Toward an open Internet of Things

Vendors, take note: we will not build the Internet of Things without open standards.

In a couple of posts and articles, we’ve nibbled around the notion of standards, interoperability, and the Internet of Things (or the Internet of Everything, or the Industrial Internet, or whatever you want to call it). It’s time to say it loud and clear: we won’t build the Internet of Things without open standards.

What’s important about the IoT typically isn’t what any single device can do. The magic happens when multiple devices start interacting with each other. Nicholas Negroponte rightly criticizes the flood of boring Internet-enabled devices: an oven that can be controlled by your phone, a washing machines that texts you when it’s done, and so on. An oven gets interesting when it detects the chicken you put in it, and sets itself accordingly. A washing machine gets interesting if it can detect the clothes you’re putting into it and automatically determine what cycle to run. That requires standards for how the washer communicates with the washed. It’s meaningless if every clothing manufacturer implements a different, proprietary standard for NFC-enabled tags.

We’re already seeing this in lighting: there are several manufacturers of smart network-enabled light bulbs, but as far as I can tell, each one is controlled by a vendor-specific app. And I can think of nothing worse for the future of home lighting than having to remember whether the lights in the bedroom were made by Sylvania or Philips before I can turn them off. Read more…

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M2M, IoT, and the invisibility of ubiquity

From the Internet to the Internet of Everything to just plain Everything.

I started writing this post to respond to the question: “What is the difference between machine-to-machine (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IoT)?” It turns out, a post answering that question isn’t really necessary. There is already a pretty good thread on Quora that answers it.

However, with the emphasis on the technologies at play, most of the answers on Quora left me a little flat. I guess it’s because, while they are correct, they tend to focus on the details and miss the big picture. They say things like, “M2M is the plumbing and IoT is the application,” or M2M is about SMS and general packet radio service (GPRS), while IoT is about the IP stack. Or, essentially, that M2M is freighted with telecom transport-layer heritage (baggage?), while the IoT is emerging out of the upper layers of the Internet’s IP stack — which would be great except for the fact that it’s not always true. Plenty of IoT devices operate with other-than-IP protocol stacks via gateways.

I think the distinction between M2M and IoT isn’t all that important with regard to the technology stacks they employ. What’s more interesting to me is that the change in language suggests a transition. It’s a signpost plunked down in the middle of an otherwise smooth continuum, where enough of us have noticed something happening to make a name for it. We used to argue about what Web 2.0 meant; now we argue about what IoT means. Regardless of what the term “Internet of Things” actually means, its growing use represents a conceptual point of departure from what came before. Something new is happening, and we are using different words to signify it. Read more…

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Four short links: 18 April 2014

Four short links: 18 April 2014

Interview Tips, Data of Any Size, Science Writing, and Instrumented Javascript

  1. 16 Interviewing Tips for User Studies — these apply to many situations beyond user interviews, too.
  2. The Backlash Against Big Data contd. (Mike Loukides) — Learn to be a data skeptic. That doesn’t mean becoming skeptical about the value of data; it means asking the hard questions that anyone claiming to be a data scientist should ask. Think carefully about the questions you’re asking, the data you have to work with, and the results that you’re getting. And learn that data is about enabling intelligent discussions, not about turning a crank and having the right answer pop out.
  3. The Science of Science Writing (American Scientist) — also applicable beyond the specific field for which it was written.
  4. earhornEarhorn instruments your JavaScript and shows you a detailed, reversible, line-by-line log of JavaScript execution, sort of like console.log’s crazy uncle.
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Biomimicry in the real world

There's good reason to believe nature has clues about how to do a good job — can it also help with web designs?

FestoRoboticBird

Festo’s Robotic Bird. Photo by Mike Loukides.

A couple of years ago, I visited the World Science Festival in New York and saw Festo’s robotic bird. It was amazing. I’ve seen things that looked more or less like a bird, and that flew, but clearly weren’t flying like a bird. An airplane has a body, has wings, and flies, but you wouldn’t mistake it for a bird. This was different: it looked like a giant seagull, with head and tail movements that were clearly modelled on a living bird’s.

Since then, Festo has built a robotic kangaroo; based on work they started in 2010, they have a robotic elephant’s trunk that learns, a robotic jellyfish, and no doubt many other animals that I haven’t yet seen.

Read more…

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Four short links: 17 April 2014

Four short links: 17 April 2014

Foresight and Innovation, Artificial Intelligence, Consumer IoT, and Gender Disparity


  1. Playbook for Strategic Foresight & Innovation — MANY pages of framework and exercises. Good for what it is, but also as a model for how to disseminate your ideas and frame for the world to consume.
  2. Why I’m a Crabby Patty About AI and Cognitive Science (Fredrik Deboer) — huzzah! the current lack of progress in artificial intelligence is not a problem of insufficient processing power. Talking about progress in artificial intelligence by talking about increasing processor power is simply a non sequitur. If we knew the problems to be solved by more powerful processors, we’d already have solved some of the central questions!
  3. Four Types of Consumer Internet of Things Things (BERG London) — nice frame for the different needs of the different types of products and services.
  4. We Can Do Bettera visualisation of the gender disparity in engineering teams in the tech industry.
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Four short links: 16 April 2014

Four short links: 16 April 2014

Time Series, CT Scanner, Reading List, and Origami Microscope

  1. morris.jspretty time-series line graphs.
  2. Open Source CT Scanner — all the awesome.
  3. Alan Kay’s Reading List — in case you’re wondering what to add to the pile beside your bed. (via Alex Dong)
  4. Foldscope — origami optical microscope, 2000x magnification for under $1.
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