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Internet of Things: How Will the Dream Come True?

A sunny Saturday afternoon, I'm just back home from grocery shopping, and the living room is boiling hot with my entire family breaking out in complaints. I turn up the air condition to achieve a pleasant room temperature for lunch. After the meal I'm looking forward to a nap in the bedroom. However, in here, it's freezing with the air diffuser being straight above the bed. The breeze coming down onto my bed will probably make me dream about the South Pole. Sound familiar?

Now, an adjustable air vent outlet would be nice, wouldn't it? Especially if you don't have to buy a new and expensive HVAC system for the entire home or open the walls for cabling and control devices. Just replacing the fixed air diffuser by a variable one, remotely controlled by my smart phone. No cable, no dirt, no batteries. I know, it sounds like a dream, but it's not. That's already reality today, and gives us a feeling of the Internet of Things, the IoT.

Since last year, everybody is dreaming and talking about the Internet of Things, including myself. But that's not enough. We have reached the point where we need to go ahead and put the plans into actions. There are two major challenges in my mind that OEM and service providers participating in building the IoT will have to solve before gaining traction: to attract the consumer and define interoperable communication.

The wireless, self-powered, variable air diffuser looks interesting to me and maybe to a few more people, but is that enough? A solution that pays off needs to hit the critical mass. Many IoT product and service ideas, including smart home equipment, have achieved mediocre consumer acceptance at best so far. To change this, OEMs need to work closely with consumers before defining their products, to meet their needs — respective to function, usability, design, and price. You can have the best operating product; if the design is not attractive, nobody will buy it.

Another challenge is the communication among all these new gadgets that are supposed to be smart enough to participate in the IoT. Today, each market segment has defined its own “language.” Building automation, lighting, metering, smartphones, industrial automation, medical — they all have well established communication protocols and methods. The players will need to get together and agree upon common methods that include everything in the future. From the first prototype, manufacturers will have to think about how a new device can interact and communicate with other devices, bridging standards. Otherwise IoT will never achieve its full potential.

Since the acquisition of Nest by Google, the drive behind the IoT and, in particular, the home automation market, has been accelerated to the next level. This is the chance for all of us to not only dream about but start to actively develop the IoT and finally solve these challenges so that as consumers we will all enjoy the outcome.

28 comments on “Internet of Things: How Will the Dream Come True?

  1. Netcrawl
    March 10, 2014

    Iot has just come out of its infancy and in the process of transforming today's static internet into fully integrated internet. The proliferation of sensor-equipped devices is making the Iot dream come true, new capabilities are made possible through access of new information sources and rich evolving data. The next big revolution would be home automation or making smart home, will allow a much better energy management and control of appliances. 

  2. samicksha
    March 11, 2014

    I agree you Netcrawl, I guess in IoT we need to focus on real time data logging solutions which further may ask for good internet speed and high processing speed. Most of the Telecom guru cliam that we need 5G to run IoT as 4G is narrow spectrum.

  3. Davidled
    March 11, 2014

    I heard that 5G is being developed. I am not quite sure if 5G could solve all issue related to real time data logging solution. May be this kind data keeping for increment every year.  Also, we might need data mining tech to solve this kind of issue.

  4. samicksha
    March 12, 2014

    Good point Daej, I guess Big Data is something already working towards data mining tech, but apart from this i am more concerned for IoT enabled devices, including high processor chips in devices may lead to good amount of heating effect.

  5. eafpres
    March 12, 2014

    Hi Matthias–A lot of IoT applications I see are able to talk to one or a few kinds of devices, and the device has only a small number of parameters.  Take Philips Hue, for instance.  Essentially an on, off, dim setting, and color binary value are all that is needed to completely contral a multi-color lamp.  Next's thermostat is a bit more sophisticated, but still not much more than a single point sensor/controller.

    From my view, the real challenges are much more complex systems, where there might be 10s or 100s of sensor and control values on one machine, and you want to communicate with 100s or 1000s of these machines.  In these applications, domain knowlege is paramount to design both the nodes and the application.

    It seems challenging to me to design things to be connected to un a useful way without knowing something about the application and the environment.  As an example: a MEMS vibration sensor on a bridge has one sensor and perhaps a temperature for compensation.  If every node is just one sensor, you could define protocols and layers and messages so that you could self-identify all of them.  But even in this simple case you need to know the context from whence the data came.

    In a more complex case things get much more difficult very quickly.  Even remotely controlling one house–now you have a thermostat, multiple lights, the power meter data, various appliance status (is the coffee pot off?  has the refrigerator lost power?), maybe some video, etc.  Even if you could identify all the nodes from a standard messaging scheme, you need to know where they are, and why, to do something useful.

    So in my view the really valuable applications will be ones where more standards-based devices are combined in highly tailored solutions leveraging deep domain knowlege.  Without such an integrated approach you are stuck playing with room lighting color using a $400 phone as a controller.

  6. etnapowers
    March 12, 2014

    “The wireless, self-powered, variable air diffuser looks interesting to me and maybe to a few more people, but is that enough?”

     

    Matthias, for sure this is not enough , but it holds a great potential to me. Let's think, for example, to the possibility to insert a smart sensor in the bedroom which senses the temperature, or the umidity and which turns on / off accordingly the variable air diffuser, depending on the needs. The user has only to activate the climate control,  utilizing a smartphone, by mean of a dedicated application. Sounds Really interesting and I think that it's feasible.

  7. etnapowers
    March 12, 2014

    @Netcrawl: that's absolutely correct, I would add that smart home may also include safety smart systems like cameras communicating wireless with a database collecting the videos, and issuing alarm messages on the owner's smart device, in case of security alerts. this is just one of the thing that the IoT approach can do.

  8. etnapowers
    March 12, 2014

    “manufacturers will have to think about how a new device can interact and communicate with other devices, bridging standards”

    Good point Matthias, I think that only a good planning of the development of the IOT net can guarantee that the dream of the IOT world becomes true. The regulator institutes , at the same time, should issue the communication standards taking into account many aspects: the effectiveness , the security, the priority of the information on the IOT net, are some examples.

  9. chirshadblog
    March 13, 2014

    @etnapowers: Yes true but to make it a reality each and every home does need a strong bandwidth of Internet isn't it ?   

  10. Netcrawl
    March 13, 2014

    @etnapowers the rapid expansion of IoT is very exciting, by connecting those IoT devices we are gaining morer control than we have ever had before-simplifying your life, control everything with a single app from your smartphone. 

    But there's some serious problem here, the challenges with home automation devices comes in aggregate when consumers start buying a lot of them, what if consumers bought a Philips lighting systems, a Sonos Audio systems or Nest Thermostat, consumers would realize that these devices aren't actually connected to each other. Its a daunting task, consumers would need two to three different app to set up, learn and use. And then there's another one, the networking issues, most of these devices works on differenmt kind of wireless networks. Its not just WiFi or ZigBee we're dealing here, these device speak different “network languanges” thats why they need also different network adapters. Imagine if you have two to three different adapters and a WiFi in the house, I think thats too much, quite ugly.  

  11. Jonathan Allen
    March 13, 2014

    This does not require any sexy “internet of things”  Just kick the shutter on the air vent register. 

  12. eafpres
    March 14, 2014

    @Jonathan–“This does not require any sexy “internet of things”  Just kick the shutter on the air vent register”

    There are several truths in your comment.  First, control doesn't have to be the internet.  Second, some things don't really even need wireless.  Third, just becuase it is a thing and will be controlled via a wireless connection doesn't mean it needs to be part of a network.

    I think the idea here is that somehow it will become easier, more “modular”, more DIYable, as these IoT things come along.  Today, it would be fairly challenging to add more sophisticated control like room to room independent environmental control.  And it would be expensive.  

    As I noted earlier, I think the real challenge is dealing with 10s to 100s of nodes.  If we look at a house as a machine, then it is a machine with a lot of possible sensor points.  You need to know the context and consider how they are controlled.  In a perfect IoT world, you would connect all your registers to the internet, you would connect the thermostat, and you would connect, say, occupancy and temperature sensors from every room.  If I can stay in my utopian vision, you would also add a VFD on the main HVAC blower motor.  Then, out there somewhere in the cloud, is an app that looks at all the sensors, and can do things like close down half the registers for unoccupied rooms, then reduce the speed of the blower accordingly.

    Such an application would require some learning phase; adjusting the sensors, calibrating the open/close positions on the registers, etc.  Somebody might someday sell a “kit” that has all this, and is solid enough that you could buy it at Home Depot, go home, and over the weekend turn your environmental control into a smart system.  A Nest thermostat is a long, long way from that.  Back to reality.

  13. Davidled
    March 16, 2014

    This issue came down to wireless carrier who build cellular base station and control the bandwidth. In the most cases, station has capability for increasing the bandwidth to handle the increasing number of devices. Therefore home automation performance is depending on home location.

  14. geek
    March 30, 2014

    “Without such an integrated approach you are stuck playing with room lighting color using a $400 phone as a controller.”

    @eafpres1: That's an apt way to describe the problem. I totally believe an integrated approach is what's going to work here. Unless there are standards defined which devices are made to follow, you cannot do much intervention in the way of a smart environment.

  15. geek
    March 30, 2014

    @entapowers: I think the problem here is that there's no organization who is there to take ownership and enforce that the standards are being followed by the manufacturers. Unless that happens, you cannot make any significant progress. Something like FCC has to step up and work on this area maybe.

  16. chirshadblog
    March 30, 2014

    @tzubair: That is strange but why do you think that none of the organizations are willing to take the leadership or the initiative here ?   

  17. chirshadblog
    March 30, 2014

    @tzubair: I don't think standards will work here. Standards are good as long as its in practice. If not its useless.    

  18. chirshadblog
    March 30, 2014

    @DaeJ: You mean to say it all depends on the coverage ? 

  19. Netcrawl
    March 31, 2014

    @Tzubair I agree with you it need some big step to make a huge progress, the challenges of implementing IoT's devices are quite different from those traditional network edge devices, its a new environment. 

  20. Netcrawl
    March 31, 2014

    I think we need standard here, it simplify the development of IoT application for smart homes, energy monitoring systems, smart meters and intelligent lighting systems. Standard and interoperability is key here, it enable a wide range of products to communicate and talk to each other, and enhances the value of IoT networks.  

  21. Sachin
    March 31, 2014

    Interesting piece, but I beg to differ with you on one tiny but significant point. You say that “you can have the best operating product; if the design is not attractive nobody will buy it “. In my considered view, operability and functionality come first and thereafter the entire design can be fine tuned. If the device is not operable then the design itself does not really matter as no one will buy something that does not do what it is supposed to.

  22. SunitaT
    March 31, 2014

    I think it is a serious challenge facing home automation, imagine buying two or three IoT devices, which for a fact is expensive, then not all devices use same applications, meaning you will need more than one application, they will also need different wireless network (not only WiFi and ZigBee). This will take time in terms of learning these different apps. And in my opinion it will look unattractive.

  23. SunitaT
    March 31, 2014

    @eafpres1; an interesting new term you have coined there and one that hits the nail right on the heard. For true IoT to be achieved, the manufacturers of different devices and gadgets must come together and collaborate in the creation of universal protocols that allow devices from different manufacturers to communicate with each other. At present, the little communication present is limited to devices from specific manufacturers.

  24. etnapowers
    April 1, 2014

    Yes you're right chirshadblog, it depends on the infrastructure development to provide the required bandwidth to the smart house.

  25. Netcrawl
    April 1, 2014

    @SunitaT0 You're right, they need to establish blueprint that machines and IoT devices can use to share information and move data from one place to another, this will include not only internet protocols but also metrics such as power levels within connected devices, data storage capacity and data traffic control. But it will take years- two to five years to get create and approve.   

  26. etnapowers
    April 2, 2014

    @Netcrawl, you're absolutely correct, the communication standard need to be reduced in order to provide an universal mode of connect the devices to a central database, where the communication between the devices could be effective. The same applies to the applications, that could be dedicated but that have to be interfaced with a central database for an easy usage.

  27. Davidled
    April 3, 2014

    Signal connection would be effected by network coverage as well as tower performance. Some tower could retrofit all instrumentation related to wireless network.

  28. etnapowers
    May 5, 2014
    “I think the problem here is that there's no organization who is there to take ownership and enforce that the standards are being followed by the manufacturers.”
     
    @tzubair,I agree with you, I think that a possible solution should be an agreement of many regulatory entities about common rules and common actions. It's really important to coordinate this actions, otherwise it will be hard to achieve the goal of having a common standard reference.

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