"Solid" entries

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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Disposable architecture?

Technology is now outpacing innovation, fostering a culture of disposability.

I’ve noticed a number of faint signals recently pointing to a general shift in the speed of technology and the repercussions it’s having on the products we’re seeing come to market. This recent Tweet from Tom Scott got me really thinking about it:

Scott’s comment brought me back to a recent conversation I had with Princeton architecture student Alastair Stokes. I’d asked Stokes whether the technology challenges of designing a building to last 100+ years are more difficult today than they were in, say, 1900 — or if it’s as difficult, just different. He said the challenges might be more difficult today, but regardless, maybe technology is changing the solution: we shouldn’t try to design buildings today to last 100 years, but design them so they’ll last for, say, 20 years and then be replaced. Read more…

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#IoTH: The Internet of Things and Humans

The IoT requires thinking about how humans and things cooperate differently when things get smarter.

Rod Smith of IBM and I had a call the other day to prepare for our onstage conversation at O’Reilly’s upcoming Solid Conference, and I was surprised to find how much we were in agreement about one idea: so many of the most interesting applications of the Internet of Things involve new ways of thinking about how humans and things cooperate differently when the things get smarter. It really ought to be called the Internet of Things and Humans — #IoTH, not just #IoT!

Let’s start by understanding the Internet of Things as the combination of sensors, a network, and actuators. The “wow” factor — the magic that makes us call it an Internet of Things application — can come from creatively amping up the power of any of the three elements.

For example, a traditional “dumb” thermostat consists of only a sensor and an actuator — when the temperature goes out of the desired range, the heat or air conditioning goes on. The addition of a network, the ability to control your thermostat from your smartphone, say, turns it into a simple #IoT device. But that’s the bare-base case. Consider the Nest thermostat: where it stands out from the crowd of connected thermostats is that it uses a complex of sensors (temperature, moisture, light, and motion) as well as both onboard and cloud software to provide a rich and beautiful UI with a great deal more intelligence. Read more…

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Security and the Internet of stuff in your life

The IoT isn't just a new attack surface to get into your enterprise — it's giving the Internet eyes and arms.

Your computer is important. It has access to your Amazon account, probably your bank, your tax returns, and maybe even your medical records. It’s scary when it gets pwnd, and it gets pwned regularly because it’s essentially impossible to fully secure a general purpose computing device. But the good news is that, at least for now, your computer can’t climb up the stairs and bludgeon you to death in your sleep. The things it manipulates are important to you, but they are (mostly) contained in the abstract virtual realm of money and likes.

The Internet of Things is different. We are embarking on an era where the things we own will be as vulnerable as our PCs, but now they interact with the real world via sensors and actuators. They have eyes and arms, and some of them in the not-too-distant future really will be able to climb the stairs and punch you in the face.

This piece from the New York Times has been getting some attention because it highlights how smart things represent an increased attack surface for infiltration. It views smart devices as springboards into an enterprise rather than the object of the attack, and that will certainly be true in many cases. Read more…

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The evolving purpose of design

Design is about communication and respect as much as function.

Mine_Kafon

Massoud Hassani’s wind-powered land minesweeper, the Mine Kafon. Photo by Rene van der Hulst, courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art.

For more than a century, design has been determined by its applications to the physical world. As architect Louis Sullivan expressed in an 1896 essay, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered“:

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

But Paola Antonelli, senior curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, thinks that’s a law best consigned to the dustbin of history; she gets exasperated when design is presented as the subservient handmaiden of utility.

“There shouldn’t be any differentiation between form and function,” she maintained in a recent interview. “The idea that form must follow function, that’s out the window; it’s a tired cliché. A good object, a well-designed object, is encompassing. It is unified, the material embodiment of a strong idea.” Read more…

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Business models that make the Internet of Things feasible

The bid for widespread home use may drive technical improvements.

For some people, it’s too early to plan mass consumerization of the Internet of Things. Developers are contentedly tinkering with Arduinos and clip cables, demonstrating cool one-off applications. We know that home automation can save energy, keep the elderly and disabled independent, and make life better for a lot of people. But no one seems sure how to realize this goal, outside of security systems and a few high-end items for luxury markets (like the Nest devices, now being integrated into Google’s grand plan).

But what if the willful creation of a mass consumer market could make the technology even better? Perhaps the Internet of Things needs a consumer focus to achieve its potential. This view was illuminated for me through a couple recent talks with Mike Harris, CEO of the home automation software platform Zonoff.

Read more…

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Podcast: Personalizing hardware with data? Personalizing people with CRISPR?

Jim Stogdill, Jon Bruner, and Mike Loukides chat about personalizing all the things.

This week in our Radar podcast, Jon and I both had colds. You’ll be pleased to know that I edited out all the sneezes, coughs, and general upper respiratory mayhem, but unfortunately there is no Audacity filter for a voice that sounds like a frog caught in a mouse trap (mine). If that hasn’t dissuaded you from listening, we covered some things that were really interesting, at least to us.

Here are some links to things you’ll hear in this episode:

Are you a microphone geek? You’re welcome. Jon is a maximizer, I’m a satisfier. Mike remains indeterminate.

Blackberry’s salvation may reside in its QNX embedded systems division.

The Pennsylvania Railroad was an amazing technical organization in its heyday. Railroads were that time’s web, and Pennsylvania was its Google. It created a lot of the practices we still use today for testing and other technical disciplines. Also, I suppose if Atlas were to shrug today (shudder) John Galt would be a data center designer. Read more…

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Application programming for iBeacons

iBeacons don't communicate directly with end users — applications are required for translation and action execution.

Once you are set up with an iBeacon, no matter whether it is a dedicated device or a program running on a host device, you are ready to start writing applications. The iBeacon “protocol” is simple, as we saw in the introductory post: it defines regions in space as “where I see a specified combination of UUID, major, and minor numbers.” There is no descriptive text or mapping transmitted in the packets sent by a beacon. Translation between the beacon’s transmissions and any actions are done entirely within an application running on the receiving device, even if the application is a simple text message to say “welcome to this place.”

For developing applications on iOS, the core documentation is the developer’s guide to region monitoring. For many years, iOS has enabled applications to use the physical location of a device in applications through the CoreLocation framework, which is what users enable in the Location Services settings in the Privacy panel. iBeacon functions were added to CoreLocation in iOS 7.0. Naturally, devices must have hardware support for the underlying Bluetooth Low Energy functions, which in practice means an iPhone 4S or later iOS device. Macs sold since late 2011 also have the required Bluetooth hardware. Read more…

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3 topologies driving IoT networking standards

The importance of network architecture on the Internet of Things

This article is part of a series exploring the role of networking in the Internet of Things.

There are a lot of moving parts in the networking for the Internet of Things; a lot to sort out between WiFi, WiFi LP, Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, Zigbee, Z-Wave, EnOcean and others. Some standards are governed by open, independent standards bodies, while others are developed by a single company and are being positioned as defacto standards. Some are well established, others are in the early adoption stage. All were initially developed to meet unique application-specific requirements such as range, power consumption, bandwidth, and scalability. Although these are familiar issues, they take on a new urgency in IoT networks.

To begin establishing the right networking technology for your application, it is important to first understand the network architecture, or the network topology, that is supported by each technology standard. The networking standards being used today in IoT can be categorized into three basic network topologies; point-to-point, star, and mesh. Read more…

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Joi Ito: “Deploy or Die”

Why everyone must understand manufacturing, and why the most creative companies design hardware and software together.

It was a pleasure, as always, to talk with Joi Ito a couple of weeks ago. He and I are co-chairing Solid, our new conference about the intersection of software and the physical world, and we recorded part of our conversation in the video below to frame the program we’ve assembled.

Joi is, of course, the director of the MIT Media Lab, where the emphasis is on working across disciplines: engineers take on art and designers hit the oscilloscopes. The kind of development process standard in the new generation of hardware startups — small groups of people hacking away at electronics and software to come up with products that combine both — has been familiar at the Media Lab for decades.

Now the Media Lab’s emphasis is on projects that go all the way to manufacturing and distributing: moving from “demo or die” to “deploy or die,” as Joi puts it. Projects that deploy can be vastly more impactful than those that just demo — putting thousands of devices into the hands of users rather than just a couple. Plus, the manufacturing process is a crucial source of both constraints and creative possibility. Joi says, “Understanding manufacturing is going to be key to design, just like understanding the Internet has become key to running a company.”

Other topics that arose in our conversation — and that are also central to Solid: the merging disciplines of hardware and software, the role of expertise in creating manufactured products, agile hardware development, the importance of having software design and hardware design in the same place, and the need for a new ethics as manufacturing becomes democratized.

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