trillion dollars. Powerful computing and wireless connectivity will be ubiquitous, enabling a massive new network of Things around us. But what the hell is the IoT?
Today, Modular Phones Forum meets the people building the contemporary IoT, and those who are working on what comes next.
I have a confession to make. I’ve spent the last two years of my life building the IoT, and even I don’t really know what IoT means.
My work has brought me close to people in major tech companies, along with countless experts, and they don’t seem know either. Everyone thinks they know what the IoT is, but each definition is different.
As we have written before, Oxford Dictionary defines IoT as the following: “The interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data”
IoT devices today consist of internet connected home appliances, personal wearables, industrial trackers and diagnostics equipment, just to name a few. These devices make humanity more efficient, more connected, and more aware of the world around us.
Most modern IoT devices act more like a remote control than an intelligent, connected device. The problem is these IoT devices don’t truly interconnect. Products exist within walled gardens of wireless interconnectivity. Today, the only way for two different IoT devices to communicate directly is over an internet connection.
After two years of research and conversation, the following is my definition of the contemporary IoT: “The Internet of Things is made up of things connected to the internet.” That’s about a good a definition as I have found.
Just like a cell phone or a laptop, the IoT plug ais a bunch of “stuff” with an internet connection, though generally operating at a lower energy level.
My question is: How is this going to evolve?
“Future computers will not only be cheap, but extremely powerful, highly connected and supremely intelligent.”
A great deal of confusion around IoT has thus arisen, yet companies, investors, and consumers keep pouring billions of dollars annually into the IoT category of things.
As wireless computer technology grows smaller and cheaper, powerful computers are now being woven into clothing, disposable products, and are ending up as a part of the world around us.
So what if there’s another way? What if IoT devices could interconnect directly? What if agricultural equipment could communicate with weather sensors? Or a water and energy grid communicate with people and homes directly?
What begins to form is a network of everything all around us, giving us deep insights into the world we live within. What we’ll look at next is how the contemporary IoT will evolve into something new. I like to think of it as what comes after the classical Internet.
If we look at the history of modern technology we see an exponential trend in faster, more efficient computers, and lower costs in manufacturing. Continuing historical trends tells us that future computers will not only be cheap, but extremely powerful, highly connected and supremely intelligent.
Moore’s law also tells us that computing will become smaller and more efficient, meaning we can run computing devices on thin air. Silicon has become so efficient that energy harvesting technologies (Like RFID or Ambient Backscatter Communication) will convert ambient electromagnetic energy (be it visible light or radio waves) into electrical energy that our computers and radios can store and utilize.
This means powerful wireless computers will be microscopic, practically disposable, and all around us. The platforms that arise, and software running across these devices will change the human race forever.
Speaking with industry experts has given Modular Phones Forum deep insights into the future of computing, and the ubiquitous IoT networks that will form.
Hubertus Wasmer, CSO and co-founder of nexpaq, communicates with us from Shenzhen over submarine fiber optic link. Writing from Modular Phones Forum’s Bangalore headquarters, he’s coming in loud and clear.
“We’re working on enabling anyone to build connected hardware and software.” Hardware is difficult and expensive. nexpaq is removing all barriers to building connected hardware through high modularity and a software development platform.
Now developers can leverage hardware and software made by others in a plug and play solution.
“We’re beginning with two phases,” Hubertus explains, “nexpaq and batpaq.”
The nexpaq is a modular phone case we reviewed in a previous article. It enables anyone to leverage the power and intelligence of a smartphone to build custom hardware right into the phone.
batpaq is where is gets interesting, where Hubertus and his team just might enable the next quantum leap in the global IoT. batpaq is a modular battery pack. It allows air sensors, weather sensors, diagnostic equipment, custom radios, and countless other unimagined hardware to be deployed in the field, away from humans, for perhaps years at a time.
These sensors will amass huge sets of data that will give us new perspectives on the world around us.
The problem with the contemporary IoT is that each specified use case must have custom designed hardware and software. batpaq’s modular components will represent a quantum shift in cost and time to production for highly customized IoT applications.
Even more importantly, it will allow data collected by thousands of different types of sensors to be shared and aggregated, giving us new insights on the world around us.
Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, believes that “Linked Data” will be the future of the Internet. The idea is that everything around us is collecting data, though today it is not easy for these data sets to be shared and aggregated. Berners-Lee wants to take the next step and enable humanity to use these valuable data sets in new ways.
Hubertus believes that the nexpaq platform will enable this sharing of data sets for the IoT and beyond.
Connectivity still remains an enormous problem for the contemporary IoT. Today the only way to connect IoT devices is through an expensive SIM card, a Wi-Fi connection, or over bluetooth to a smartphone.
Micha Benoliel, creator of FireChat, believes he might have the solution.
“Everyone will have a smartphone in their pocket very soon, and that these devices have the power to build their own wireless networks by interconnecting directly to one another,” Micha explains to Modular Phones Forum. He believes smartphones themselves will form massive peer to peer networks, a concept he demonstrated successfully with FireChat.
“From there, any app, any service, any appliance or device could easily join this peer to peer mesh network, participate and benefit from it to move data.” What Benoliel imagines is a global data network that each human and thing participates in.
The technology, radios, and software will only grow more advanced and lower in cost.
Hubertus Wasmer agrees with Micha Benoliel, saying “nexpaq will be the perfect hardware platform for these global IoT networks to form and spread.”
Today these IoT platforms are just emerging. We are working today with the tiny pieces that will make up the global Internet of Things. The race is on to build these hardware devices, and connect them together not only as a platform, but as a wireless ecosystem allowing global connectivity.
“We make our technology open to every platform, making it easy for anyone to build almost anything,” Hubertus Wasmer explains “It is just the beginning. The future will be very interesting indeed.”
Garrett Kinsman is Modular Phones Forum’s Hardware and Wireless correspondent, currently writing out of Bangalore, India