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Sketching In Hardware

Last week we attended the Sketching In Hardware event, a 3-day workshop in Berlin that explored the perceived boundaries of the tech industry, and worked towards figuring out ways to overcome those challenges.

It was a great opportunity to take the pulse of the hardware prototyping community, and answer key questions like: What are the hottest devices, platforms, or tools in the community? What are the coolest use cases for the Internet of Things? What are the newest trends that are shaking up the tech industry?

After full immersion in this thriving environment of thinkers and innovators, four key trends that are shaping the direction of the tech industry clearly stood out:

1) The rise of the amateur manufacturer

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By now, it’s clear that 3D printers are not just a trend, they have turned into an essential tool that both professional and amateur product designers alike use to rapidly prototype physical objects: or, even to mass-produce very specific tools. As 3D printers are becoming more reliable, accurate, and fast, they now become a viable alternative to existing “production-grade” manufacturing methods within various industries.

Look at the bio-medical companies capable of printing bespoke aortas for actual patients, at a fraction of the cost and time, and you see the far-reaching implications of this technology.

In the industrial space, we’re experiencing exponential progress in printed electronics, like circuits, capacitors and sensors. Effectively, this could mean we’re not far from a world where we wouldn’t need to queue for the iPhone 10*, we could buy the design online, and print it ourselves!

2) The rise of the device-platform package

As my colleagues and I attend more and more of these pioneering events, we’ve observed that device manufacturers are increasingly offering a combined package that integrates both the hardware and a cloud development environment (software).

In the past, you’d have to buy a device, pick up a software platform to hold your data, and then integrate the two yourself. This is very time-consuming, which led to companies such as spark.io, relayr, or electricimp offering a plug and play solution: providing both the device and the cloud platform solution.

It works like this:

1. Buy a device and connect it to the internet.

2. Go on the device cloud platform which has an embedded code editor.

3. Program your application in the browser and flash it directly to your device.

4. The device now speaks with the cloud platform, and you can easily reuse that data in any app.

The obvious advantage for developers is the ability to not worry about the basics like programming the device and getting it to the cloud platform; instead, they can simply focus on building apps. It’s a huge enabler for the Web of Things, and we’ve been working hard on this problem for years, so watch this space!

3) The rise of Web on Devices

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This is something I’m personally really excited about, because it shows me how much closer we are to realising that the Web of Things has become a reality! Many of the speakers at the event spoke of moving to more powerful embedded platforms that can run Linux in their prototyping. This would mean that a smart device has actual Web functionality and an application layer to be built upon.

What this means for IoT is that you can build and deploy node.js, and other software applications that directly run on devices, in essence making that product truly smart. A few examples of this would be the Intel Galileo boardRaspberry Pi; or Kinoma, who have launched an embedded platform, to program very cool prototypes directly with Javascript.

4) The rise of prototyping tools

Although prototypers don’t mind getting their hands dirty (or getting burned by soldering resistors on PCBs!) there’s a limit to how much time can be spent on the details, rather than on building the actual prototype. Projects like Arduino have significantly lowered the effort needed to program a device; nevertheless we’re still far from a world where anyone (literally) can interact with products.

However, the IFTTT or node-reds of the world are making it much easier for everyday users to build applications with no programming knowledge, simply by creating high-level rules or by moving boxes and connections in drag-and-drop interfaces. The easier it becomes to build interactive applications with minimal effort, the more people will start doing it. It’s great news for my colleagues and me in the EVYRTHNG team, as we’re committed to making it easier for everyone to access data and digital services about the products they own, or want to buy.

 

Announcement of the new IoT smart home networking protocol Thread signals greater importance in open compliance and interoperability

thread

A consortium of heavy hitters announced mid last month that they’ve taken the next step in solving what is arguably the smart home’s biggest problem: getting ‘smart’ devices to communicate with each other on a secure and reliable network.

Members of the Thread Group consortium – including tech titans Google (Nest), Samsung, ARM and Silicon Labs – quite rightly identified that unless large companies worked towards an interoperable network, smart products would exist in silos. And silos don’t contribute to the concept of a smart, connected future.

Working together, they’ve come up with Thread: a networking protocol that uses existing web standards to help all your disparate smart home devices talk to each other. The Thread Group proposition is essentially to improve existing leading proprietary standards such as Zigbee, or at least the technologies they are based on. If successful, the Thread Group could potentially not only integrate with the existing players within the protocol sphere, but also replace them.

In a nutshell, the low powered mesh protocol works on the foundation layer of 6LoWPAN, which operates within the domain of IPv6 - 6LoWPAN allows for smaller devices with lower energy consumption to be participatory within the Internet of Things. In addition to this, Thread works as a low powered mesh network. Instead of needing to connect devices to a centralized hub (Star) – connected homes currently utilise a central WiFi router to channel machine-2-machine communication – devices connect directly to each other without intermediaries. Meaning: when a device in the network develops an issue, the surrounding network can cope without loss of functionality. Think of an efficient road system: as a road is closed, traffic is redirected to avoid delays and keep the remaining destinations connected. It’s an efficient system that mitigates some of the most consistent inhibiting aspects of the network layer of the Internet of Things – especially in the home.

Mesh network          Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 14.23.13

Essentially, Thread differentiates itself by providing a holistic, reliable solution for connected homes.

By providing a cost-efficient, energy harvesting and accessible network for devices to communicate on, they have reduced a significant barrier to entry for consumers. Cost efficiency and energy harvesting are of particular importance here: as aforementioned, devices within the home – on the vast majority – currently communicate via WiFi. WiFi communication was not created to connect devices at the low powered level and as such, it is an energy and cost inefficient solution – with simple communication draining significant amounts of power. Conversely, Thread utilises a low power network to remained synced, which has major implications for eventual dissemination in to the mass consumer market.

In addition, as the protocol is already backed by a strong cohort of launch partners – more than 250 devices are currently Thread compliant – they are well positioned to make a serious impact in the connected home device market. The individual players in the consortium are clearly in a strong position to reap the rewards of their investment in Thread as well. With their high-profile investment in Nest, it’s no surprise that Google’s involved; nor Samsung, who are in talks to acquire smart home company SmartThings.

 

What does this mean for the consumer?

Those who already own smart home devices that operate within the 6LoWPAN foundation will quickly see benefits – just a small software upgrade will enable them to connect their existing devices to the network and reap the rewards.

While manufacturers may see a small increase in demand as existing smart home devotees add more devices, it’s unlikely that the announcement of the new protocol will be the magic tipping point into mass consumerization.

For Apple fans, the news appears less rosy. Thread works with IEEE 802.15.4, which is directly pushing the standard away from Bluetooth – an area Apple is investing significantly. The key identifying factor as to whether Apple can resist Threads impending protocol takeover, will be their ability to make Bluetooth functional within a mesh network. Evidently, the Bluetooth consortium will not give up on mesh networking solutions, with rumours emerging already of successful implementation (CSR Mesh).

With major players like Google and Apple facing off on the underlying protocols that define the network layer of the IoT, it’s difficult to imagine that the hoped-for, fully interoperable, connected smart home is on the horizon.

Still, it’s heartening to see members of The Thread Group collaborating towards more open standards. At EVRYTHNG we see openness as a strength – and are big proponents of open interoperability within markets. Additionally, we’ve made significant investment towards achieving an open application layer that enables all devices to communicate and work within the Web of Things; which, interestingly, directly compliments Thread’s networking standards focus.

The Amazon phone’s Firefly feature validates the market opportunity for digital consumer-product interaction.

The feature we were most interested in coming out of the Amazon’s Fire phone launch a few weeks ago was Firefly. Providing real-world scanning functionality, Firefly enables users to visually search for images, text and product labels and barcodes – at the push of a button.

Amazon Firefly

Source: TheNextWeb, 2014

How does it work? Imagine you see an item you’re interested in. Scan it with Firefly, and immediately get the most relevant matching products from Amazon (think Shazam for real-world objects – Firefly does sound too btw).

It’s a very smart play. They are effectively turning everyone’s products into digital media on their terms by making every product scannable and directing users to their site. It makes the physical world part of Amazon devices – which already treat the world like a giant shop – and enables consumers to make frictionless purchasing decisions in seconds.

Just as Google is always partly looking for ways to create more media inventory for AdSense (e.g. Gmail, Maps, possible wearables like Glass?), Amazon wants new digital ways to shop (Kindle and Fire tablets have always been, unapologetically, subsidised e-commerce interfaces).

But the most important point here is the emergence of product scanning as a new consumer behaviour. Amazon certainly believes this is an important part of how consumers will digitally engage with products, and there are some other important supporting trends to consider too.

Bridging the physical-digital divide

The number of QR codes and barcodes being scanned by consumers with smartphones is an obvious data point. The analysis of some recent data has shown a 20% rise from last year with 21.8 million smartphone scans in the first quarter of 2014, with product info and video the most popular content.

QR Code Scanning

Source: KPCB Internet Trends Report, 2013

However, in Mary Meeker’s famous Internet Trends analysis last year, she reported that there were nine million QR code scans a month in China alone, a 400% rise on the previous year. There 42% are being used for tickets, discounts and rewards, while 33% used them for wider promotional purposes. Add this to technologies like NFC (see below), Augmented Reality and other forms of image recognition, and this all points to a clear consumer demand for mobile solutions to combine the physical and digital worlds (although poor execution has slowed adoption of some technologies like QR codes in the West).

New consumer behaviours

There are other equally important behaviours where consumer scan barcodes or swipe / tap NFC-cards and devices emerging fast, or that have already become mainstream in different markets. For instance, there are now estimated to be around 1/2 million self-scanning machines in retail outlets worldwide, while Tesco are already piloting newer scanning technologies like ‘scan as you shop’ handheld scanners in 60 stores.

Self Scanning

Source: Wikipedia, 2014

39.1% of US consumers last year rated it as “very” or “somewhat” important to have self-checkout / self-scanning options when selecting their primary grocery store. And a Cisco retail report recently found that the majority of consumers globally (52%) were open to automated self-scanning at checkout to avoid queues – unsurprisingly, with a skew towards the younger demographic: 57% of so called Gen Y (18-29 year olds) and 55% of Gen X (30-49 year olds) shoppers preferred it.

And let’s not forget that 80% of the three million journeys a day on public transport in London already use NFC-powered Oyster cards – not to mention that there are over 40 million contactless payment cards in the UK and 174,000 retail terminals as of February 2014 – that’s a lot of new scanning, tapping and swiping consumer behaviours going on.

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Source: Amazon

Brand control of products as media

By far the greatest opportunity for digital consumer/ product engagement is with brands. As we started talking about in 2012, consumers should be able to digitally engage with physical products as part of the core brand experience; more than this, the product should be ‘always-on’ and able to recognize consumers in the moment and in the context of purchase or use, responding in real-time to deliver useful content, or services or experiences to help people get more out of it.

Brands should imagine their products as a direct, live channel of personalized consumer communication. A platform to develop a direct relationship with customers – making their product experience richer, creating more loyalty, and accumulating invaluable insights from real-time data analytics about how the product is bought and used and shared along the way. (Incidentally, you can read more about this here in our free whitepaper on Product Relationship Management.)

It’s an incredible opportunity – and very real, right now. We’re excited to be working with innovative brands who haven’t just imagined the opportunity – they’re embracing it, and already seeing tangible results.

The question isn’t whether consumers will directly engage with branded products digitally using smart mobile devices, but how quickly all brands will realize that they need to take control of their physical products as digital media (using existing labels and barcodes or adding new tags as smart packaging triggers for digital engagement).

And this means brands must control the interface and data too – while partnering with a third party app to engage consumers with products is tempting, it’s really handing ownership and control of customer relationships to someone else which simply doesn’t make sense as a long-term strategy. The truth is that if a brand doesn’t control its own products as a core digital media asset then someone else – Amazon – will be happy to do it on their behalf.

 

 

WOT HOME copy

Welcome to our final blog from the eBay Internet of Things collections series!

In our penultimate post in this series, we were showing you how to implement a low-tech version of home automation using NFC and the EVRYTHNG engine.

This time we’ll look at the bleeding-edge version of our connected home! A home where appliances can be piped together easily to create a dynamically reconfigurable home. Just like you can use IFTTT or Yahoo Pipes to create smart workflows for your data (e.g. if I tweet this, post this to my LinkedIn profile and update this Google Spreadsheet) you should be able to configure the real world just as it suits you. This is what we call: Physical Mashups, i.e. the fast and easy composition of the services of physical devices to create unforeseen applications that meet our needs! Sorry for getting over-excited here but Physical Mashups were a big chunk of my PhD :-)

The Web is mashable mainly because of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). This is a little revolution that started a few years ago whereby Websites slowly but steadily started to get APIs, making them Web apps rather than plain sites, the Programmable Web directory is here to witness it! So, the first step in building our futuristic house is to make sure all our devices are accessible via an API (a REST API Link), either directly or indirectly through a gateway or online service like the EVRYTHNG API.

While we won’t be able to review all appliances you have in your home here let us discuss three cases to see how they fit in the picture:

1) First, appliances that come directly with a Web API like the Hue Lamps we talked about in another recipe. These are very easy to integrate to Physical Mashups as they basically tick all the boxes: they are accessible on the IP network and offer a REST API!

2) Secondly, appliances that are hooked up to or proxied by a Web of Things Cloud service such as the EVRYTHNG API. As an example, consider the Smart Coffee Machine we created in a previous post in this series. These are also easy to integrate because the cloud service offers a Web API for the devices.

3) Thirdly, devices that are neither offering a Web API directly, nor through a Cloud service (how dare they in 2014? ;-)). A good example would be all the not-so-smart devices that you have at home like your plain-old-lamps, fans, kettles, old-school-TVs, etc. Well, for those not all hope is lost: we can still make them smart at least at the basic level (on/off) without too much effort. For this we will hack an 433Mhz AM power-switch transmitter, no clue what this is? Well it is a set usually containing a remote control and a number of radio powered power-switches like the one in our collection.

Once you have assessed the type of objects you want to connect, we’ll need to actually start connecting those devices through Mashups! If you want to learn in detail how to implement a Mashable Web of Things Connected Home then head over to the Web of Things recipe blog post.

In our penultimate eBay Internet of Things Collections blog post we wanted to talk about a cheap way of making your house a little smarter, one NFC or QR tag at a time: the NFC-Automated Home!

home-automation-slide

A little while ago over on the Web of Things blog we showed you how you could use NFC and the Trigger app to create a ‘cheap smart home’. The app basically lets you create actions that are triggered whenever an NFC tag is seen close to your phone (as in ‘touching your phone’ kind of close).

Don’t get me wrong, the app is awesome and I use it on a regular basis (my home is all NFC-enabled!) but it has two drawbacks: a) it requires NFC and not everyone out there has an NFC phone (ahem… e.g. all iPhone users…) and,  b) it requires an app, which means that people wanting to interact with your shiny NFC enabled doorbell will have to download an app first, not exactly the kind of thing you would want. :-)

However, there is hope and it’s called a URL. In the Web of Things, all devices are accessible via URLs. So all you need to do in order to get data from a device is to use its URL.

If you want to learn in detail how to implement a cheap home automation system without the need to craft any line of code then head over to the Web of Things recipe blog post, plus you’ll find everything you need to get started in our eBay NFC-Automated Home Collection.

hackfest

As part of London’s IoT Week 2014 there will be a three day Hackfest taking place and EVRYTHNG, along with partners of the European Project COMPOSE, are proud to announce that we will be organizing one of the challenges: inviting enthusiasts to bring their ideas along and build their prototypes utilizing cutting edge platforms provided by numerous sponsors and European Projects.

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And you are invited to join us!

  • The IoT Forum and the European research cluster on the Internet of Things (IERC) are pleased to invite IoT experts, designers, developers, entrepreneurs, and researchers to its first IoT Week Hackfest.
  • Participants will be offered access to state of the art IoT infrastructures provided by leading European research projects and initiatives. In addition, participants will benefit from crash courses provided by the project engineers.
  • Four challenges will be presented: Connectivity, Semantic Interoperability, Service Composition and Business Focus. Teams will be evaluated against the criteria of cooperation, disruption, maturity and interoperability.

The Hackfest is strongly supported by the BUTLER, OpenIoT and Smart-Action IERC projects, together with COMPOSE from the cloud services area as well as Gatesense, a private initiative supported by Grundfos.

There will also be several prizes on offer from the sponsors (IoT Forum, COMPOSE, HOPU and TST-Sistemas).

For more information visit: http://iot-week2014.challengepost.com/

It’s time again for an ebay Internet of Things Collection recipe. This time we’ll be looking at a nice challenge we tackled at the last Web of Things Hackathon – the Smart Fussball Table!

This yearly hackathon (stay tuned for the next one – advertised soon) is always focusing on a challenge that involves real world objects and their connectivity not only to the the Internet but also to the Web. In short it is always about having things talking to each other and humans based on Web protocols and tools.

wot-hackathon

The 2013 editions’ theme was all about football: enhancing a Fussball Table with a number of sensors and actuators to make it a lot smarter.

We wanted the goals to be automatically counted, but we also wanted to display the score in real-time and have the ability to automatically share the score on social networks.

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All the ingredients you need to make your own Smart Fussball Table are listed in EVRYTHNG’s eBay Smart Fussball Table Collection, and a more comprehensive step-by-step guide can be found over on the Web of Things blog!

In the wake of Apple’s WWDC announcements earlier in the week, here are a couple of thoughts from the team on Homekit and what it means to the IoT landscape.

Apple’s impeccable credentials in establishing new consumer markets means that Homekit will likely bring home automation to the masses and set the ‘connected home’ ux standard for everyone else. With a strong footprint in modern households, including Airport WiFi routers as base-stations, they are in a good place to push large-scale adoption of connected devices.

And of course iPhones, iPads and Macbooks are natural interfaces to control our washing machines, fridges and sound systems. Enabling third party devices to be part of Apple’s ecosystem is the logical, and of course smart move. How companies will have to align themselves operationally to fit Apple’s model – the equivalent of App Store rules & regulations for Homekit – remains to be seen.

Apple have already invited other connected products to the party, like the Withings scales or Philips Hue lights through MFi certification, which means there will be plenty of devices available that integrate with it seamlessly from the off.  This is something that Android @ Home (essentially the same idea) badly lacked when was launched in 2011 and was a major market entry stumbling block.

An obvious question in an iDevice-only Apple world is how your other connected devices play if they’re made by Samsung, Google or Amazon. (Expect more IoT technology purchases from the GAFA gang, along with Microsoft to claim their respective pieces of connected pie.) In other words, a move like this is not great for open standards, especially in a space that has already suffered enough from ‘let’s-build-yet-another-proprietary-protocol’ syndrome for the last 20 years.

That said, this is a massive endorsement for IoT in general and overall good news in the quest to make IoT part of mainstream life. Although one side-effect, unfortunately, might be culling smaller, innovative ‘connected home’ players on Kickstarter, which would be a shame.

As media partners with O’Reilly Solid and in anticipation of attending next week, we thought we would give you guys an indication of what topics we’re looking forward to discussing and discovering more about over the course of the two days. We have also given you a heads up on some of the key presentations taking place that we believe will be particular highlights in the schedule.

O'Reilly

1) When the ‘World of Things’ becomes the ‘Internet of Things’

In this topic we are given an initial introduction in to the capabilities of connecting objects to the web. Some of the leading industry players will be providing real life contexts and examples of how objects can function at an intelligent level, providing much more value to the end user. Be sure to check out these talks on the topic.

Wednesday

11.15am, Beyond Gadgets: Interactive Everything, Ivan Poupyrev, Google

1.45pm, A Lamppost Is A Thing Too, Tom Armitage

2.55pm, Designing Automatic: Combine Equal Parts Hardware, Software, and Cloud, then Stir, Ljuba Milijkovic, Automatic Labs

4.50pm, Intelligent Connectivity. It’s What’s Next. Laurie Yoler, Qualcomm Technologies Inc.

2)  IoT: The Opportunities and Threats for Business

Once at O’Reilly Solid, many of the talks are going to be centered around how to best exploit the opportunities that are available to businesses, whilst avoiding those unnecessary challenges along the way. Here are some of the more interesting presentations that will take place in this area.

Wednesday

2.05pm, Beyond the Early Adopter, When IoT Cracks Mainstream, Alex Hawkinson, SmartThings

Thursday

9.40am, Unleash the Potential of the Internet of Things through Intelligent Systems, Steve Teixeira, Microsoft

3.25pm, Giving Factories a Voice in the Age of the Industrial Internet, Joseph Salvo, GE Global Research

5.40pm, Emerging Markets and the IoT: Why Devices Designed for High-Income Countries Don’t Work and What to Do About It, Timothy Prestero, Design that Matters

3) The Baffling Big Data Questions?

As we connect more and more devices to the internet, the industry needs to start asking some critical questions around the security and management of data. Here are some of the talks in this area that we think you’ll find of particular interest.

Wednesday

2.35pm, Data Vehicles for Open Mobility in Cities, Kamal Farah, MIT Media Lab

Thursday

3.45pm, Your Thing is pwnd – Security Challenges for IoT, Paul Freemantle, WSO2

6.00pm, The internet of Things Democracy, Yodit Stanton, Opensensors.io

4) Good UX Will Drive Forward Adoption of the IoT

As an increasing barrier to adoption, serious consideration needs to be given to how user experience can inhibit usage of IoT enabled devices. In this topic speakers will discuss what the key challenges are and how we can attempt to overcome them. Check out these talks for a more insightful perspective.

Wednesday

2.35pm, G28 Machine UX, You’re Drunk, Mike Estee, Other Machine Co

3.25pm, Bringing to Life Wearable Ideas and Rapid Prototyping using Arduino, Moe Tanabian, Samsung Mobile

Thursday

11.45am, Building for Resilience, Abe Gong, Jawbone

2.35pm, Beyond the Screen: Humans as Input-Output Devices, Kelsey Breseman, Technical Machine

5) Bonus Round: The Big Idea Presentations

Wednesday

9.20am, Keynote with Rodney Brooks, Rethink Robotics

5.40pm, Life: Sustainable Programmable Bottom-up Manufacturing, Andrew Hessel, Autodesk Inc.

Thursday

2.05pm, Aging in Place: How the IoT Can Bring the Mountain of Social Connectedness to a Massive, Growing Market of Elderly Users, Thomas Brady, Reaction Inc.

Hope this has whet your appettite a little, and we hope to see you at Solid!

Time to present the third episode in our Internet of Things Collections blog series: the Connected Coffee Machine!

Fridges and coffee machines are probably in the top 3 “things an IoT tinkerer is likely to connect one day or another…”. Not wanting to fail tradition, the tech team at EVRYTHNG decided it was time to connect our dear coffee machine to the Web through the EVRYTHNG API.

“Connected as in I can send a tweet to your coffee machine and it makes me coffee?”, I hear you say. Not at all! That is so last year. ;-) We, at EVRYTHNG, are used to connecting dumb (as in no-electronics-beyond-tags) products and giving them a digital identity. Thus, our coffee machine is activated by checking-in and scanning (NFC, QR or IR) packs of coffee.

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As such, we created a recipe about wiring an mbed device to the electronics of an off-the-shelve coffee machine, then connecting the mbed to the EVRYTHNG API and creating a mobile web page that communicates with the machine through the EVRYTHNG API.

If all this has made you thirsty for more (see what we did there?) all the ingredients you need are listed in EVRYTHNG’s eBay Connected Coffee Machine Collection, and a more comprehensive step-by-step guide can be found over on the Web of Things blog!

We’re super thrilled to announce our $7m series A investment round, with technology investment firm Atomico, New York-based private equity investors BHLP LLC, London-based venture capital firm Dawn Capital, and with a corporate investment by Cisco.  The round is a great affirmation of our team’s work over the past 24 months, the vision of Every Thing Connected we’re pursuing, our Web of Things technology Engine and the commercial approach we’re taking to realizing this vision.

See the official EVRYTHNG release here and Cisco’s announcement here.

The Internet of Things will affect every aspect of business operations and customer experience, so it’s incredibly exciting to be right at the heart of this massive technology disruption and to have support for EVRYTHNG’s technology and vision from these great partners.

We’ll be using the funds to invest in our software-as-a-service technology platform and better products, solutions and services to help our global brand customers make their products smart. And we’ll be expanding and accelerating our go-to-market activities in North America from our New York base, and in Europe from our London base.

There is an inevitability to billions of products and other objects connecting to the internet. The challenge is how the information from and about all these things can become truly accessible and exploitable to applications, made manageable as an extremely valuable and sensitive resource (for individuals and companies alike), and how objects can connect with people, processes and other systems.

We believe in a physical Web of objects, devices, platforms and applications that work together using open Web standards. So far the Web has created huge value with dynamic and lateral connections between disparate information. In our technology vision we want to see this Web capability realized for physical things – a Web of Things. The Web already is the global platform for connecting information, people and applications; we want to help make it the platform for connecting things too.

It’s a privilege to be working with some of the smartest people, brands, product manufacturers and technology companies in the world, and we’re looking forward to doing more to create powerful new opportunities for companies to track and operate products in real-time and engage customers directly through products.

Well done to the EVRYTHNG team, and thank you to the team and all the supporters and partners who are helping us on our mission. Onwards.

As O’Reilly Solid 2014 grows ever closer, Tim O’Reilly founder of O’Reilly Media took to Reddit for an Ask Me Anything Q & A session to drum up discussions around issues and ideas that may be of prominence in attendee’s minds come mid May. After reviewing these exchanges, we thought – what a perfect opportunity to look at prominent discussion topics and catalyse the conversations in the build up to the event!

O'R Solid

A particular question we were keen to explore further was raised by juliannebrands: “What are the key drivers of the IoT movement?… Why now?…”

Bearing in mind that Reddit AMA’s typically aren’t the most in depth discussions, Tim responded by briefly highlighting the aligned conditions that have enabled a brewing of “the perfect storm”. He detailed the sleeping giant that is the mobile phone; the increased interest and momentum gaining in the maker community; and developments of a big data infrastructure, as leading to these prosperous conditions.

But… how can these three aligned conditions alone enable a surge in the uptake of IoT enabled hardware/devices/products?

Tim raised an interesting theory, as proposed by George Soros, to define this growth in the IoT domain. This theory is known as the “reflexive truth” and purports that things become true only to the extent that people are willing to believe in them. Therefore, as we witness more and more successes in the IoT space, people start realising and believing in the potential it has, thus investing more resources into its development. Once this momentum has reached a critical point, the industry becomes a perpetual being, driven forward by “self reinforcing waves”. As companies such as Nest, Fitbit, and of course EVRYTHNG ;) establish the market, they inadvertently pave the way for the entire industry, enabling others to invest in growing their IoT capabilities too.

However, there are obviously barriers to this movement being successful.

As Tim acknowledged, the sleeping giant is the mobile device: purchase numbers are rising and connectivity is disseminating throughout society, yet having connection capability and getting consumers and organisations to engage, are two separate issues. Connectivity may have been established, with opportunities in abundance, but how can we take advantage of them?

mobile consumer

Typical usage patterns of mobile devices suggest people’s relationships with them are based on the value derived from their interactions – methods of engagement that are inconvenient and require actions outside typical consumer parameters often fail. Therefore, for the IoT to become mainstream it is essential to provide real value to the consumer that far outweighs the inconvenience of their participation: seamlessly infiltrating the existing mobile/consumer relationship.

The challenge now faced, as we scale up the number of connected things in our world, is ensuring the use-cases of the IoT provide value above and beyond the effort required to engage.

And so it’s time for the second instalment of our Internet of Things Collections blog series for eBay: the EMF Smog Box!

The basic concept of this project is quite simple: making electro magnetic fields (aka EMFs) visible! EMFs surround us day and night. Some are generated by natural elements such as the Sun or the stars, others however are created by humans – mostly through the use of wireless technologies.

Electro Magnetic Field

EMFs are invisible but scientists are not yet sure of the impact they have on our health, sleep patterns, moods, etc. especially when considering high-frequency fields (see for instance the results of the Interphone study, one of the biggest of its genre). So, visualising these fields is the first step towards awareness; plus it’s quite fun!

For the full techy ‘recipe’ and step by step instructions head over to the Web of Things blog.

And to make it even more interesting (and more ‘Web of Things’!) you could also connect your shiny new device to the EVRYTHNG API to store and graph your measurements. Our Java SDK supports Android.

EMF SMog Box

Wanting to go even further? You could even build maps of the electrosmog in your city, finding the EMF quiet zones! ;-)

Watch this space for the next in the recipe blog series – Connected Coffee Machine – which will be live next week, in the meantime, go and check out the rest of EVRTHNG’s eBay Collections.

As proud media partners of O’Reilly Solid 2014, we thought we’d fuel some discussion on an area of particular interest to us, before it all kicks off next month. The topic we decided to look at was how the Internet of Things will impact business processes in the future, as one of the more interesting and significant challenges facing modern business, we thought, what better place to start?

To provide some context: as we set out in to a new age of digital automation and intelligence, modern day business requires the adoption of smart, connected technologies in order to: optimise efficiency of their manufacturing processes, increase targeted sales or marketing campaigns, engage and manage their consumer base effectively, or distinguish themselves from competitive advances. But how can the Internet of Things unlock those advantages?

Manufacturing

To gain an initial understanding, we will take a brief look at how the IoT could help revolutionise the manufacturing process.

As businesses need more accountability and traceability of their products and goods – with the same trend being reflected in the consumer market – gaining the ability to monitor step-by-step processes throughout manufacturing would enable a greater level of visibility for a business. This visibility may lead to new insights being unearthed:

  • Inefficiencies in the manufacturing process

  • Potential opportunities in reducing operational costs

  • Enable consumers to track their goods from production to point of delivery

  • Provide real-time analytics, etc.

There are potentially hundreds of opportunities that are waiting to be exploited in the manufacturing space. The adoption of these technologies doesn’t need to see an extensive overhaul of the already established manufacturing processes however, simply put the hardware needs only to be integrated with a developed intelligent software: this can be done in a variety of ways suitable to the organisation.

Therefore, key individuals in an organisation – the CIO for example – need to realistically start thinking about the opportunities that get unlocked when integrating intelligent software in to all formats of a business, not only the manufacturing machinery; consumer products, FMCG goods, professional services and so forth. There is a real opportunity for those willing to embrace the new technologies available to them.

O'R Solid

With all this in mind, the Solid Conference 2014 (San Francisco 21/22 May), no doubt promises to see some interesting discussions surrounding the opportunities that are available to businesses right now. Niall Murphy (Founder & CEO) & Dom Guinard (Co-Founder & CTO) will  be in attendance and more than happy to chat further – able to provide examples of how organisations have already taken advantage of these opportunities in real life contexts, and also offering suggestions on how others might be able to realise theirs…

They look forward to seeing you there!

Today sees the launch of ‘Collections’ – eBay’s newest feature that allows its members to curate products around certain themes or ideas – and here at EVRYTHNG we are proud to have been asked to contribute 12 Internet of Things Collections as part of the initial launch campaign.

We trust our IoT Collections will be well received in the existing hacker / coder / maker communities ;-) but we are also keen to encourage more people to get involved in this exciting space! We will therefore be releasing a series of recipe blogs to accompany our Collections, giving step-by-step guidance on how to build useful, interesting and fun connected products.

First up, Smart Lamps – change lamp colors and patterns based on real-world events!

Obviously our final goal wasn’t simply to use the lamps to reflect the mood in the office but to do something slightly smarter with them: to create a very visual and simple dashboard of how well our infrastructure and software was doing at any one point of time.

Although we chose to use the system to monitor the status of our infrastructure we want it to be usable for any other use-case you can think of also, such as monitoring the stock market or maybe the weather – not necessarily useful in London! ;-)

So, if you want to get connecting head over to our tech research community website Web of Things where you’ll find the full tech detail recipe blog and don’t forget to check back in a couple of weeks for the next installment in our recipe blog series: EMF Smog Box…

Happy hacking!

In a recent interview for an upcoming Retail Paper we were asked to give our opinion on the future of location-based services, especially looking at the influence of new technologies such as Bluetooth Low Energy.

What could be the most valuable feature of location for retailers in 2014?

iBeacons will probably be one of the most disruptive technologies bringing opening new doors to location-based services. iBeacons are a sub-set of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices first designed by Apple. In essence, all these devices do is broadcasting an identifier over a BLE channel. You can imagine them as NFC tags that would actively send their identity to all phones within a range of up to 50 meters.

iBeacons are interesting for various reasons but what’s really fascinating about them is that although they are technologically really simple they have the power to drastically reduce the IoT bootstrap challenge (i.e. what does it take to connect to an object) and fundamentally change the game of location-based services.

They can fuel the ability to move from coarse-grained location systems (e.g. in a mall) to hyper-location systems (e.g. in front of this shelf/product) based on Bluetooth Low Energy technologies.

This shift yields two important new features:

1) The obvious one is an improvement in granularity. In 2014 retailers will be able to know where the user is in the order which a meter-scale accuracy. This opens doors to a large number of new use-cases and possibilities.

2) The second one is an improvement in terms of required infrastructures. Technologies likes iBeacons and more generally BLE can be deployed much more easily than Wifi systems or cell-based localization primarily because they are wireless and battery powered with batteries lasting for a couple of years. This shifts the power from telcos and networks providers into the hands of Internet of Things and digital marketing SMEs and startups like EVRYTHNG, hence reducing costs and time to market.

What could be the most welcomed use of location for consumers in 2014?

Accurate indoors positioning seems to be an obvious and useful use of such technologies: they will be able to guide customers more efficiently directly to the goods and offers that matter most to them. It will also allow truly customized marketing messages both in terms of user-profile (extracted from social networks) and hyper-proximity (e.g. because you are in front of THIS shelf).

It is, however, hard to predict how users will react to these ultra-targeted and hyper-local marketing campaigns. Obviously the likelihood for customers to embrace them will be intimately linked to how compelling they are and how do they respect the customers’ privacy and data.

What is the biggest barrier to scaling location based marketing in 2014?

There are a number of important technical barriers: first, only the newest smart phones (iOS and Android) will support hyper-location technologies such as BLE. Then, although both Android and iOS support BLE since the recent version, the iBeacons of the Apple ecosystem use proprietary foot-prints and hence are not supported out-of-the box or officially on Android which will lead to a market fragmentation that could be harmful to these deployments from a retailer point of view.

Finally, a the time of writing, smart phones operating systems (i.e. Android and iOS) do not directly react upon discovering iBeacons or BLE devices. This concretely means that a native application has to be installed on the phone in order for it to pro-actively react upon seeing iBeacons. While this model allows for more than one player to provide iBeacon based services it also means that the market penetration of this technology is further limited by whether or not people have an iBeacon capable app installed on their phone.

How do you think the privacy discussion will evolve in 2014?

Customer acceptance will be key, especially looking at where technologies like EPC RFID failed to convince the masses and hence were banned from several stores. However, because unlike EPC, technologies like iBeacons have a direct benefit for consumers and consumers always put the cost of their privacy in balance with the benefits they get from the technology.

Consumer acceptance will also be greatly depending on how the retailers and mobile phone OS providers (i.e. Google and Apple) will manage the consumer data across the location-based services. A centrally managed profile of customers accessible to all the location-based campaigns at the OS level is likely to raise a lot of concerns compared to a decentralized or an app-centric profile management where a consumer profile is only accessible to the app he is currently using and opted-in for and not shared across apps.

The announcement last week from Technicolor that they are to bring their ‘Qeo Technology’ to complement Qualcomm’s ‘AllJoyn’ is further evidence of the Linux Foundation’s AllSeen Alliance bid to try to establish a standard protocol to enable billions of connected devices across the globe to talk to each other. It is interesting to see that major consumer electronics companies such as LG, Panasonic and HTC are supporting it – along with Qualcomm of course as the chip provider. Nevertheless, history has taught us to take such announcements with a healthy dose of scepticism.

We’ve seen various consortium-owned protocols for connected devices come and go over the last two decades, with hundreds of other alliance-led protocols aimed at standardising the Internet of Things (IoT), but so far they have all failed to live up to expectations and hype. The issue is that these consortium controlled/owned protocols are not a sustainable or effective solution to the two main roadblocks in the IoT world: how to allow any device to talk to other devices or services with minimal effort and programming, and how to easily build apps on top of such an ecosystem of heterogeneous devices. Unless the Qualcomm/Linux tie up is going to have a considerably larger budget than its predecessors, we worry it may well follow a similar fate.

So, can it be better?

It’s been used and in development for a while now, so it obviously does its job however it stands more of a chance of spreading out and being used, if, and only if, the consumer-electronics manufacturers actually build it into their devices. If that does happen and low-cost manufacturers ship products with this protocol built in (a step other alliances have yet to manage) then we should be adopting and engaging with it.

However, one thing the IoT world seems reluctant to acknowledge is the Web of Things approach: the proposal to leverage HTTP – the most successful protocol for building distributed applications ever. The Web has only become what it is today because HTTP was designed to be open, scalable and loosely coupled. Certainly, other alliances/protocols weren’t bad, they might have been even better than HTTP in certain marginal cases, but not for the majority of applications and use cases.

It is therefore realistic that a Web standard could hold the key to unlocking the power of the IoT and providing the crucial foundation that the industry needs, championing ease of use and openness.

This isn’t an anti-commercial post, far from it, the alliance is a good thing and could actually work but the following factors will be essential to its success:

–       tools making it easy to deploy, configure, integrate, analyze, control, etc. one or more devices

–       extensive developer support (lots of source code for many platforms, etc.)

–       complete scenarios (open course examples that work and can be deployed/extended easily)

–       support for multiple platforms (hardware & software)

–       high-level UI, easy to use editors that make it super easy to build apps

–       etc.

I guess as far as the AllSeen Alliance is concerned only time will tell, until then… ;)

Another year, another crop of tech predictions. Not wanting to feel left out, here are some collective thoughts from the team on how the Internet of Things will shape up in 2014. (Be interesting to see how CES fits with these predictions, or not as the case may be).

TOOLS

We expect to see more simpler to use devices and toolkits (e.g. spark.io, wifi-based devices that you can plug, play, and code, etc), that are easier to embed in existing consumer electronics with less integration complexity. Also more home automation fueled by wifi modules that can be added to any existing device like the aforementioned Spark, the flyport and the Electric Imp.

Reassuringly, these are what we think of as ‘Web of Things’ rather than ‘Internet of Things’ examples, meaning they use open Web standards not closed protocols, such as REST APIs with HTTP over Wifi.

Javascript/node.js will show up on devices e.g. program your Raspberry PI directly with javascript, instead of lower-level, more complex/technical languages. Also, more DIY home automation based on the PI e.g. heimcontrol.js, or PI JS.

We’ll see a wider adoption of lightweight Web-based push-eventing-messaging tools and libraries like websockets, especially towards “messaging-as-a-service” (cloud providers can serve as “Gmail” equivalents for non-continuously connected devices).

Plus iBeacons and Bluetooth 4, and other low power messaging devices (in parallel with NFC) will become part of the IoT landscape.

CARS

Cars are supposed to be the new connected physical-digital space that will help mass-market adoption of IoT services, but we haven’t seen anything special to suggest this is picking up speed. Did we miss some major Connected Cars announcement where all the manufacturers got together and proposed some vehicle technology “to bind them” all?

Although we’re interested in stuff like the strategic partnership between Mercedes-Benz and Pebble smart watches to let drivers find their cars, get alerts on traffic hazards and route congestion, monitor fuel levels and such. Or Audi, supposedly developing in-car entertainment and information services using Android.

But given that connected cars and V2V communications and so on have been hot topics for a while now, unless there’s something really disruptive we haven’t spotted, then we’re not sure why this year cars will be the things that drives IoT adoption (see what we did there), at least from a driver/consumer pov.

WEARABLES

Mass consumer adoption of IoT tech in 2014 is most likely to come from Wearables. In fact, we reckon Wearables are going to get pretty huge this year. You can see it with the number of sports products and personal instrumentation products to do with our health: glucose, blood, sweat, sleep monitoring, weight, et al –  not to mention the health of our plants and pets.

There are a tremendous amount of these kinds of things coming on to the market now, and in addition to being stand alone propositions we’re beginning to see some wider integration into the health and wellness industry like connecting fitness data with health insurance premiums, gym programs and so on.

There’s a huge amount of buzz about Wearables at CES 2014 (admittedly a similar hype for 3D TVs last year didn’t exactly live up to expectations) and an 11,500 square foot area dedicated to sports and fitness self-tracking tech. According to Bloomberg, almost 10% of the firms exhibiting this year are in the digital health market.

PAN VS. LAN

Closely linked to Wearables computing is the smartphone as a PAN (Personal Area Network) hub. There’s an argument that this is more important than the ‘home network hub’ based on your residential WiFi LAN (Local Area Network) which everyone seems to be concentrating on.

These PANS are in the form of low energy Bluetooth and personal wifi networks emanating from your smartphones to let you connect with stuff you’re wearing or products you’re interacting with. The scale of the infrastructure of these PANs is now pretty robust. This space is definitely fueled by the compatibility of iOS and Android devices for Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE). Incidentally, that’s what all these new car plugs-ins are making use of – gaining Web connectivity via the owner/driver’s smartphone.

We reckon in 2014 there will be a lot more connecting of physical things and networking together apps, devices, people and things through people’s smartphone PANs rather than contactless technology like NFC.

ROBOTS

We can also expect to see consumer adoption of IoT in semi-autonomous robotic devices. The drones phenomena, for instance, and in-home robotics. Robot devices like the Roomba vacuum cleaner have around for quite some time, but now we have the growing in-home, semi autonomous connected devices for remote controlling our temperature, lighting, security, safety, cleaning, air sensors, and so on.

Units like these are becoming more broadly deployed. – the Nest thermostat and smoke alarm being obvious examples – their thermostats were selling over 40,000 per month a year ago; not sure what the latest stats are but they must be closing in on a million units sold?

As an anecdotal indicator, Niall’s local gardening centre on the outskirts of Geneva – the kind of place you go to buy hosepipes and shrubs – had a robotic lawnmower for sale. Think Roomba for lawns – i.e. it maps the garden then mows it. Interesting that household robots are showing up in places like this as well as Best Buy on the High Street.

MASHUPS

As technology moves out of the screen-based world and into the real world via the clothes and accessories we wear and the physical things and environments we interact within, I hope we can expect a new wave of creativity mashing-up atoms and bits – combining Web experiences, content and applications with the physical world in remarkable and inspiring ways.

For instance, UP band has opened up its APIs for people to combine with all manner of things, like their smart scales or lights or alarm clocks (e.g. turn off the lights automatically when you turn your UP band off at night). Or apps like Disney storylight interactive iPad book for kids that sync with your Philips Hue bulbs so the mood lighting around you changes to match the story narrative. Expect more of this kind of thing, with the fabulous IFTTT leading the line.

That’s it. If you think we’ve missed anything, got anything horribly wrong, agree or disagree violently, or just want to add your 2c then any and all feedback welcome.

Here’s to an amazing 2014 and HNY one and all.

— — —

Wearable Technology icon by Yellow Chip from The Noun Project

Bluetooth Icon by Thomas Le Bas from The Noun Project

Robot Icon by Drew Ellis from The Noun Project

Code Icon by Brennan Novak from The Noun Project

It’s been a rather busy and exciting year for EVRYTHNG, so we thought it was worth reminding ourselves what’s happened over the last 11 months, 11 days, 10 hours and 37 minutes (depending on when you read this), and why not update the wider world at the same time.

We’ve been working on partnerships with packaging firms like iZipline, marketing services networks like Omnicom Media Group, Draftfcb, Y&R, M&C Saatchi and Rapp, and technology leaders like IBM, WC3 and the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, matching our IoT platform and smart product software with their ambitions to help people digitally interact with physical things.

The engineering team have been working all year on upgrading EVRYTHNG’s heavyweight, cloud software environment handling many millions of product interactions – either natively connected objects via embedded chips, sensors, etc; or connectable things using smart tags in combination with smartphones and tablets.

After the most recent rounds of sophisticated scalability tests and new data formats and wrappers for connected things, we’ve  just released the latest EVRYTHNG Engine and portal update. The dev team have promised us that ‘Kirsten’ is pretty awesome, although the sprint for January’s ‘Bethany’ release starts next week, so watch this space…

We also filed another two patents this year to do with an exciting mobile product engagement technology we’ve developed, which helps make more products smart by connecting them to the Web more easily.

In terms of customer highlights, it’s been a great year and we’ve been working with some of the world’s best known brands and businesses using EVRYTHNG’s software Engine for making products smart. Here are a few representative highlights:

Consumer goods: Using the +More platform we run for DIAGEO on the EVRYTHNG Engine, we’ve rolled out brand new campaigns and a variety of applications in four new markets, with lots more planned for 2014. While our work with CPG giant Mondelez is scheduled for a Q1 release in North America.

We’ve also been working on retail NFC trials in the US with a food and drinks brand famous for breaking the mould. And one of the largest CPG firms in the world is working with our software to make their household name products interactive and engage consumers in more positive lifestyles.

Fashion: We’ve been asked by a challenger brand in the jewelry sector to re-image their watches by connecting them to the Web.

Lighting: We’re helping to make products smart for one of the fastest growing and most innovative new lighting companies.

Travel and Hospitality: We’ve partnered with one of the world’s leading luxury businesses to deliver a smart customer service experience in hotels next year. And we’ve been working with not one but two world-class airlines to connect physical and digital touch points to super-charge service delivery and the customer experience.

Automotive: A global car manufacturer just tasked us with using our IoT technology to show how a track and trace solution can work by engaging end-users with useful content and services like online tutorials and parts authentication.

We’re never ones to use buzzwords like ‘thought leadership’ ;-), but if we did we might point out that we did a fair amount of it in 2013. Members of the team could regularly be found presenting at all manner of industry events, and we even hosted a couple of very successful Internet of Things Roundtable events ourselves, along with partners like GigaOm, ARM, Cass Business School and GDR. And we also released this somewhat epic whitepaper on Product Relationship Management (even if I, ahem, do say so myself ;-).

We also more than doubled the size of the team throughout the course of this year going from 8 to 18, and the majority of our Swiss Engineers relocated from Zurich to London. (They’re a friendly bunch but please don’t offer them inferior English chocolate or things can get ugly fast). We also moved to a new office in Leather Lane – partly because we needed more space, but mainly because of the coffee.

To top everything off we’ve also found ourselves shortlisted for a number of awards throughout the year – and even managed to win a few!

Right, back to work. Plenty to do before the holidays and the smell of stilton, the taste of paracetamol, and some well-earned rest. Team EVRYTHNG will be sure to come back refreshed and ready for an even busier 2014!

 

The connectivity and connectability of physical objects is exploding the number of digital interfaces people are interacting through. The next 5 to 10 years will see a tremendous transformation as almost every physical object we use in our every day lives becomes internet enabled in one form or another – every thing we touch applying real-time information to adapt, optimise and enhance its utility.

Today millions of people are using their smartphones daily to scan every day products and benefit from access to personalised services, information and linked applications – physical things extended with digital capabilities. Each one of those interactions is an exchange of information – product provider learning about customers, customers benefiting from additional services, utility and rewards as a result. As the cost of connectivity and the technology to make things connectable declines, that exchange of information will only accelerate. Connected products keep a constant stream of information flowing about where they are, who’s using them, what they’re doing and so forth.

So with this explosion of connectability comes an explosion of the volume of information that the brands who make and sell products are entrusted with by their customers. The flow of information is fast shifting from a fringe benefit of digital-consumer engagement to being a necessity for product and business operation. Just as supply chain systems have revolutionised and indeed transformed how products get from manufacturing plant to retail shelf, so shall the real-time information swirling around the individual products those supply chains ship transform the products themselves and the business models of the brands supplying them.

Big Data is spoken about in the context of the scale of information that this connected world is and will be generating – and indeed it is enormous. But less often discussed is the responsibility that falls on the shoulders of brands, product manufacturers and retailers accumulating and applying it. Aside from the basic issues of access control and how good organisations are at keeping the information they accumulate secure, there is the more fundamental issue how they actually use it. The trust consumers have in a brand’s trustworthiness to apply the information they share is going to become a critical business success factor. If a brand loses that trust, consumers will literally unplug their products. And in a connected product world an unplugged product will likely not be a product at all.

So with Big Data comes big responsibility. The choices organisations make in the technologies and service providers they choose to manage their consumers information is a business critical issue. But more than that, the values they choose to apply to how they use that information is a business survival issue.

In a recent interview for Swiss newspaper Le Temps I was asked what I thought of Shodan, the question was along these lines:

“[...] We’ve heard a lot about Shodan lately, what do you think about it? Is it really working? Can we really find addresses of physical objects connected to the IP network with it? Including potentially critical machines such as Nuclear power-plants and the like?”

An interesting one actually. But first things first: what is Shodan? Shodan is, in essence, a search engine. However, unlike Google searching for documents and content, Shodan hunts the Web for physical devices. It scans addresses trying to find networked objects and to assess their security level. A side effect of Shodan is that if a device is not secure it will expose the device’s back-doors to anyone on the Web, hence making it easier to sneak into the device.

However, the vast majority of the devices Shodan registers are routers, gateways and other network components so you may ask “Why should the Internet and the Web of Things care?”.

Well, let’s start over again. Recent years have witnessed a silent revolution in terms of networked objects. We moved from Intranets of Things, i.e. networks of isolated objects using obscure, proprietary protocols, to the Internet of Things (IoT) where things are connected using Internet protocols such as TCP/IP. Then around 2007 ourselves and a number of our fellow researchers kicked-out an iteration of these concepts call the Web of Things (WoT). In the Web of Things, objects are not only connected at the network level with Internet protocols (TCP/IP, 6lowpan, etc.) but they also feature the application languages and protocols of the Internet, also known as “the Web”. They speak HTTP, offer RESTful APIs, serve HTML, understand Javascript, push data using HTML5 Websockets, etc. While we believed this was a far-fetched vision, a number of consumer electronics manufacturers have readily followed these steps, e.g., Samsung’s TVs connect to TCP/IP (IoT), feature Webservers and allow HTML5 apps to be deployed on them (WoT). Big consortia like the IPSO alliance are showing the way: this little revolution is happening today!

These evolutions have made physical objects more accessible from the digital world than ever before. They also drastically simplify the interconnection of physical objects. However, this new way of digitally connecting or augmenting objects isn’t totally risk-free. Indeed, in the Web of Things, you can potentially access any device or object like you would browse a Web page. A (simplified) example using HTTP would look like:

PUT http://my-home-address.com/devices/tv/next – which could zap to the next channel, or…

DELETE http://my-home.address.com/devices/tv – which could turn your TV off.

Clearly, in the example above, with no added security layer your TV is at risk! ;-)

Indeed, by enabling this to happen over a simple Web browser we simplify our lives but also the life of hackers. However, here we can also directly leverage from the Web’s best practices. The Web isn’t 100% bomb-proof but it offers pretty decent security systems if used correctly. Moreover Web security is definitely one of the most active research fields in computer science because Web security really matters: for business; for personal data; for on-line transactions, etc. Just like Open Source software,  the Web is constantly evolving to become more secure. Therefore physical objects that are part of the WoT can directly benefit from these advances, which isn’t necessarily the case of objects in an Intranet of Things.

So what Shodan is really about is education. I see it as a platform basically saying “Hey, if you do connect your devices to the WoT make sure you ask (Web) security experts to audit it!”

This is where platforms like the EVRYTHNG API can really help. While you could directly open your devices and their data to everyone on the Web, it probably makes more sense to connect them to a trusted WoT platform like EVRYTHNG where access to your data and physical devices directly benefit from state of the art and constantly improving security and access control systems.

Back to the interview question:

“[...] Including potentially critical machines such as Nuclear power-plants and the like?” – which translates to“should we panic?”

My answer would be, no. Not yet! Most of the big hairy scary machines out there like Nuclear reactors are working within an Intranet of Things, quite often in total isolation from global networks, using proprietary M2M (Machine to Machine) protocols. However, the revolution is underway and we’d better make sure we are ready and take IoT and WoT security seriously; putting these things in the hands of experts and using trusted platforms and systems.

But to give you a sense of BIG machines using Web protocols, a couple of years ago, while visiting CERN, it was hinted that parts of the Large Hadron Collider‘s control systems were using the Web and HTTP. This may have just been a rumor but what would be more than natural considering that this is where the Web story began, 23 years ago…

OK, a little self-promoting we’ll admit but we simply couldn’t resist patting ourselves on the back to start the week off.

In a new report by top tech analysts Gartner on ‘Cognizant Computing: where computers become aware of a users demands’, EVRYTHNG was mentioned as “ones to watch” alongside some other lesser known tech firms you may have come across: Google, Facebook & Amazon.

The report is subscriber-only but here’s the link anyway, just in case you have some spare change lying around.

As you might imagine, we’re really pleased that Gartner recognizes our vision for Every Thing Connected – every physical object with a digital identity on the web.

And hey, who knows, perhaps one day the G-A-F-A big four (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) will end up turning into the big five – roll on G-A-F-A-E! ;-)

To be ever so slightly more grounded, if we end up making a fraction as much of an impact as the other guys then we’ll be very happy Nabaztag bunnies!

This Monday we moved into our new home in Leather Lane, Farringdon.

We’re still slowly settling in: the smell of fresh paint is fading, everybody is busy unpacking boxes and pimping their desks, and we almost have Internet connectivity [insert Virgin broadband installation rant of your choice here, grrrr!] – which is handy for a web software company.

We’ve been lucky enough recently to share great facilities with amazing companies like The Foundation & RKCR Y&R, but it’s great to be in back our own space again. Our very first office was in Leather Lane back in 2011 and we loved it here, so it’s great to come full circle.

When we first started out in 2011 we were a team of three in London and four more based in Zurich, not only has that total number grown to seventeen (and counting!) but we have also now re-located the majority of our engineering from Zurich to London – you sprint faster when you’re all in one place we’ve decided.

The new office space is ideal for the EVRYTHNG team. Aside from the open plan space, we also have a dedicated boardroom to meet with customers (who we’re happy to say are increasing in numbers), a break-out area, project ‘War Room’, and a small but perfectly formed kitchen where we store our loaves and Marmite (believe us, it’s what the IoT is being built on).

We’re also excited that our office will soon house a demo space where people can come in and play with the latest IoT demo’s we’ve built, amongst other cool stuff. It’s very much a work in progress at the moment but watch this space…

In the meantime if you’re in the area and feel like saying hi, you are most welcome to pop in for a coffee – which will be served to you by tweeting your order to our coffee machine. Obviously! ;)

One of the key drivers to make the Internet of Things a part of our personal and professional lives will be making the products we interact with every day smart. This means that marketers and the brands they represent have a key role to play. With that in mind, we invited representatives from brands in a variety of sectors, from PepsiCo, AB inBev and Glaxo, to AvisBudget, Dulux-AkzonobelAMEX and Air New Zealand, as well as writers, analysts and researchers, to a breakfast roundtable discussion on the impact of marketing on the Internet of Things (IoT). The roundtable was chaired by Jon Collins from GigaOM, and our two other event partners were Cass Business School, and GDR Creative Intelligence.

We also launched our new whitepaper on Product Relationship Management™ because the content was exactly the focus of the event: how people can interact digitally with physical things, and how brands can make these new consumer-product relationships work. You can download the whitepaper here.

One the biggest trends in technology is how consumers lead the way in the adoption of the most remarkable and fascinating technologies and other parts of the economy follow. So why should the Internet of Things be different?  

Some think that the IoT is about big pipes, smart cities and a new era of industrial machine-to-machine connectivity – but like many other technologies, perhaps IoT will only start to really take off through consumer-led adoption. Given that 3.3 trillion consumer products are made every year, how will the Internet of Things become real in our everyday lives unless these objects have a key role to play in connecting the physical world to the Web?

Jon Collins felt that we’re arriving at a moment of ‘nuclear fusion’ for the IoT where ‘it’s all coming together’ as everyone realises the power of products and other objects connecting. He introduced the phrase ‘the threshold of viability’ – things happening from the ground up at certain moments in time because things become possible which previously weren’t (e.g. what factors combined to allow Facebook to go from zero to one billion users in a few years?). It’s clear that affordability and the dramatic reduction in technology costs (chips, computing, bandwidth, etc) play a big part in this ‘threshold of viability’ playing out.

One of the first challenges to crop up was, unsurprisingly, privacy, security and brand trust. Whether you’re a financial services brand like AMEX or a FMCG product like Pepsi, a breach of consumer trust is disastrous. Sure, many activities in the digital and CRM sphere carry these risks, but the IoT involves a different level of complexity and scale in terms of the permissions required to network data between people and things, as well as from machines to other machines.

How do we ensure that the IoT reinforces rather than undermines customer trust and the brand relationship? How do we guarantee privacy, minimise intrusiveness while still growing revenues? Chris Lomas from American Express cited AMEX’s approach to social media as a potential model for IoT interactions: ‘The questions we always ask are: Does it make life easier?  Is it secure? If it went wrong – maybe someone accidentally bought something without confirming the purchase – the trust and value exchange would be destroyed. It would be over.’

This reference to ‘value exchange’ was initially brought up by Steve Griffiths from Avis Budget Group: the perceived value and loyalty between customer and brand’ from their connected product experiences. AMEX may need to be where their customers are on social channels like Twitter and Facebook, but not ‘in your face’. You can already use your AMEX card to buy on Twitter via a hashtag  or use FourSquare check-ins to get real-time, location-based discounts, so it will be fascinating to see this thinking applied to the integration of financial services and social media with physical objects.

Social norms and attitudes to privacy and usage of data change over time of course. Ann Wixley who works with Hasbro wondered how far mums and dads would be comfortable connecting their children’s lives, although EVRYTHNG’s Niall Murphy noted that the degree to which today’s 11 year olds might expect their toys to know things about them would be utterly alien to their parents.

There were understandable sensitivities in the group to the issue of whether connected products might feel creepy if they suddenly started behaving differently and explicit consumer permissions and controls weren’t in place. Do we really want our shirts talking to the dry cleaners behind our backs and sharing info on where we were when we got that particular stain?

I observed that this is one of the reasons EVRYTHNG places such an emphasis on smartphones and tablets as being at the heart of this current phase of IoT. As well as providing connectivity and sensor capabilities, they are a bridging interface between people interacting with things, as we’ve all grown comfortable using these devices as remote controls for the physical world. (Incidentally, a report recently predicted that 85% of the billions of physical things online by the end of this decade will be connected “intermediate devices” like smartphones and tablets interacting via passive tags like NFC and 2D barcodes).

The marketers around the table also felt it was down to them to lead the way to communicate to consumers how these connected physical/digital services worked, what it means when it comes to your data privacy and security, as well as analysing the resulting data insight to create new propositions. Cass Business School’s Caroline Wiertz confirmed her colleague, Professor in Marketing Fleura Bardhi, had research showing that most consumers don’t understand much about the information that’s collected and stored about them or how it is being used, but once you explain it to them they have a heart attack!

Paul Randle from Dulux-Akzonobel saw this ability to clearly communicate propositions as a critical point of failure. ‘We might all intuitively know what the Internet of Things means but most people don’t. The adoption will be down to our ability to communicate the benefits. How can we tell customers what the value proposition is? It’s like the early days of the Internet. People struggled to understand what it was because the techno-babble didn’t resonate with consumers. Communications expertise is vital.’

Caroline Wiertz’s Cass research also confirmed the importance of access-based consumption – from AirBnb to Spotify. Ownership of products is becoming far less important, particularly among younger age groups: ‘It used to be that possessions were about the extended self. We used things to create our identities. This is becoming obsolete as people want to change identities by the hour. It is more convenient to have access than ownership.’

This of course has significant implications for new IoT-enabled peer-to-peer and neighbourhood sharing services once individual objects have an addressable online identity. If we share cars using ZipCar (now owned by Avis-Budget Group) why not share products like power drills or lawnmowers too? Most people only use them for a few minutes or hours perhaps every year and the rest of the time they’re unused resources that could be rented, lent or otherwise shared more easily if each object connected to the Web.

A skills gap on the brand side was discussed. Some companies felt they weren’t geared up as enterprises to deal with the amount of data and changes to day-to-day operations that IoT-based products would demand. Will this slow down the progress of connected product propositions or will brands look to their agencies for thought leadership and even interim management to progress change initiatives (and if they do, are most marketing agencies up to the challenge of taking this on)? Time will tell.

The answer might be to think small. The website http://ifttt.com (which stands for ‘If This Then That’) was cited as a good way to start experimenting. It’s an online service that lets people link together different digital events – for instance: ‘send me a text message when someone shares my Facebook post’. If companies give their products basic digital connectivity, say by letting people use smartphones to interact with tags or image recognise labels, then brands could allow this consumer interactivity to be ‘mashed-up’ with other web services to see what happens. E.g. ‘If I scan my tin of Dulux paint on the weekend, then share this picture of me painting to Instagram and use it to update my Facebook profile picture’. (You’d need an API to connect your stream of consumer-product interactions with a 3rd party service like IFTTT but that’s where platforms like EVRYTHNG come in ;-)

This has interesting implications for future brand partnerships – the advent of connected products means brands might need to consider wider associations. We might intuitively understand why our Avis Rental Car preferences should sync with Air New Zealand flight data for a better travel service, but are there circumstances where interacting with cans of Pepsi could affect our experience with products from Dulux (refresh your colour inspiration?); GSK (balanced vitamin diet); or Hasbro (earn points to unlock new connected toy features)? To make this happen, the feeling was keep it simple and start by joining just two elements together that wouldn’t normally be connected…maybe it’s your bottle of Stella that orders a Hailo cab for you after a big night out.

The social factor was highlighted by Meredith Smith from GDR and cropped up many times during the session. Allowing products to help people share their product-based stories (tips, experiences, memories), airline bags providing reassurance that they weren’t missing (or if they were, that they could be found), a product connecting you with someone else to help validate the purchase and give you permission to spend your money – all these were considered important use cases and many are in existence already. In other words, a product that intelligently accesses connected web content and services is not as big a leap as we might think for consumers, and this area is developing faster than we imagine.

Lastly, a word about the nitty gritty business of ROI. To what extent should we be thinking about how making products smart is better for business from a granular perspective of CPA, customer satisfaction, sales, service costs, and so on? We took a stab in our whitepaper at modelling how this might work (‘The benefits of making products smart’ above).

That said, Ken Valledy from AB InBev felt that it’s not always a requirement to have all the answers upfront for how innovation programs will benefit a business. Capturing consumer attention is the ultimate aim, so while businesses should want to look at the numbers, he personally feels it’s equally important to keep an open mind about exploring the best ways to enhance people’s lives and give them content to talk about and share.

If you’d like further detail about what was discussed, then please get in touch. Meanwhile, as well as our whitepaper, you might also be interested in Jon Collins’ mighty fine report ‘The Internet of Things: A Market Landscape’ (free download, registration required) https://go.gigaom.com/GigaOM_LP-Report-INTERNET OF THINGS.html – or as he described it: “37 pages of pure joy”.

Last Friday, we were commenting for the Financial Times on Apple’s announcement of Bluetooth Low Energy support in the form of iBeacons. An announcement that might well start a little revolution, not so much because Apple invented it (in fact they did not…) but because iOS support of any protocol that more of less makes sense usually ends up in a drastic uptake of its usage, and this particular protocol happens to really make sense!

Let me put that in context: battery life has always been one of the main challenges for the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Web of Things to truly take-off: wireless communication consumes a significant amount of energy, IoT apps have always been a trade-off between energy consumption and functionality. On one side of the scale you have QR codes and NFC tags: their consumption is very low but so is their reading range and, as a consequence, the set of possible applications they cover. Basically they mainly allow identification.

On the other side of the scale you had WiFi, Zigbee or Bluetooth powered embedded devices: they allow a broad range of applications, from sensing (temperature, pollution, noise, etc.) to indoor localization and computation but they also consume a lot of energy. Hence they are not massively deployed (imagine changing the batteries of billion of devices every 5-10 days).

Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) changes the deal as it enables identification but also wider-range communication (in the 20-40 meters), environmental sensing, indoor localization, content push to phones, etc. all that for a low-power consumption allowing BLE devices to run on a coin-sized battery for several years.

By, now you are (or should be) probably wondering: “But you won’t be able to pay, so the two technologies could potentially co-exist, can’t they?”. Well, consider Beacon (that name sounds familiar!), a new service Paypal has launched that allows consumers to make purchases on their phone in a pretty nifty way:

– A USB dongle is plugged into POS terminal

– Consumer walks into Beacon-ready store, check-in happens automatically (unless you opt-out of checking in, in which case there is no information transmitted to Paypal or the merchant)

– At the till, customer informs Cashier (or Beaconier as the case may now be) they wish to pay via Paypal and it’s done.

– You have not even had to put your hand in your pocket to pay via Smartphone. All done via BLE, all done without NFC.

[A example of BLE Node: the BLEBee]

So, to sum up, Apple’s BLE support is a big thing because:

1. It can cover mobile payments as well.

2. It unlocks many of the use-cases that NFC couldn’t cover (reading from a distance, sensing, pushing content, indoor localization).

3. It does all that without consuming as much as WiFi, Zigbee or Bluetooth (a BLE device can run for years on a button battery!).

4. It will be supported by both Android (already in 4.3) and iOS devices.

So will BLE kill NFC? I don’t think so!

There are still many cases where NFC (or QRs!) make more sense. Because NFC is passive, and however good batteries will become, a passive tag will always be cheaper, smaller and easier to maintain than an active tag. If all you need is identification you’ll be quite often better off with QRs or NFC tags.

However, the battle will get trickier for NFC stakeholders: Apple’s iBeacons are based on BLE which means that iOS devices will soon have SDK support for BLE, add this to the fact that Android supports standard BLE since 4.3 and you might have found the common spark that will light the high-tech IoT revolution…

I’m sure everyone has been there at some point in their career: called upon to present in front of a live (and likely important) audience. This leaves those of us who have outsourced our short-term memories to Google and iCal, and are unable to memorise and reel off new speeches like politicians, with a problem to solve: how to handle the need for notes?

Standing on stage holding pages of notes or even cards to read from won’t really do – it’s a bit unconfident and old-fashioned. Not very ‘TED’ in other words (unless you’re Jamie Oliver!). The same goes for a lectern to stand behind and read your typewritten pages – it does the job but it’s a bit dry and academic.

The slightly more modern version of this is ‘presenter mode’ in Powerpoint or Keynote – it’s less obvious you’re looking at the notes on your laptop but still means you’re rooted to the spot. Much better if the notes display appears on a monitor in front of the stage so you can move around and still see your prompts. But you just can’t guarantee the venue will be set-up that way.

You could flick through an iPad while you’re talking which definitely looks better than paper notes, but it’s not ideal is it? For one thing it’s a bit awkward to hold and scroll with one hand while holding a clicker in the other.

Why not just learn the speech then, you might say, it doesn’t need to be word perfect, and the slides themselves will contain visual and written cues? Fair point, but what if you have a very constrained amount of time – like a five minute pitch slot say – and you need to script your talk very tightly? In those situations wandering off script even briefly a couple of times can leave you 30 seconds over time by the end, which could mean being cut off before you finish.

It was one such recent occasion (we won’t reveal which!) combined with a sneaky trial of Google Glass that got us thinking that perhaps this would make a decent use case for the augmented reality wearable tech. After all simply being able to access ‘presenter mode’ visual cues and slide notes anywhere on stage would solve all of the above problems.

Perhaps the more adventurous or narcissistic presenters would also like to see a live Twitter feed with live reactions to their talk? Or record the presentation and stream it live to an online audience with related reference links attached?

Of course you’ve still got to get past the issue of standing on stage looking like a cyborg. But then again, imagine not having to memorize your speeches again. Ever.

Sold. “OK Glass, presentation please”…

The IoT space is hotting up each and every day. New players coming in to the market, new products destined to adapt the way we live and new initiatives launched to save the world from imminent doom. This weeks Cleanweb Conference was very much focused on the latter.

Here at EVRYTHNG we think a lot about sustainability, our Founder & CMO Andy Hobsbawm even started a non-profit aimed at using ‘creativity vs. climate change’. So the email from IoT Meetup announcing a conference focused solely on IoT and sustainability was pushing at an open door.

I went along with my buddy Steven Craig who is an IoT mad maker and we both got to hear about some truly great projects and startups that give you a little more faith in humanity.

First off I’ll say thanks to Chris Webb and his Cleanweb team for organizing another great meetup, Arup for organizing the space and food/refreshments, and of course the speakers for inspiring me to get off the grid and solar power my house!

I’ll start by giving a quick download of the speakers from the event as I think they all made key points that everyone can find a little comfort in – knowing that there are people out there that are really trying to use technology (and more importantly data) to make a difference.

Chris Webb began by introducing himself and Cleanweb. Their mission statement from the very beginning was enough to make me want to stand up, walk out and hug the first person I saw recycling. Cleanweb’s goal is quite simple: ‘Cleanweb innovators use web technology to fight climate change, and build a more sustainable and resilient future’.

Chris then gave a few examples of what inspired Cleanweb to put the conference on, citing some examples from around the world on sustainable IoT projects such as Air Quality Egg, attaching Canon DSLR’s to drones to use them to track effects on seabirds from oil spills, and community projects such as the one in Deptford where residents used noise sensors to track and report the disturbance of nearby metalworks (power to the people!).

Francesco from Arup then gave a very short talk outlining some of the work they’ve done in the sustainability sector such as the Eden Project (which I LOVE).

While we waited for the next speaker, we were given two quick pitches from two companies involved in climate change and sustainability. The first was Mal from 1010 who is looking for a lead dev, info here. The second was a really interesting organisation called the IoTA (Internet of Things Academy – more info here) which helps communities to build their own connected products by offering tutorials, access to data sets and code base, and connecting you with collaborators in your area. They’re looking for members, so follow me and sign up!

The mic then went to Joe Short of a company called Demand Logic who, in my opinion, are destined to make a fortune and save the UK economy lots of money (about £500m if their estimations are correct – the cost of errors in control systems in large buildings).

The company in a nutshell is about ‘not forgetting the big stuff’ and working with commercial buildings to use connectivity and data to identify problem areas where they are wasting energy. An example would be a commercial chiller unit which uses the energy of 750 homes when it’s running, so it’s crucial these are only on when they need to be and off when they can be. Optimisation of these ‘things’ is essential to fight climate change.

Demand Logic fit data monitors that are able to gather large amounts of data (to date – 200 million values which equates to around 30GB of data) and help companies use the data properly. One of the ways they help is by creating data maps to effectively look at where problems may be occurring (such as areas heated more than others when they don’t need to be). Here’s the epic part of the story, they are so far typically saving buildings of around 10,000-15,000m2 between £50k-100k, equal to 1,000 tonnes of carbon each year.

After a great talk from Joe on an industrial scale it was over to Chris Elsmore and Steve Pike from Carbon Culture to discuss a spare time project they have been working on aimed at generating as much power as they can without calling on the grid. The idea is quite simply DIY solar panels and they told the story from the beginning (it was thought up during the www.emfcamp.org!).

Chris made his first solar panel for under £200 with MDF, some plastic from eBay and an Arduino sensor. On day 2 it started to generate power (albeit not huge amounts). On the plus side, they did manage to hack an Nintendo64 and run Wipeout from the power generated, which is pretty cool (p.s. what a console, I still run mine from the mains though).

Steve, Chris’ colleague, used the inspiration taken from the above hack to build a solar panel onto the wall of his flat (no house, no roof) and is now using his solar panel (which is using a Raspberry Pi and Arduino sensor with Xively reporting to track data) every day to charge his phone.

Granted it’s small scale sustainability but if enough people do it then it’s bound to take reliance off the grid for so much of our power. My next purchase will be a soldering iron!

There was an interesting point raised from the audience around a standard to allow people to power their own homes, apparently this is something that is happening in the US right now with the IEEE although I can’t verify this.

The last talk of the day was from Jessi Baker, one of the founders of Project Provenance who are trying to solve a problem of choices. Jessi started by asking the crowd how many of us would support slavery (no raised hands thankfully) and then proceeded to ask how many of us can be sure the clothes we are wearing weren’t made by a slave. Project Provenance is about helping people make better decisions through open data, essentially touting transparency as a unique selling point (which it should be in my opinion), and they are doing this by trying to join up data around products to give greater transparency on product origins and specifics, allowing the end-user to choose from different metrics than just price and perceived brand value (such as ethical trading and carbon footprint).

My 3 favourite quotes from the evening were all also provided by Jessi and her team:

On consumer values – “Are price and perceived brand value our only consumer metrics?”

On Google Glass – “Do I really want to just see the world according to what Google wants me to see?”

On transparency – “You can’t be semi-open or semi-closed.”

All in all Cleanweb Conference was an inspiring and thought-provoking evening, and I look forward to the next one…

In the meantime – reduce, reuse, recycle.

I’ve been to enough conferences, unconferences, seminars, workshops and everything in-between to know that a large number of events are spent waiting for a particular speaker or session to make they day more interesting. In the instance of IoT13 last week, this couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Each topic was well thought out and insightful, the speakers were fantastic and the five minute pitch opportunities for IoT start-ups were intriguing. It was an opportunity to sit back and immerse yourself in a vision of the connected future that everyone in the room seemed to share.

James Jeynes from Nike painted an incredibly inspiring picture of the past, present and the future of Nike+. How a huge global consumer brand like Nike almost unknowingly brought IoT/product connectivity to the masses is a great story to listen to. What impressed me most was the way Nike are using the data from Nike+ to learn so much more about their customers than ever before.

Nike have intelligently, and without controversy (so far), gone from simply wanting to encourage movement from their consumers (Nike semantics) to now being able to predict movement against a range of conditions and understand when and where the product will most be used. This is exactly why brands need to embrace the opportunity to connect their products to the Web.

A question came from the audience about Nike using movement/fitness data to offer services such as insurance products, but this was quickly dismissed by James as out of the brand’s scope, and rightly so I think. He was understandably coy on their plans for connected products but simply confirmed there’s more to come.

The charismatic and insanely intelligent Bill Janeway of Warburg Pincus spoke on the ‘Where’s the smart money going?’ panel about the innovation economy and the necessity and role of speculative bubbles.

With IoT in its relative infancy, Bill gave his thoughts around the future of investments in the space and some intellectual debates with panelists like Alex Van Someren (Amadeus) and Simon Cook (DFJ Esprit) created some really thought-provoking moments. One key take away was that successful IoT companies will likely be those who can piggyback on existing connectivity infrastructure and concentrate on software services which extract meaning from the data flows.

Of the fifteen odd five minute start-up presentations I would highlight Chirp, Etherios and Datownia as three of my favourites – but that’s a very personal view. I’ve known about Chirp for some time now but it was good to get a refresher on their progress. Led by the entertaining Patrick Bergel it was one of the more animated presentations but that’s exactly how the time should be used in my opinion so full marks.

Chirp is a way of transferring data between devices without relying on connectivity like Bluetooth or NFC. It was good to hear that they are talking about using Chirp as a new engagement method for second screen, although I am generally dubious about TV ad syncing with mobile, especially when it’s app-based (but Patrick is a lot smarter than I am so let’s see).

Datownia was probably the story I was most impressed by. The way Will Lovegrove (company CEO) is educating smaller business on the value of APIs and helping them to archive and utilise their data is potentially huge. Other notable mentions include the always impressive Berg and their Berg Cloud offer, as well as Bleep Bleeps parenting products to help you conceive and care for your kiddies. And everyone at EVRYTHNG has long-standing respect for super smart tech like Electric Imp.

Earlier in the day, Liz Brandt (CEO of ctrl-shift) talked through the differences between a business case and a business model. Your business case is the Why (‘what is the requirement for my business?’), the business model is the How (‘how will my business address this requirement and be viable?’). The day rounded off with a discussion involving our very own Andy Hobsbawm discussing successful business models in IoT.

Andy spoke about the approach of EVRYTHNG and how it focuses on managing the identity of products and other objects, rather than the connectivity. One of the benefits being you don’t have to rely on products being constantly connected to giving them an active presence on the Web. As with most panels during the day, the theme of data and everything around it, including extraction, ownership, privacy and utilization, was central to the debate.

For instance, panelist Dr Rob Treloar of Unilever outlined the potential for monitoring data based on sensors in fast moving products, which could be used to promote environmental behaviour change among consumers. Andy made the point that many IoT business models seem to be existing IT and telco approaches, just using new bits of technology or connectivity. He echoed the VC panel’s view that new value would come from knowing how to extract valuable meaning from all the data flowing from, about and around connected things, and working with businesses to understand and use these insights effectively.

All in all, a great day with lots of learnings. Thank you to the BLN team and we’re looking forward to the next one!

———

Conference photo by Mark LittlewoodBill Janeway photo from BillJaneway.com

There’s no doubt that the volume of ‘things’ connected to the internet is increasing dramatically. Cisco says there will be 25 billion things online by 2015; IBM says one trillion. Either way, the proportion of things to humans will increase sharply over the coming years.

This raises a question about the impact of the internet of things/internet of everything on the overall volume of internet traffic – should we get ready for a massive spike in data transmissions over the next couple of years?

Before we get too worried, it’s worth remembering that internet traffic has increased by several orders of magnitude since it’s early days, mainly thanks to the success of the WWW and the digital content it made available. People have worried regularly about how the network would handle this in the past, but its always managed to adapt and evolve. In 1995, for instance, Robert Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet networking and founder of 3Com predicted that the Internet: “…will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”

In other words, rumors of the Internet’s death through data overload have been greatly exaggerated in the past and are likely to be again. Let me explain why.

First, the fact that more things are connected and ‘sensing’ doesn’t mean they will necessarily be sending messages and notifications at all times. On the contrary, it will become increasingly important – and technically possible – to do most of the computation on the physical devices themselves and transmit only a fraction of the data. As the things in the Internet of Things become smarter, it means they will think more and talk less — “things that think before they speak”. They’ll do this by analyzing the data they collect and making their own decisions to communicate only essential, urgent or relevant information, not simply act as dumb sensors feeding raw data into the network.

Second, the kind of data sent by most devices is pretty simple: a few characters of text data, or an image every few minutes. This represents less than the average amount of data transmitted by any single Web request. At that rate, the data sent by a device over its whole lifetime won’t reach the volume of data transmitted by the average Internet user in an hour. And given that watching data-rich video represents the lion share of Internet usage today, even with 1000 times more devices connected to the net, the data they transmit will be barely noticeable compared with two billion Web users streaming millions of hours of video in aggregate every single day.

Finally, progress in mobile communications technology (increasing bandwidth, smaller and more efficient chips), along with progress in hardware and software like parallel computing (multi-cores, data-centers, etc) and Software-As-A-Service, will make it more efficient to outsource a lot of computation to the Cloud. Therefore, data from devices could be directly sent to a server farm to be processed and filtered before being pushed over the Web.

And the volume of traffic and data is not going to be an issue in terms of bandwidth costs. The trend for the past 30 years on networks has been a consistent decline in cost per byte transferred and stored — there’s no reason this won’t continue to be the case.

The real issue in the next years will really be extracting meaningful information nuggets from the massive quantity of raw data generated by the Internet of Things. This will only be an issue if we don’t apply tools to process and interpret this data where it makes most sense. Companies should be making investments in analytics software, data visualization and similar tools – which are very affordable now for SMEs and not just the province of big businesses – so the enormous amounts of information that can now be gathered doesn’t become overwhelming but an opportunity to do business in an even smarter way.

Last week, I was at a seminar on Connected Health and saw some pretty scary statistics. For example, the number of people who are going to be over the age of 80 by 2020 is set to double. In Europe, this equates to more than 29m people. In the UK, care for the over-65s now comprises of 40% of all NHS spending. And, not only is the population aging at a significant rate, healthcare is shifting from acute to chronic illnesses. Of course, healthcare systems are not evolving at the rate of demographic change. Who is going to take care of these people, especially those without an extended family? The government of Norway now estimates that it will need an additional 100,000 people in the healthcare industry in 10 years. The current options of care homes and nursing homes are neither appealing nor able to cope with the numbers involved.

Remote and on-going monitoring will be essential to support those people outside of traditional healthcare environments. The world of IoT will allow more intelligent, continuous monitoring. Health care professionals will be able to collect and store real-time information about their patients and even be alerted when something is wrong and action is needed.

Imagine that a nurse no longer has to check your father’s vital signs 4 times a day if he is in hospital. Instead, your connected hospital bed monitors vital signs continuously and even sends you a text message saying that he is ok. And, when he comes home, the smart drug pack sends you an alert to say that he hasn’t opened the pack or sends him a reminder that it’s time to take the medication. Or, perhaps his smartphone can confirm that he’s taken not only the right pills but the right amount at the right time of day.

There are even benefits of continuous monitoring within a hospital. Aventura Hospital, in Florida, has started tracking patients using a small plastic wristband like Nike+. They receive this wristband during admission. It automatically checks in as they arrive in their bed, travel around the hospital and check-out. The system does the same for the equipment. No longer do doctors or nurses have to search for patients, beds or equipment.

Remote monitoring could also prevent unnecessary trips to the doctor or hospital. There are already devices, apps and iPhone plug ins like GlucoDock which let diabetics track their own blood sugar levels, or CareLogger which also helps measure blood pressure, meals and weight. These sensors are already being built into our clothing (bio-tracking clothing like the Under Armour shirt tracks your heart rate, lung capacity and metabolism) and it won’t be long before our car seatbelts could just as easily be set to automatically notify a doctor or care giver if our blood pressure exceeded a pre-determined threshold.

And, imagine how the Internet of Things could save lives in hospitals by fighting infections. Handwashing has been proven to prevent hospital-acquired infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows that hand washing by providers only occurs 55 percent of the time. But, now, by wearing badges that count each room entry and exit, along with the use of soap or sanitiser dispensers, tracking hand washing is automated and doesn’t interfere with existing hospital processes.

A large part of the impact of IoT will be to help connect the fragmented and increasing decentralised healthcare world. Remote monitoring and the continuous stream of data sent to doctors, care givers and even patients themselves, will drive better and faster decision-making.

The Internet of Things will increasingly become a necessity in a world of increasing healthcare demand and decreasing resources.

Yes, it’s that time of year: Internet Queen Bee Mary Meeker, maker and breaker of companies back in the day when she was the securities tech analyst on Wall St, releases her hugely anticipated Internet Trends report.

The 117-page deck is, as ever, packed with data and analysis about the State of the Net. This year it includes the concept of ‘Everywhere Computing’ and a third computing cycle going from Smartphones to Tablets to “Wearables, Drivables, Flyables, Scannables”. This comprises of everything from connected cars and drones to image recognition and tags like QR codes (up 400% year on year in China), and obviously resonates quite well here at EVRYTHNG Towers.

Given the number of digital sensors being embedded in devices, wearable tech and everyday objects, Meeker reports that by 2015 the volume of data generated and shared will hit 8 zettabytes. For instance, self-quantifying health and fitness apps like JawboneUP whose users (including me) have, apparently, already recorded and shared billions of steps, over 700,000 hours of sleep and are interacting with the app around five times a day.

In fact, over the next few years this kind of personal lifestyle tech could play an important role in behaviour change shifts for healthier living. In 2007, 40% of premature deaths in the US were caused by destructive activities like smoking, excessive alcohol, obesity and inactivity. Wearable technology and connected personal items could reduce this somewhat tragic stat by helping people become more aware of how their daily behaviour impacts their health.

Meeker thinks we’re on the cusp of something big since most major manufacturers are either producing or rumoured to be producing some sort of wearable technology and crucially we’re seeing an acceleration in the typical 10 year cycle for major new technology platforms.

And for those who might dismiss wearable tech like Google Glass, Meeker reminds us that we’ve under-estimated these tech cycles before:

“There’s no reason anyone would want a computer in their home” – Ken Olsen, Founder, Digital Equipment, 1977

We were recently interviewed for this new Forrester report on the impact of emerging technologies on designers, marketers and end-users, the way this shifts how people digitally engage with physical things and how those things communicate with other connected objects around them. (Needless to say we’re pretty happy to have been named in the report as part of this connected physical/digital ecosystem, alongside some of the biggest technology players).

Here’s a quick seven point tour through the most interesting bits of the report and the ideas it provoked.

1. More and more of our everyday media and service experiences are digital. Shopping for instance. Even if we still buy things in physical stores, some online research is likely to have taken place before the purchase (not to mention ‘show-rooming’ on smartphones as shoppers compare prices in-store), and post-purchase recommendations will almost inevitably be socially-connected.

2. All this activity leaves a digital trail, from Instagram snaps to product reviews and Facebook, Foursquare or TopTable check-ins. So what happens when this digital data trail and our online activities become interconnected with the physical objects and environments we’re interacting with?

3. Smart objects can open up entirely new consumer journeys and deeper, more personalized content and service experiences. Not to mention many new types of data, hence we’re seeing the development of predictive analytics to determine emotional need states to second-guess moods and create greater relevance.

4. Why can’t my cycling gear (clothing, shoes, water bottle etc.) communicate with my bike and between them pull in data about local weather, traffic, recommended amount of water intake, and so on. Then knowing that I may (theoretically of course ;-)) have put on a couple of pounds recently, come up with an appropriate journey on my smartphone, suggesting a good pub (based on the weather and my menu preference) as a halfway point? It could also measure biometric data like sweat output, heart rate and breathing to tell me if I’m going too hard, or my water bottle could tell me I’m taking on too much water, or not enough.

5. Designing new experiences through these emerging technologies and channels becomes, say Forrester, the new marketing. Interactivity, specialised use cases with smart objects and wearables, journey maps or immersive experiences will all be adding value to a customer’s experience and therefore become the marketing channel.

6. Consumer behaviour and engagement with brands, Forrester’s report proposes, will be through software, as people won’t want deep and meaningful relationships with hundreds of brands, they will just want useful products wrapped in digital services to support their lifestyle.

7. It makes sense to us that this is how successful brands will operate and define their value in the future. By making products smart, brands turn their products into software. Which means the products can exist as intelligent web objects while remaining beautifully designed physical objects, and interact with and be customized for those who make, sell and use them.

We are happy to announce that this year EVRYTHNG will again co-organize the International Web of Things workshop.

As every year the workshop will consist of two distinct (but quite complementary parts). First, the WoT hackathon (http://www.webofthings.org/wot/2013/hackathon.php) where makers and tinkerers will meet to build awesome prototypes with connected things and products. Then, the WoT scientific workshop where researchers, practitioners and companies will meet to discuss the future of the WoT industry and research.

We look forward to many of you joining us in Zurich on September 8 and 9, 2013. The call for paper for the scientific part is now open (see below) and so is the registration for the hackathon (http://www.webofthings.org/wot/2013/hackathon.php)

CALL FOR PAPERS – Fourth International Workshop on the Web of Things (WoT 2013)
in conjunction with UbiComp 2013, Zurich, September 8-12, 2013.
www.webofthings.com/wot/2013/

Important Dates:
Paper submission deadline: May 31, 2013
Notification of acceptance: June 14, 2013
Camera-ready papers due: June 21, 2013
Workshop date: September 9, 2013

Workshop Abstract:
The Internet of Things has become a well-known brand for a set of research issues in the pervasive and ubiquitous computing communities. The focus of this research theme has mostly been on establishing connectivity in a variety of challenging and constrained networking environments. Our hypothesis is that the Web of Things is the next logical step in the ongoing evolution of how pervasive and ubiquitous computing have enabled new applications and provided new opportunities. The Web of Things takes the next step from establishing connectivity and thus the ability to communicate with real-world things, to a vision where physical devices become seamlessly integrated into the Web – not just through Web-based user interfaces of specialized applications, but by blending into the hypermedia information space created by the Web and its architectural principles.

Contributing to WoT 2013:
WoT 2013 solicits contributions in all areas related to the Web of Things, and we invite application designers to think beyond sensor networks and Web applications, and to imagine, design, build, evaluate, and share their thoughts and visions on what the future of the Web and networked devices will be. Continuing the successful Web of Things workshop series at PerCom 2010, Pervasive 2011, and Pervasive 2012, this workshop aims at exploring the use of principles and technologies at the core of the Web such as Representational State Transfer (REST), syndication (e.g., Atom), and real-time Web technologies for providing access to ubiquitous computing services. It aims at exploring and tackling the challenges to achieve a seamless Web of Things where the Web’s architectural principles are applied in a way that makes Web-enabled things usable across the largest possible set of application scenarios.

Topics for submissions include the following:
— Integration of embedded computers, wireless sensor networks, every-day appliances, smart gateways, and tagged objects (RFID, barcodes, QRs, NFC) using a Web approach.
— Real-time communication with physical objects (e.g., syndication, streaming, Web push mechanisms)
— Web-based discovery, search, composition, and physical mashups
— Use of semantic technologies (e.g., ontologies, embedded metadata, microdata, microformats, context) to facilitate the interaction with and between things on the Web
— Models, paradigms and standards to enable interaction with and between physical things for humans
— Security, privacy, access control, and sharing of physical things on the Web
— Application of Web tools and techniques in the physical world (e.g., REST, HTML5, 6lowpan, cloud services, social networks)
— Cloud platforms and services for the Web of Things
— Concrete applications, use-cases, deployments, and evaluations of Web-enabled Things in contexts such as smart homes, connected cities, and Web 2.0 enterprises

This fourth edition of the Web of Things workshop series will provide an interactive forum for WoT researchers to learn about and discuss existing efforts related to Web-based interactions with smart things. In order to ensure a high-quality technical session, submissions must cover one of the topics above and not exceed ten (10) pages in the UbiComp 2013 SIG Adjunct Proceedings Template (available at http://www.ubicomp.org/ubicomp2013/calls/templates.php). Research papers must be original prior unpublished work and not under review elsewhere as they will be published to the ACM digital library and listed on DBLP. All submissions will be peer-reviewed and selected based on their originality, merit, and relevance to the workshop. Submission requires at least one author to present the paper on-site. If you can, we encourage authors of accepted papers to bring a prototype and demonstrate it at the workshop, as part of an open demonstration session.

For more instructions on how to submit to WoT 2013 visit http://www.webofthings.org/wot/2013/submission.php.

Organizers:
Simon Mayer, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, http://people.inf.ethz.ch/mayersi
Vlad Trifa, EVRYTHNG Ltd., UK, http://vladtrifa.com
Dave Raggett, World Wide Web Consortium., http://www.w3.org/People/Raggett
Dominique Guinard, EVRYTHNG Ltd., UK, http://guinard.org

Program Committee:
Michael Blackstock, University of British Columbia, Canada
Benoit Christophe, Alcatel Lucent Bell Labs, France
Carolina Fortuna, Jozef Stefan Institute, Slovenia
Aitor Gomez-Goiri, Universidad de Deusto, Spain
Artem Katasonov, VTT Labs, Finland
Gerd Kortuem, Lancaster University, UK
Matthias Kovatsch, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Rodger Lea, University of British Columbia, Canada
Olivier Liechti, University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland, Switzerland
Marino Linaje, Universidad de Extremadura, Spain
Diego López de Ipiña, Universidad de Deusto, Spain
Friedemann Mattern, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Florian Michahelles, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Guido Moritz, Universität Rostock, Germany
Claro Noda, Universidade do Minho, Portugal
Jacques Pasquier, Université de Fribourg, Switzerland
Cesare Pautasso, Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI), Switzerland
David Resseguie, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA
Till Riedel, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany
Andreas Ruppen, Université de Fribourg, Switzerland
Vlad Stirbu, Nokia, Finland
Inaki Vazquez, Symplio, Spain
Erik Wilde, EMC Corporation, USA

- – -
Connected illustration by www.chky.ch

While we wait for the engraved trophies to arrive here at EVRYTHNG Towers, we thought we’d share what a great first half of the year we’ve had here at EVRYTHNG.

First we scooped the Advertising Week Next Innovation Award in Social.  Now the EVRYTHNG engine has been recognised by Frost & Sullivan as the most innovative new product of 2013 for the Internet of Things and we have been awarded this year’s Frost & Sullivan New Product Innovation award.

After deep analysis of the Internet of Things market and against strict criteria EVRYTHNG, “an effective platform for connecting every physical object to the web”, was commended for improving “customers’ return on investment in several ways with the flexibility of its business model and the simplicity of its technology”. To be recognized by Frost & Sullivan’s global team of experts is a real honour.

And further good news arrived with last week’s announcement that EVRYTHNG has been shortlisted in The Digitals 2013 Consumer Products & Services category for our Father’s Day campaign for Diageo, winners of which will be decided later next month.

Such examples of industry recognition really are testament to our passionate, creative and innovative team (some of whom managed to escape the above picture!) and all their hard work so far this year. Good job guys!

You can see the full press release here and the download the official award report here!

Reading the Mail on Sunday isn’t a regular part of my weekend routine, but an Internet of Things related front page headline caught my eye for obvious reasons, so I read a little more of the article.

It starts talking about power giants pushing through EU regs forcing us to have sinister chips installed in our white goods, like fridges and freezers, to track temperature, power consumption and so on.

It then spends most of the article frothing at the mouth about how said power giants will turn off all our appliances without our consent, in order to save electricity at peak times (squeezing in a picture of the Royal Wedding for good measure and an example of peak electricity consumption).

It’s not until right at the end of the piece where they bring in a spokesperson from the National Grid to explain a tiny bit about how the technology actually works and what it actually means:

“One of the proposed requirements is for a limited number of (future) temperature controlled devices such as fridges and freezers to have the capability to assist the real time balancing of electricity supply and demand by automatically switching off devices for short durations. This should result in benefits to consumers as it will lead to a reduced requirement for additional back-up electricity sources.”

Yeah, but who’s going to pay for my melty ice cream and rancid milk then?

“It will have no material impact on the operation of fridges and freezers, switching will be for a few seconds and only occasionally. Consumers’ produce will remain cool in their fridges and frozen in their freezers.”

Oh, ok then. I suppose it all sounds suspiciously sensible and probably a useful thing for the planet too given the CO2 impact of most energy production. But lets not let that interfere with a good headline.

On Tuesday digital agency TH_NK gathered together “technologists, marketers, creatives and strategists” to chat about how technology is changing the way marketers think and work. And they were kind enough to ask us along.

Along with Wired, Microsoft, Shazam, Blippar, Proxama, Station10, Currency Cloud and Carat, EVRYTHNG took part in panels discussing ‘Networked Devices & Maker Culture’, ‘The Cloud’ and ‘Physical to Digital’.

A lot of the conversation naturally revolved around the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) and, after the usual debate around it’s subjective definition, the key questions focused on barriers to adoption.

Some concern was expressed that the IoT might have a somewhat ‘gimmicky’ reputation and that apps were all too often stunts with no practical use cases. James Shepherd of Blippar argued that marketing stunts may not necessarily be a negative if they open the door for future interactions, but Matthew Knight of Carat felt that concepts like tweeting milk cartons are dangerous because they create a misleading, lasting impression of what the Internet of Things is about for consumers, agencies and brands alike.

A few panellists throughout the day felt that it was up to brands to experiment with connected products, learn the business lessons and adapt their marketing strategies and even their supply chains accordingly. EVRYTHNG’s Andy Hobsbawm highlighted the need for brands to put smart products in the hands of their customers, learn how they are used and generate data they can analyse to better cater for consumer needs in the future.

Miles Lewis of Shazam made a very practical point that app-based physical-digital technologies like Shazam and Blippar faced the challenge of “how to make sure we’re still relevant as apps” in a world where “94% all apps are deleted after a month”.

Ciaran O’Sullivan of Proxama recognised Apple’s lack of NFC support as a key barrier to adoption. He also referenced the on-going mobile payment war slowing down progress as banks and mobile operators fight over who owns the customer – issues less about implementation than politics.

Issues of privacy and security in an age of super-connectivity were debated, however Andy thought this was as much a need for common sense service design based around value exchange, as it was a technology problem to be solved. For instance, we are happy with Amazon knowing a huge amount about our shopping habits because they provide personalisation and convenience in return.

Also the social norms around privacy are constantly evolving so what is unacceptable today may well be the norm in the future. Knight also advocated that brands are ultimately marks of trust and have a kind of moral responsibility to make sure that their IoT services and products respect consumers’ rights for security and privacy.

A particularly positive view of the IoT to come out of the discussions was a ‘cradle to cradle’ manufacturing approach. The ability to track materials in products as they are produced, then manage the longevity of the products total life in the hands of consumers (including second hand markets), and finally breaking it down into component materials again to be recycled back into new physical things.

The IoT needs to be an “economic, industrial and social” ecosystem and for this to happen there has to be lasting value beyond brands, agencies, campaigns and consumers. Knight added that it’s actually this ecosystem and the life of information attached to the products connected by the IoT that will be where things start to get really interesting…

In other words, Big Data. Now there’s a good theme for the next TH_NKTANK session.

I’ve just got back from a week at TED 2013 with the usual fragments of stimulating, fascinating and downright inspiring ideas ricocheting around my tired brain.

Futurist and author Juan Enriquez likened the social trails we leave on the Web to “digital tattoos” which never fade and theorised that Warhol’s prediction of 15 minutes of fame would become 15 minutes of anonymity.

MIT’s Skylar Tibbets introduced the astounding idea of 4D printing (3D printing is so last week) where the fourth dimension of time means that we’ll be able to print buildings which self-organize their own assembly.

And Neuroscientist Mary Lou Jepsen explained how it’s inevitable that within 5-10 years there will be no difference between ‘seeing’ and ‘imagining’. Ultra high-resolution brain imaging systems will give us direct network access to human thought and we’ll be able to dump the ideas in our brains directly onto digital media.

She showed some rather amazing footage where hi-res MRI scans of human brain activity were already being used to decode and then re-construct a close approximation of the video images someone was actually watching.

There was even a surreal launch of the Inter-Species Internet (the Internet of Things is so last week) where intelligent animals like dolphins, monkeys and elephants get iPads and stuff so they can join everyone and everything else online. (I was a bit surprised that the chimp we saw learning to play keyboards hasn’t yet been hired to join Google X but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time).

To be honest, if Neil “Fab Lab” Gershenfeld and  Vint “Granddaddy of TCP/IP” Cerf hadn’t been on stage, plus dolphin language expert Diana Rees and musician Peter Gabriel, I’m not sure this particular idea would’ve been taken quite as seriously.

Anyway, you can read a full download on the conference on the TED blog (and watch the talks as they go up), but the main prompt for this post was a talk by legendary engineer Danny Hillis (a man who, among many other things, registered the third ever domain name: think.com) about the vulnerability of the internet.

Hillis’ point was that the internet is becoming embedded so deeply into every aspect of our economy and society that we no longer understand where it begins and ends. And like the financial system which evolved instruments like derivatives and options that became too complex to keep track of, it’s a crash waiting to happen.

For instance, Pakistan made some router changes to try and censor YouTube a couple of years ago, and inadvertently blocked it for all of Asia. (I remember this well because I happened to visit an old friend who was part of the YouTube engineering team at the time and he hadn’t slept for a week trying to fix the issue).

And remember that this ‘network of networks’ was built on protocols that embody the communal ‘do the right thing’ philosophy of early internet engineers. Given modern geo-political tensions and globalised cyber-crime this is a system potentially too open to exploitation and abuse. For instance last April, an “honest mistake” by China Telecom re-routed a significant proportion of net traffic including military data through China. Not to mention scary nuclear facility hacking episodes like the Stuxnet virus.

Vint Cerf later made a fair counter-point that the very ubiquity of the net also increases resilience as well as potential vulnerability. But no-one would disagree with Hillis’ central point that we need a Plan B to backup the Internet in case of disaster.

What’s all this got to do with the Web of Things? Well, a couple of months ago our CTO Dom Guinard was interviewed for a Forrester report on IoT Security and made a very interesting point about the coming wave of Web-connected physical things. Namely that while most manufacturers have a deep, historical expertise about making physical products, they don’t know that much about the Internet.

The worry is that people might think it’s relatively trivial to connect their products to the Web and harness the connectivity without properly understanding its underlying systems. As a result, a whole new generation of physical things might make their way into the World Wide Web, born with more security holes than Internet Explorer 6.

To Hillis’ point, the bigger and more boundlessly inter-connected the Internet becomes, the harder it gets to fix if things go wrong. And given that all these networked physical objects will probably be using different systems and standards, there won’t be a single company to centrally release new security patches, alongside press statements playing down the issue, even if we wanted one.

Apparently ARPANET once crashed so badly that the sysadmins had to reboot it to get it working again. Yes that’s right, they turned the internet off and then on again. Good luck doing that if something goes wrong today. Let alone for the future Internet of information, people, things and, erm, animals.

PS. I managed to summon the courage to ask Danny Hillis what he thought about Dom’s idea during a coffee break and he agreed completely. Which means it almost certainly must be correct.

———

Photo credits: Ted Conference, The Computer History Museum (via Wikipedia), Tom Fewster (via iStockPhoto)

In light of the recent revelations surrounding the use of horsemeat as an illegal substitute for beef, Swiss radio station RTS decided to investigate what might have been done to prevent it. In an interview with our illustrious Co-Founder and CTO Dominique Guinard, journalist Coralie Claude posed the question: How could technology have prevented this from happening?

The answer is quite simple. The solution already exists and involves giving every food product it’s own unique digital identity. This is done by tagging each individual product (using tag technologies like RFID/NFC or QR codes) and recording a combination of ‘tracking’ and ‘fingerprint’ data relating to that tagged product. This happens not within the tag itself, but in a secure and centralized online information server, like the EVRYTHNG Engine.

Tracking data or product journey data would be collected whenever a product tag was read at various points in a supply chain, the tags could then provide visibility surrounding who was responsible for the product, at which point, and at what time. Tampering with this data would be extremely difficult and involve every member of the supply chain being in on the hack!

Indeed this form of tracking already takes place within the EPC (Electronic Product Code) network (http://www.gs1.org/epcglobal): a global network of connected objects, tracked through the supply chain using RFID tags, that is already being used by the likes of Metro and Wallmart.

The problem with this process however is that currently the collected data is only stored on closed systems. For this tracking data to actually be valuable it needs to be available on the web and accessible by users.

Fingerprint data or product metadata would involve storing information in a centralized and authoritative information system accessible via the tag unique identifier. This information would directly correspond to the product itself. For example: illicit activity would be clearly evident if, when read, a products tag displayed data relating to Premium South American Fairtrade coffee beans yet the product itself was actually a low value coffee bean mix.

Not only would fingerprint data highlight any violation of a product, but the tracking data would further hold the supply chain accountable, making it possible to discover exactly where the violation took place.  Again, if fingerprint data is actually going to be useful it needs to be available on the web, preferably alongside tracking data, and accessible by users.

So if this is all possible, why doesn’t it exist?

Technologically it does exist (EPC net / GS1 etc), it just didn’t take off. For three main reasons:

  1. Reluctance to share data – the more companies share their data the more transparent they become, and businesses don’t always see this as preferable or beneficial.
  2. Consumer paranoia – the unfounded fear that in tracking a product so too, by proxy, would the owner of that product be tracked. This is not the case because products can only be tracked when their tags are read at a specific point e.g. the factory, the haulage depot, the supermarket. Plus, our phones are much bigger tracking devices than any RFID tag.
  3. No end-user benefit – tagging products had numerous benefits within the supply chain but no appeal to the end user, the consumer.

So what’s the answer?

We’ve already talked about the effective and accessible storage of both tracking and fingerprint data, but more crucially the answer lies in making this data useful outside of the existing supply chain parameters: making it useful to the citizen consumer.

The way to do this is by making it possible for 3rd parties to create mobile and Web applications which let consumers access digital information and services based on real, live product data, and to do this based on those products having unique, trackable and traceable digital identities on the Web.

The EPC Mashup prototype we worked on is an example of what this could look like in the (near) future. Built together with the AutoID labs at MIT / Zurich, SAP Research and the University of Fribourg, this prototype is based on an open-source module that makes global tracking data and EVRYTHNG product metadata available through a Web (REST) API. Hence, all tagged products get an Active Digital Identity in the form of a URL that can be linked to; exchanged in emails; browsed for; bookmarked etc.

Additionally, this paradigm shift allows Web languages like HTML and JavaScript or mobile platforms like iOS or Android to directly use RFID data to easily create end-consumers applications. This is illustrated by a Web dashboard (currently for Firefox only!). Select a product (e.g. a chocolate bar) in the main window and then open as many widgets as you’d like, each showing different real-time data about the particular product you have in your hands (where it came from, what it is, what people think about it etc.).

As for the horsemeat scandal, it would have been far less likely to happen if consumers had been able to access information about their products. And consumers interacting with their products has even more exciting possibilities beyond just finding out a products history. Once a product has it’s own digital identity online many other helpful digital tools can be attached to it to benefit both the consumer – such as product personalization and loyalty rewards – and the brand, such as real-time data analytics about how that product is made, sold and used.

A consumer would not only be able to see that their beef burger is a burger made of actual beef, but they’d be able to, for example, deconstruct their burger virtually to see it’s overall calorie content (including the extra nacho sauce); access related food recipes and recommendations or special offers direct from the brand, and so on.

The brand, in addition to the supply chain benefits, would have direct lines of communication with their consumers enabling them to not only access real time analytics surrounding how their products are used and by whom, but also to build an ongoing, one-to-one relationship with their customers.

The possibilities, for consumers, brands and the wider community, that stem from products having their own unique identities on the Web are endless, you’d think there would be companies out there already doing this… oh, wait a minute… ;)

While there are clearly lots of important issues to solve in how products and other objects get connected, ultimately the opportunity to create new value is in what we do with the data flowing from and about those physical things once they are connected.

This data flowing from and about objects is the life-blood of applications, and applications are where the real value gets created. Yes apps can have their own direct business models, but unless there is an effective way to pass part of that value along the chain to the providers of data, it stops a wider ecosystem developing.  So when we think about how the Internet of Things is going to make money beyond silicon and data connectivity, we have to solve how the data flowing from and about connected objects can get monetized.

Some may argue that all information should be shared freely. But the reality is that connected objects need to operate in a managed environment online. Apart from any commercial considerations, privacy and regulatory requirements need to be respected. Connected objects have to know who they belong to, to make sure they’re being controlled by the right parties – you wouldn’t want just anyone being able to connect with and control your car. And connected things need to know who they are allowed to share information with, and indeed what kind of information they’re allowed to share. To extend the car example, most people wouldn’t want anyone on the Web being able to access their driving history.

The sheer diversity of object information coming online is exciting, and potentially creates a whole new economy of data networking powering all sorts of different applications. Making this information as flexible for developers as any other data on the Web to apply, link and integrate will be critical in turning a connected object ecosystem into an economy, and with that the creation of a real value chain. The Web of Things, where objects appear online as Web resources which can be interacted with using RESTful Web protocols, is a way to do exactly this.

We have identified the five most critical success factors:

Accessibility: Web protocols provide a simple and powerful way to make information from and about connected objects as easy to access as possible for applications. The technology is well understood by developers, robust, scalable across the diversity of object types, and abstracts the specifics of object connectivity from how they interact with applications.

Authenticity: Verifying the ownership of a physical object is vital to trusting their online identity, as is verifying the originator of the information.  Linking online object identities with identities of individuals or organizations that can be authenticated makes this possible.

Understandability:  It’s all very well having information flowing, but unless a common framework of semantics exists to interrogate and interact with connected objects, applications can’t effectively exploit them. It’s important for us and stakeholders in the emerging Internet of Things data ecosystem to ensure that consistent semantics for objects emerge, and that we build upon existing standards and formats of data exchange.

Traceability: For any transaction to be monetized, the identity of both the buyer and the seller have to be linked to the event, and the event itself recorded as a transaction. This can be achieved where a transaction with an object and its information is handled through a gateway trusted by both parties. In the Web of Things, that role falls to service providers like us, in the same way as payment gateways solve the problem for online purchase transactions.

Mashability:  Linked closely with Accessibility, serving up physical things as Web resources makes them accessible and leverageable for application developers.  Why should mashing up information from a car and a building be any different to mashing together photos from Flickr?

At the heart of the solution is finding a way to bring a layer of metadata to our object information.  If we can tag every piece of information and every transactional event to link them with the objects, applications and end-users they are associated with, we will have created the means to measure, monitor and monetize the Internet of Things.

A few weeks ago I was invited to both Jazoon 2012 and Google Dev Fest in Zurich to give talks about Android phones and their roles within the Web of Things. Clearly, mobile phones are important actors in the Web of Things: they are ubiquitous, they can take pictures, read barcodes and QR codes, decrypt NFC tags and communicate with lots of different networks (WiFi, bluetooth, etc). In short they are ideal gateways for our interactions with real-world objects.

Android phones recently pushed the limits of communication with real-world objects one mile further. Indeed, they now have the ability of communicating with one of the most popular hardware prototyping platforms: Arduino. Arduinos have been used to interact and control a plethora of real-world devices such as lamps, washing machines, coffee machines, microwave ovens, doors, etc. The ability to combine them with the Android platform basically means that now you can use your Android phone – its nice screen, its universal connectivity, its CPU power – to build prototypes of virtually any type of interaction between your phone and the real-world. Need examples?

What if you could create a heart tracker that would connect to your phone and send your heartbeat to the cloud for your doctor to access it in real-time?

What if you could turn your phone into an electrosmog probe? Graphing in real-time the devices around you that generate electromagnetic fields and letting you create a map of the zones you cross and their electrosmog level?

How about hacking your car so that it is fueled by Facebook likes?

There are basically two ways of creating Android hacks for talking to real-world devices. The first way is an abuse of a feature of your Android phone called ADB (Android Debug Bridge – more techie details here). The second is basically the result of Google’s reaction to  ADB “abuse”. They could have made a patch to prevent people from using their phones to interact with devices they hadn’t approved (or received money for) but instead it was a nice response where Google actually decided to standardize the process of creating (prototypes of) Android accessories in a system called the ADK (Accessory Development Kit, more techie details here).

An interesting element of most IoT projects involving Arduinos and Android phones is that, to get really interesting, they need a cloud service where the data can be sent, stored, visualized and shared with other Web apps. The heart tracker needs a place where the data can be sent to and made accessible to the doctor, the electrosmog probe needs to send its data to the cloud to produce maps of electrosmog levels, the like-powered car needs to communicate with the cloud to get the Facebook likes.

With the EVRYTHNG developer program you now have a way of quickly building these prototypes. Indeed, our Java wrapper now also supports Android and lets you, within a few lines of code, create THNGS and update their dynamic properties. These properties (e.g. the elecrosmog level) can then be consumed by any Web application or even visualized directly in the developer dashboard. Set your creativity free and start building Arduino + Android prototypes for free with the EVRYTHNG API. We are looking forward to hearing from you and seeing what comes out of it!

Need more info? Here are the slides of my talk about Android, Arduinos and the Web of Things:

Or watch the videoshoot of the talk at the Google Dev Fest:

Slides:
http://www.slideshare.net/misterdom/android-phone-home

Original link to video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYXRAZgPR88

Maps have long been a killer app for smartphones, and are a core strategic asset for today’s Web companies. The high profile coverage of Apple’s own goal with iOS6 Maps , and more recently, the controversy around Google Maps on Windows Phone devices were a timely reminder.

A few years ago, digital maps were “GPS” style devices geared towards guiding you down motorways not helping you find your way to the nearest cashpoint machine, petrol station or wi-fi cafe.

What really drove the change was an increase not just in overall image quality, but in data fidelity. Suddenly, we moved beyond roads, and streets, buildings and points of interest came into play – making maps useful as we went about our daily lives.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen location develop into something of a search API in itself. Not just the ubiquitous “location-based-services” check-in apps, but apps which could help you find a partner or find a property nearby.

Over time, you could envisage a future where maps become a user interface for just about anything that we want to do in the physical world. There are already some interesting forays into this area – from OpenTable to Ban.jo. Yet whether through a lack of contextual understanding or imprecise natural language processing, we’re not there yet.

The potential for maps to be a powerful API for the real-world may be there, but there’s not yet enough granularity to model the real bits of data that matter to people, so we have to do the work finding that missing information ourselves.

If you’re looking for a pub, say, you’re often looking for one with specific characteristics. It might need to be showing a specific sports game at a certain time, not too crowded, and preferably stocking real ale, plus the drinks should be at reasonable prices. None of this information is readily accessible to us through maps currently, so unless we happen to stumble upon a particularly helpful review, we’re out of luck.

And while streets, buildings and points of interest are readily available, we can’t identify lamp posts, park benches or trees, other than perhaps visually through a grainy satellite image, let alone available parking spaces I can use right now.

That’s the real problem for the current generation of mapping solutions. We can’t really get the kind of precise, super useful information we need from maps, so we end up going that last mile ourselves to find the information we need.

At EVRYTHNG, we want to help move mapping along that last mile. We’d like to see a world where you can identify the individual chairs, tables, walls, pictures, books, bicycles, cars and so forth as active entities that can be followed digitally and dynamically.

In other words, we’d love developers to use the EVRYTHNG Engine to mash-up those kind of detailed, live data streams with current mapping APIs and create a new kind of fine-grained and real-time, real-word maps.

That map image is all the more useful, surely, if you know what is there right now, instead of what was there when the picture was actually taken – and will give us all a more intelligent and nuanced relationship with the world around us.

———

Street Light icon by SimpleScott, The Noun Project; Tree icon by Valentina Piccione, The Noun Project; Bench icon by Giorgia Guarino, The Noun Project

It’s been interesting to see the buzz that has developed around the London tech accelerator scene over the past eighteen months or so.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago when people were writing negative editorials about the dismal prospects for the European entrepreneurial scene.

As it turns out, there are lots of things us Europeans are world-class at – creative industries like media and fashion for instance. And the Internet of Things could well be another.

Cambridge companies like the all-conquering ARM and newer bright sparks like Raspberry Pi and Neul are making the hardware and software and connectivity technologies that make the Internet of Things a reality (and in the case of ARM are stealing a march on their transatlantic competition – Intel’s Director of Creative Innovation was not available for comment ;-).

Cambridge based Springboard has also just launched a UK accelerator – one part venture capitalist, two parts startup life coach – which will focus exclusively on IoT startups.

To us, this is just confirming what we already knew – that the Internet of Things is primed for massive growth, and that the UK and Europe can take a leading role in driving it forward. Although one key question is where to focus our collective efforts as an industry?

At the recent Internet of Things SIG Event: RiffStream#London, the main debate seemed to be about whether the core problem for the developing IoT space was about how physical things get connected (zigbee, wifi, cellular networks, et al), or whether the issue was how data from and about those physical things connect with the apps that can do something with it.

Our argument was that the Web is the integration platform and so creating value around applications should be centre of focus for thinking and activities. All the connectivity tech is out there so applications are where the value lies.

It’s great to see all these up and coming IoT developers and we’re pleased that Niall is acting as a Springboard mentor to help this process. With a favourable funding climate – one of the things which Europe has admittedly sometimes lacked – who knows what innovative applications could be developed?

Incidentally, $150,000 of services, capital and mentoring is available for each Springboard team, if you would like to apply for the programme, you can check out the details here.

The last few days at Le Web in Paris has been pretty interesting, with a lot of different takes on what the Internet of Things actually is and the various opportunities arising. Nest founder & CEO Tony Fadell stirred things up a bit with a comment that he believed the Internet of Things would take 10 years to realise itself. (See coverage at http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57556955-76/nest-ceo-fadell-internet-of-things-is-a-decade-away/).

Tony’s right in the sense of a vision of the world where the vast majority of objects in our homes, offices and public spaces are directly connected, active and able to be actuated digitally. Anyone expecting an instant revolution where everything from our door locks to Coke cans are connected to the Internet in the next couple of years is likely to face some disappointment.

But perhaps that’s not how we need to define the Internet of Things. The vast majority of objects in this world are going to remain unconnected for quite a long time to come, but that doesn’t mean they can’t become part of the Web. Defining the Internet of Things by requiring every object to be directly connected is a flawed perspective.  Connectivity is an infrastructure issue. The real value driver is the information that flows across networks. Information from and about objects can power applications.

To use a metaphor, the social web is now a massive ecosystem. It’s driven by a flow of information from and about human beings, identified through their social web identities – Facebook profiles, Linkedin profiles, Twitter profiles, G+ profiles. As human beings we don’t need an antenna implanted in our heads to be part of the Internet. We do it by proxy, using the keypads on our laptops and mobile devices to connect us with our social web profiles.

The same is true for physical things, and for products in particular. The priority is to create identities for physical things on the Web, so that information from and about those things can become accessible to applications. Objects can be scanned or tagged, using mobile devices as proxies, to connect them to their web identities.

Of course objects can be directly connected, and many should be, but achieving connectivity doesn’t need to be the qualifier to create the Internet of Things, achieving web presence is what does – and that can happen very rapidly for a very large number of products and other objects in the world.

10 years to the Internet of Things? I think not.

For a variety of reasons, we’ve been thinking a bit about the connected physical/digital retail experience recently and how we can help make it better. We were thinking about the barriers to a connected retail experience for consumers and how our software Engine for Active Digital Identities™ could solve them. This was for internal purposes but we thought it would be useful to jot down and share what we came up with.

 

Barrier #1: Diversity of User Interfaces for Consumer Product Engagement

Consumers are using a very wide array of mobile devices with multiple operating systems, and this diversity of consumer device landscape is likely to escalate over the coming years. Further, consumers will be engaging shopping experiences using multiple mobile applications, potentially provided by retail brands, manufacturers and other service providers. The approach to serving the connected shopping experience needs to positively engage this multiplicity and diversity of device and application user interface consumers may be using when connecting with and interacting with a product in retail, while preserving economies for supply chain and production processes.

How we can help: EVRYTHNG provides technology to separate the management of product information and consumer access to that information from the application layer. In other words, our technology enables consumers to take ‘digital’ possession of a product (checking-in to it so to speak), and for personalised services to be provided around that individual product and consumer relationship. This enables a rich environment of diverse applications to be provided, accessing and augmenting a common data layer or information envelope associated with each individual product.

 

Barrier #2: Diversity & Costs of Product Connectivity

Multiple connectivity technologies are already available and more are becoming available for products. These include QR codes, NFC tags, a variety of flavors of RFID, embedded controllers and cellular connectivity modules. The cost of adding and operating connectivity is a critical consideration for manufacturers and distributors. For high volume products connectivity has to be achieved at extremely low costs per unit. Similarly different connectivity technologies offer benefits and challenges for different applications, and are more or less applicable to different audiences (e.g. consumers vs. retailers vs. distributors). Consumers may engage with products through QR codes or NFC tags using smartphone devices, while these same connectivity technologies can be used within the supply chain to manage product distribution and authentication. The challenge therefore is to support multiple connectivity technologies, potentially concurrently, and allow applications to be built in a way that is as agnostic to connectivity technology as possible.

How we can help: The Active Digital Identities™ supported by the EVRYTHNG Engine supports the encoding and integration with multiple tagging or connectivity technologies, with each connecting back to a shared and common Web presence and software avatar for the product concerned. This enables different interaction and connectivity channels to access and utilize the same product identity and data repository for a product. For example, consumers using mobile devices can connect with products tagged with unique QR codes or NFC tags, accessing digital services. Critically, each individual product can have its own unique identity.

 

Barrier #3: User & Product Identity & Authentication

Connected retail involves consumers commercially engaging with products. This, by definition requires the integration of authenticated user identity and authenticated product identity. Without distinct and authenticated product identity the scope of applications and services that can be provided associated with products is limited – it is crucial to have strong, authenticated logical relationships between user identities and product identities for post purchase applications such as service and support. Multiple user identity repositories now exist and are applied in the connected retail experience, including social networks, mobile networks, payment providers and other service providers. A barrier therefore to effective connected retail is the ability to support and integrate a multiplicity of user identities schemes, and an ability to provide a strong and persistent product identity with which to associate a user identity.

How we can help: EVRYTHNG supports linking multiple user identity types from social networks, mobile networks and enterprise registry systems with ADIs. ADIs themselves support authentication methods to validate unique product identity, combining online and tag based credentials.

 

Barrier #4: Diversity of Data Sources for Product Information

Effective connected retail application experiences and services are dependent on the availability of product information – provenance and other product related and supply chain meta data – that can be aggregated and shared with multiple applications. This meta data emanates from many different sources – manufacturers, distributors, retailers – and holds important commercial value for each of these stakeholders. The barrier to effective methods of aggregating these multiple data sources is the ability to assign meaning to the data (semantically) that makes it understandable to third party applications, and for recognizing and managing the commercial value, proprietorial and regulatory issues associated with these different data elements.

How we can help: EVRYTHNG provides software services to store, consolidate, process, and share data about individual products. Various standards for describing the metadata of products and services in a machine-readable format are being developed and will be publicly available in an upcoming release of the engine. This, combined with authentication and access control logic based on user identities, makes it much easier to develop secure cross-institutional applications that are centered around large amounts of real-time data about unique individual products.

 

Barrier #5: Aggregating Meta Data & Providing Effective Analytical Access to Multiple Stakeholders

The connected retail experience provides tremendous potential to gather and feedback valuable meta data from consumer and product interaction as products travel through the supply chain, retail environment and post-purchase consumer / product relationship. The ability to generate and access an expanding stream of transactional data is a key motivator for why the multiple stakeholders involved in the retail experience and business process will engage. However the diversity of this meta data, its unstructured form, and the volume of it are key barriers. It is therefore key to resolve how multiple transactional interfaces – consumer mobile devices pre and post purchase, retail point-of-sale, supply-chain – are able to contribute to a growing temporal data set associated with an individual product, and how that data set is accessible and understandable to multiple stakeholders. This requires well understood and robust APIs supporting multi-dimensional query types, and semantic structuring of the data to maximize its usability.

How we can help: EVRYTHNG’s technology facilitates the implementation of complex analytics solutions by providing a common Web container for a single product identity where transactional information from multiple sources can be easily integrated. Thanks to our upcoming product support and for this product data to be accessed in structured and unstructured form through web APIs, applications that require individual product metadata and other data will soon be supported. 

EVRYTHNG is a Web of Things software company, making products smart, simple and social by connecting them to the Web. We’re looking for an intern for our London office to help out with general admin and support our business teams.

Super Intern

If you think you have everything it takes to be our next super intern* then please get in touch! Email nichola@evrythng.com with your CV and a few additional words about yourself.

*(super hero outfit optional)

The Brewery venue in East London last night played host to the science, culture and technology event of the year: WIRED 2012. And pumping at the heart of the inspirational Test Lab showcase was… our Connected Coffee Machine demo.

We wanted people to be able to play with real world objects and environments being sensed and actuated, and build a Web of Things™ application within seconds with a simple drag and drop workflow interface. Plus use the EVRYTHNG software Engine to give digital identities to physical things and even make coffee with it’s own social life online!

People seemed really into it and fascinated by the idea of activating sensors by increasing the temperature (with a portable hair dryer ;-) or light exposure, combined with thresholds like the volume of #wired2012 hashtag tweets, to trigger real-world actions like making a cup of coffee.

They also had fun ‘checking in’ to one of our QR/NFC-enabled packs of coffee, using their smartphone and Twitter ID, as part of the workflow, which meant that the coffee machine would not only serve them an early evening caffeine hit, but also take a photo of their specific cup of coffee and tweet it instantly.

For those of you who speak fluent geek, here’s our CTO’s tech lowdown:

In this demo we connected:

  • A bunch of SunSPOTs, which are wireless sensors communicating over IEEE 802.15.4 with an Internet gateway that monitored temperature, vibration and changes in light levels.
  • A “hacked” coffee machine connected and actuated by an ARM mbed embedded computer.
  • A webcam pushing pictures on demand to our platform.
  • Packs of coffee packaged with unique QR codes and NFC tags that can be read by most Smartphones.

The key point of the demo is that all these objects are connected to the EVRYTHNG engine through our RESTful API and that they can either push or retrieve short JSON messages.

To illustrate how creating applications like this one is just two clicks away, we adapted a Javascript mashup tool called Clickscript to communicate with our APIs.

The result being that by scanning the coffee pack (QR/NFC) and activating the sensor (SunSPOT) you can trigger the coffee machine (mbed) to make you a coffee.

From a tech point of view the coffee demo illustrated that the EVRYTHNG Engine can not only connect products to the Web, but all kinds of smarter devices, using Active Digital Identities™ to connect them all.

Judging by the crowds and reactions, the demo was a great success. And a lot of fun to do. Although we were all hoarse by the end of the night from competing against the music PA speaker four feet away from the stand.

We also learned a lot as I think we were overly ambitious with the demo and tried to showcase too many concepts with too many moving parts, considering the number of people we had to keep showing it to. So we’re already working on ideas for the next conference demo, with the ‘just enough is more’ mantra in our heads.

Right, that’s enough blogging for one day, it’s time for my morning Web-connected, tweetable semi-skimmed, mocha choca latte.

A few days ago, we presented our newly launched developer portal for the EVRYTHNG Engine at the M2M Partner Event in Budapest organized by Deutsche Telekom. The event took place in the Hungarian Railway Museum, and I gave a talk in a lovely 19th century wagon, which was (retro-)fitted with a plasma screen (I’d have preferred air-conditioning considering 20 brains steaming in such a tiny “room”).

The event was a pretty interesting gathering of various partner companies in the machine to machine area, following by various talks and workshops. The food was almost as gorgeous as the venue, but the best part was a unique opportunity to take the pulse of what is happening in the M2M market and how this emerging market is shaping telco operators.

Although the event was very M2M-ey, a few interesting trends clearly emerged:

1. Telcos partnering with device makers for end-to-end solutions

Quite a few large players in the M2M market were present (especially hardware manufacturers chip and antenna makers), and were displaying their solutions. I also had a chance to talk with people from Axeda (a leading provider of cloud solutions for M2M, I recommend having a look at their extensive resources portfolio), digi (who are super active these days by partnering with ThingWorx and Deutsche Telekom, and who just got elected as the “best overall M2M platform“), Living PlanIT (main sponsor), Cinterion. In the end, it seems that telco clearly see opportunities by leveraging their infrastructure and partnering with hardware providers to sell end-to-end solution including 3G data plans for devices. They are working actively to make it easier for companies to buy ready-made chips to integrate in their products that come directly with Internet connectivity included.

2. Vending machines are the next big thing

For some reason, most of the people I talked to seemed to be working in some form with future smart vending machine. Without mentioning any particular company, it seemed that the market is quite large for Internet-connected vending machines and lots of hardware providers are trying to get their chips into those machines. The core purpose is to analyze in real-time the content of each machine and plan optimally the refill of items depending on various conditions (from sales, to events nearby, to weather). I didn’t see sadly any prototype, and didn’t hear much about the consumer-facing experience of those machines. I’d have loved to see a Web-enabled coke machine that would allow the world to buy me a free coke (very cool project by the way). But I guess we’re not quite there yet and people think more logistics and back-end.

 

Image source: Zytronic (excellent project, worth a read!)

3. No trace of track and trace

For me, track and trace is the lowest hanging fruit in the WoT world, as many solutions exist out there to track things – from individual products to boxes/pallets/containers to trucks – and the market is not only existing but large. As we have written a while ago on the Web of Things blog, web-enabled track and trace solutions would be a large game changer in the market, but I was disappointed not to see anything novel at the event (and wondering why can’t I have an API to track everything I buy). As an example, I found Wialon as an interesting concept (GPS data storage and monitoring solution) but I guess it’s one among many others and nothing out of the ordinary on this field. Would love to hear more about logistics solutions that really leverage an open Web of Things, with open APIs to build smarter solutions, so if you hear about any of those, I’d love to share them on this blog.

4. Smart houses – still around, and still not smarter

There were quite a few prototypes there showing smart houses, heating systems, smart doors, smart electricity plugs, but seriously, same stuff I’ve seen for the last years. Different companies, same solutions and value proposal. The only notable exception was Discovergy, a very neat German startup that sells a smart energy counters that can select in real-time the cheapest provider – so you always get the best price.

5. Still no WoT in M2M

That’s still the case. After 5+ years of research in this area, I didn’t see much Web-centric in M2M world. I’d love to see more *truly* RESTful, Web-friendly, open APIs – just like those commonly found on most Web 2.0 services out there. I would have love to see large companies that willingly adopt open standards – this would drive innovation so much. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re there yet, and no signs that industries are getting anywhere near.

Conclusion

All in all it was a great event, with a nice mix of very interesting people, and especially a strong sense of “real-world” which has been strongly missing in academia. the reality is that M2M solutions are still really expensive and bespoke, as many system integrators were present, the bulk of industrial activity is still very custom, expensive, inflexible, proprietary solutions that big companies buy from other big companies. This, to me, is a big brake for a much larger adoption of those systems. Leveraging Web technologies would allow to quickly build robust, interactive solutions for a fraction of the cost and desires of magnitude more integrable. This is what the Web of Things is all about – making it easier to leverage those technologies for more efficient business process.

Finally, we would like to thank our hosts Deutsche Telekom for inviting us to a wonderful event in a great location. In particular, I recommend having a look at their M2M Partner Portal – it’s a great platform to connect with other similar companies. Also, this initiative clearly puts them ahead of the game in the industrial M2M market.

Robert Scoble recently blogged that we were entering a new age of “context” characterised by a proliferation of always connected sensors, contextual SDKs and wearable computing.

But haven’t all the building blocks to a Web of Things been in place for a while? Tagging and connectivity tech like NFC chips, RFID and embedded controllers have plummeted in cost, bandwidth and computation capacity can be rented on demand from infrastructure players like AWS, and new inventions like printed circuit boards or white space radio spectrum have all been creating an uber-connected world where objects and machines and people can talk to each other. And of course the revolution in smart, mobile devices means we all have an always-on Web interface in our pockets to act as the controller for this connected physical/digital world.

On the other hand, while true that this technology is already out there, you could argue that its potential has been limited by communication capacity. Wi-fi is great when you can get it, but when you’re out and about you still rely on a cellular connection (the fact that cellular capacity is often off-loaded onto wi-fi networks is another story).

4G technology will change this. Not only can data be transmitted much faster with LTE (I’m sure you’ve all seen the demonstrations of Wi-Fi like speeds over cellular networks), but you can fit a lot more down the pipes.

Mobile network operators lost out on 3G. They paid extortionate amounts for licences, and then found themselves unable to monetize much of the content passing through their network.

4G represents an opportunity for them to get it right a second time. Mobile operators can sit at the heart of a connected home and play an important role in enabling a consumer’s digital life. Imagine your mobile network operator subscription bringing all of your physical stuff online too (with a little help from EVRYTHNG of course ;-).

4G could bring network operators into the Web of Things game – bringing smart services that will enrich the lives of the consumer and delivering back a new and diverse revenue stream. All quite different from 3G – a halfway house technology which offered the full internet to consumers, but very little for operators.

If operators don’t capitalize on the 4G opportunity to offer true “connected living” Web of Things apps to consumers – helping make the case for a world of inter-connected things and people, then they will only have themselves to blame.

Although the even bigger strategic question is, will this stop me having to wander around central London waving my iPhone around like Harry Potter’s wand trying to catch a signal?