Attending the IoT Tech Expo 2016, it is clear that the future of IoT technology, devices and applications may be unlimited, but it depends on a few big questions. In the past, the limitations of a computer, technology, and consumer goods were based on the size of the computer, the individual technologies, the limits of your memory or the speed of consumer adoption. The Expo exhibits, technology, and presenters made it clear that today IoT is primarily limited by our ability to connect existing devices, data and all the pieces in between. IoT is experiencing natural growing pains, but the developers at the Expo were already excited about how to ease those pains.
As IoT systems become more widespread and begin to infiltrate the general consumer market the amount of data being collected by individual people and objects about everyday life is huge. The uses of that data, and the security issues around individual privacy and safety, are defining questions. Speakers, exhibitors and attendees at the 2016 North America IoT Tech Expo all made it clear that the question of connectivity and security is shaping IoT today – for the individual, the developer, and for the very cities they live in.
As IoT spreads the energy ecosystem of our cities, the very interconnected grid of Internet of Things will have to continue to grow to maintain the infrastructure of devices that rely on them.
Figure 1: An early morning panel audience overflowing into the surrounding exhibits
Connecting people, devices, systems and technology
The connectivity of IoT is a defining feature of the technology. The connection between devices, and between systems into the cloud, and the internet in general is what makes IoT different from a switch on a light bulb. Current connectivity often requires a middleman between devices and data. Many systems and devices are on independent systems, and where data sharing is possible it must go through other systems, the internet or the cloud. But, in the future individuals and their data may be able to move between devices with frictionless ease.
How will we look back on the technologies of today from a future where every possible action can be connected between systems and bound to a device that reads your intent in a word, gesture, or even your breath?
Exhibitor OptimalDesign is a product development and IoT solutions company that specializes in connectivity with low tech to no tech companies. Working with existing markets and producers they transform products into low power wireless designs. Their goal is to promote a good relationship with future IoT devices by creating a seamless relationship from the first IoT device a consumer uses.
Figure 2: “Instinct Wingman Decoy” by OptimalDesign replicates the natural motion of a bird’s wing beat or flap
Connectivity & Security
When devices are able to communicate information between the cloud there is the potential for hacking, and loss of privacy. Rohit Pasam CEO and co-found of Xaptum described what he considers as the the greatest point of vulnerability of IoT devices during a panel: “Data moves from the devices to the cloud, and there is something in between called the internet, and the internet was built for people… The biggest security problem is the vulnerability of the internet.”
He described the internet built for the users’ needs as a liability – specifically the anonymity of the internet, designed to protect human users’ privacy. That need for human privacy is why the internet is the vulnerable point for IoT devices and software. According to Pasam, internet anonymity could allow anonymous users to interact with, steal, or manipulate a device and it’s data.
However, another speaker, Craig Miller the VP WW Marketing of Sequans Communications, considers the common assumption that connectivity and privacy are inherently at odds as a gross simplification; “Security and privacy are not two different sides of the same coin, they are different.”
Figure 3: Casually comparing systems and security at the Panel “Which is best for your IoT applications: LTE or LPWA?” Pictured (from left to right): Phil Beecher, Chair, Wi-Sun Alliance; Chris Miller, VP WW Marketing, Sequans Communications; Geoff Mulligan, Chairman LoRa Alliance; and Alex A. Khorram, Founder and General Manager, machineQ at Comcast
Instead, Miller and his co-panel members suggested approaching the problems of connectivity between devices and systems as a separate problem from the issues of privacy and security. Miller emphasized the necessity for “intense security” to be addressed as an individual issue, when designing software systems and devices in order to protect privacy. His co-panelist Alex Khorram, Founder and General Manager at Comcast, agreed emphasizing the need to; “pick the right technology for the right needs – that will lead to a solution.”
Some IoT technologies, devices and systems presented at the North American IoT Tech Expo 2016 found creative ways around the concern of connected systems leading to less privacy. Density, a people counter and API, approaches the problem of security by simplifying the information shared online.
The hardware device on display at the expo looked like a simple silver square mounted above the door frame. An infrared sensor identifies human forms moving into, or out of a space and counts the people. That’s all. The image captured is a human-shaped blurred silhouette and the information uploaded into the cloud and presented to the client in real time is a simple count, +1, or -1. With limited information available through the cloud the security issues are limited, yet the device is simplified to serve a single valuable function.
Other devices presented at the expo had a more personal touch. Looking to connect directly to individual consumers, rather than corporations or product developers.
Figure 5: Sesame unlocked in response to the synced owner’s phone.
On the individual level, home and infrastructure technologies are targeting the general public. For example: Candy House Inc. brought their newest gadget to the expo. Sesame is a simple lock mechanism, designed to fit over existing deadbolts and can respond to the user’s knock in the presence of the synced phone. The device communicates with the phone via bluetooth, by linking directly to the home wireless network, therefore keeping an ongoing connection and maintaining low power. The product claims to have a battery life extending over 500 hours. The hardware sports a military grade encryption, and is designed to record the identity of individuals who try to unlock the door using Sesame.
Every piece of the device is meant to be easy to use, and alter how the consumer interacts with their most intimate physical space – their home. Other devices are targeted to the individual but could change data used on a city, or nation-wide level.
Bloomsky produces multiple hardware devices sold directly to the consumer. Bloomsky’s Sky2 and Storm are an individual’s own weather monitoring system for their yard, house, office, or garden. Each unit contains multiple sensors that record local weather information for the consumer, and their community. The hardware directly connects to an individual’s app, but
the device is sold as a community-based weather device, gathering real-time weather from hundreds, thousands and someday millions of locations.
Figure 6: Bloomsky Sky2 is a community-based smart weather camera station that provides real-time images, time-lapse and precise weather data.
Figure 7: SKY2 is solar-powered and uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless radios to send the weather data to home networks, cloud-based servers, and a companion mobile app.
Daniel Han, the Marketing and Communications Director of Bloomsky is clearly proud of the product. He spoke about a future where large-scale data maps of weather could be collected for analysis and prediction by Bloomsky devices, although he was adamant to point out that Bloomsky is not interested in competing with traditional weather gathering sources. Nevertheless, the true pioneering aspect of the device is in the conglomeration of data from the many voluntary data sources.
How to Make a Smart City
As IoT becomes a larger industry and the interaction between humans and IoT devices become more common the very cities we live in are changing. The energy capabilities and needs of the city are changing. Some city developers are ready to apply IoT devices to their city already.
Nuray Gokalp, the Information Technology Manager of the City of Amsterdam presented multiple talks at the IoT Tech expo on Amsterdam’s receptive policies to IoT. The city promotes a “bottom-up” approach to IoT development and innovation. In order to facilitate development and implementation of IoT into the cities infrastructure, they promote interconnected conversation between city officials, the general public, and innovators. Earlier this year Amsterdam began hosting monthly talks on different themes relating to living in an IoT-friendly city. According to Gokalp the talks are meant to function like an open marketplace environment and promote conversations about IoT problems and IoT related solutions, not just limiting the conversation to the problems.
In her presentation, Gokalp was enthusiastic about the potential applications for IoT that have been discussed so far. One application presented at the monthly meetings that Gokalp was especially excited about was an IoT-enabled wifi ‘birdhouse’- visibly placed in neighborhoods to promote local environmental preservation. The ‘birdhouse’ devices measure airpolition, and present the findings on a color-coded panel, information the community on their local, current air quality. While simultaneously providing wifi and gathering data on pollution levels for the city.
Most importantly, she was interested in the big question of IoT in the city: “how can we use IoT to make measuring management easier [in a city] and less intrusive to the individual?”
Gokalp was excited to point out another area of a city life that a citizen brought to city’s attention at their IoT meetings: healthcare. Specifically a babies first healthcare. In Amsterdam, new born babies are monitored, measured and cared for in a clinical, cold setting that has remained unchanged for 100 years. Amsterdam is looking into applying IoT devices to weigh and monitor a baby in a less intrusive environment, that will be warmer and more comfortable for the baby and parents.
Wearables: from the fad to the future
Wearable technology has been adopted by the consumer market at a steady pace, and so far have outstretched the initial application of similar technologies. Smartwatches and fitness trackers have been adopted by consumers at a faster rate than smart phones were in the first few years. Today the majority of adult consumers in the United States has a smart phone or cell phone, while only 1 in 10 adults has a wearable device. However, Meredith Lind, Partner of Technology Products & Services Sector, YouGov US and the chair of the wearables technology presentation of the IoT Tech Expo, during her opening remarks presented data estimating that 30 million people claim they are interested in using wearable devices in the future, representing billions of dollars of potential spending. There is no doubt that people are interested in wearables. Smart watches, fashion accessories, and fitness trackers are trendy applications. But according to YouGov, the international market research firm, there are currently more people in the United States who previously used smartwatches and smart fitness trackers than current users. So what is the market missing, what are consumers expecting from wearables?
The answer may be a familiar answer in IoT: connectivity. Consumers have shown a strong interest in wearables that communicate with devices around them, making the interaction between existing IoT applications and devices as seamless as possible. And opening the door to other applications in healthcare, energy use management, personal comfort, and assisted living devices – to name a few.
Dan Tochen, Research Director, YouGov US summed it up as; “the instant your wearables can talk to all the things around you, the number of potential applications skyrockets, and the chance people will say ‘hey, this really needs to be a part of my life’ will go up as well.”
That is exactly what one consumer wearable device is hoping to do, connect everything else around it. Metron Force, billed as the world’s first smart wristband, is a consumer-friendly wearable device controller. The wristband is a motion and touch activated remote programmable to connect with up to five devices at a time. Motion, speed, power or drive of the controlled device, depending on what it is, are controlled by a few simple motions.
Figure 8: The metron force wristband, the size of a watch, pictured with two controlled devices in the background.
Other exhibitors on display were trying to reach new markets with existing products with specialized applications. Fitting the needs of users in a niche, rather than general application. Xperteye is an interconnected computer-software-wearable smart glass system. Xperteye, launched by Advanced Mobile Applications Studios, makes use of existing smart glass hardware for advanced application in industry training, in-field hands-off expert advice, or medical guidance in remote locations. The wearer captures images in real-time of their actions and environment, and receives advice, guidance or lessons from a mentor in another location.
Figure 9: The google glass hardware system setup up Xperteye to send and receive live video feeds from users to mentors.
IoT Changes Everything
IoT is a system of connectivity and sensors between devices, and the data that exists in a quantum state isolated from humans; and intrinsically connected to human behavior. Sudha Jamthe, Mobile Business Leader & Stanford Instructor, IoT Author and Stanford University professor in her keynote speech: Business Disruptions with Robots, Drones and Algorithms summarized her own thoughts on the definition of IoT: “IoT basically brought sensors and internet connectivity to ordinary things.” And by adding those sensors, the internet of things has created a separate world from the internet of human, or the reality of humans that nevertheless exists alongside us. The effects of that world on our own may be limitless, but it depends on how we use them.
Every speaker and developer discussed how people interact with their technology, device or program, and what they imagine IoT will become next. Jamthe was animated about the possibilities IoT presents to business and personal development. She envisions IoT in everything: transportation, robotic appendages, social interaction, personal assistance, even primary patient health care.
The developers and innovators are ready, with a million ideas about where IoT technologies can go. The next step will be adoption: how will developers and consumers alike apply the technologies available? As Amsterdam’s information technology city manager Gokalp said: “Technology is 20% of the whole game, culture is 80%.”
We will investigate more topics and insights of the North America IoT Tech Expo 2016 in our series including the Hackathon, business disruption, and smart cities.