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Web of Things

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to participate to the first face to face meeting of the W3C Web of Things (WoT) Interest Group (IG).

Vlad and I have been working on and actively promoting an Internet of Things (IoT) that uses Web protocols (also known as “Web of Things) since 2007 – and it’s the way that EVRYTHNG’s IoT Smart Products Platform is architected too, so this group is pretty important. It’s also important because it’s an opportunity to take the work we’ve done and turn it into recommendations and standards that will build out the IoT industry.

The membership of the group is already growing currently: 104 individuals from 43 member companies, including consumer electronics heavyweights like Siemens, Intel, Cisco, LG, Sony and Ericsson.

What quickly became clear was that most of the members shared 2 main concerns: integration, and semantics.

(I’m going to provide a high-level description here – but if you want to get into the technical details, check out the companion blog post on the Web of Things.)

 

Integration
The IoT space is already bloated with standards and alliances – so there’s a real need to think about a point of convergence. First of all, there’s a question around where things converge at the network level – though it seems that we’re quickly moving towards agreement that IPv6 and 6LoWPAN are the right way to go.

Then, there’s the question of where applications converge. The whole concept of the Web of Things is founded on the basis that applications should converge at Web protocols. Just as the Web made the Internet of documents successful and accessible, the Web of Things can push the Internet of Things to the next level and greatly facilitate the integration of Things to applications.

Given this is the W3C’s Web of Things Interest Group, there’s general agreement on the Web being the place for applications; the real issue is then is how? At EVRYTHNG – and in the Web of Things community – we’re proponents of REST, because it’s fundamentally web-based. This seems to be the prevailing opinion, and we’re hopeful that it will become the default standard, especially since the REST architectural style is already implemented by a number of ubiquitous protocols such as HTTP (or CoAP, more about that on the technical companion blog post on the Web of Things.)

Semantics
Even if we were all to agree to adopt the RESTful approach as a common standard, we still have a problem: We now have lots of accessible Things, but in silos. Unless all these smart Things are semantically described in the same or at least in compatible ways – using a number of agreed upon taxonomies – it’s unnecessarily difficult to enable these things to interact with each other.

So our next challenge is to agree semantic descriptions of Things. One opinion is that Things should use fundamentally different taxonomies depending on what they are. At EVRYTHNG, we’re in favor of a different approach: a simple and uniform taxonomy that provides a set way of describing Things, described in the EVRYTHNG API. Because there’s no one right way to model all the Things in the world, we also know we need to support extensions to this model to accommodate all the weird and wonderful specialities of Things. A large deployment of such an approach approach would make it much easier for all of applications to discover and communicate with all kinds of Things without needing custom code for each new Thing. In frame of the W3C WoT IG we are currently working on a proposal based on our hand-on experience in building uniform APIs for millions of Things, we’ll keep you posted on the progress!

What happens next?
To solve these burning issues, the W3C WoT IG kicked off two task forces: a “Thing Description” task force, looking at the semantic layer of the Web of Things; and a “Scripting API and Protocol Mapping” task force, looking into protocol recommendations, protocols bindings, REST resources and binding to scripting languages (JavaScript).

EVRYTHNG actively joined both task forces and we’re looking forward to see what will come out to make Things talk Web!

On May 19-21, I’ll be at the CONNECTIONS US conference in San Francisco, exploring the opportunities that the Internet of Things (IoT) offers consumer product manufacturers, particularly in the smart home and durables spaces.

In particular, I’ll be speaking at a session on May 19 at 4.15pm: “IoT and APIs: Extending Functionality for Connected Devices”.

At the session, I’ll be sharing EVRYTHNG’s views on the evolution of IoT toward more sophisticated and exciting consumer-facing use cases involving the orchestration of connected products and consumables. Imagine the washing machine that knows about every article of clothing placed in it, how it should be washed, etc.

In order to enable this next generation, IoT platform providers will need to take a broader view toward standards, interoperability, and open APIs that allow ecosystems to interact and share services.

f you’re interested in learning more about EVRYTHNG’s IoT platform and connected products on a 1:1 basis, I’d love to meet with you at the show. Please get in touch and let me know you’d like to meet!

Andy demonstrates the art of keeping fellow panelists riveted
(Demonstrating the art of keeping fellow panelists riveted)

Last week I was invited to participate in a panel in New York put on by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) along with Jules Polonetsky, Executive Director and Co-chair, Future of Privacy Forum; Gary A. Kibel, a technology and privacy specialist at hosts Davis & Gilbert law firm; and Ron De Jesus, the Cybersecurity and Privacy Manager at PwC.

The focus of the event was on IoT consumer disclosures, security, privacy and functions and the panel was called: “The Internet of Things – Policy, Law and Reality”. EVRYTHNG was there to represent the “reality”. In other words, the IAPP was keen to balance the policy and legal perspectives with those who could speak about privacy and data challenges from the pov of a technology provider operating smart products for global brands at scale.

Security and Privacy (security of course being intrinsically linked to data privacy – the former protecting the latter) is an area EVRYTHNG is enormously interested in; they’re two of the weightiest issues in IoT and the biggest barriers preventing widespread adoption.

  (Source: Business Insider, April 2015)

Commenting on security inefficiencies in the recent FTC report “Privacy and Security in a Connected World” [PDF, 671KB], FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said: “The only way for the Internet of Things to reach its full potential for innovation is with the trust of American consumers.”

For consumer brands, where intangibles account for an ever-growing portion of a company’s value, trust has always been a brand’s single most valuable brand asset. If you define a brand as ‘a promise delivered’, then trust is the emotional shortcut to a belief that the brand will continue to deliver on its promise. When you trust a brand there’s no need to read the small print, no need to shop around, and every reason to spread the word to others so they can believe and buy it too. In short: consumers are more likely to prefer, pay more for and recommend brands they trust compared to similar products in the market.

This loads a tremendous responsibility on brands to properly manage consumer data, keep it safe and respect individual permissions and sharing preferences. The careful balancing act between managing enough data to provide a valuable consumer experience through personalization, and maintaining a firm grip on privacy is the next great brand challenge.

Each user should be able to provide their individual permissions for how data can be shared and know exactly how it will be used; brands need to be as transparent as they are compliant. Applications powered by this data need to be flexible with multiple data points, touch points, and lifespans, simplifying the complexity of the digital ecosystem connections the app needs to make. And the data transferred between different products and devices needs to be managed within strict parameters, such as type, time, frequency, usage, and application type. It must be easy to revoke permissions at any time, including the right to be forgotten.

Fellow panelist Jules Polonetsky pointed out a number of IoT grey areas with current legal guidelines. For instance “data minimization” – limiting what is collected and the period it needs to be kept for. He agreed with my point, that the more sophisticated these new ecosystem connections become, the more data will be required to enable the most relevant, useful and personal consumer experiences – so how much data is too much?

     (What’s inside Amazon’s Echo device)

To illustrate the complexities of how brands remain compliant and transparent, Jules talked about voice-activated interfaces to IoT which are constantly listening for commands and storing data on 3rd party servers potentially being analyzed with 3rd party vendor software. Amazon Echo does this well by listening for the right command before it transmits, analyzes and stores relevant voice data. By contrast, Samsung got into trouble earlier this year when it wasn’t clear what was being done with user data when they activated the voice feature on their Smart TVs.

Legal definitions are also changing fast as technology evolves and constantly need to be updated. Wearables were once defined as portable technology you wear on your body. Now they have to include companion accessories you might also put under your mattress to track sleep patterns, or by your bed to track air quality and noise.

EVRYTHNG's Wearables white paper

In our Wearables white paper we talked about the importance of ecosystem connections and enabling the controlled sharing of data horizontally across device clouds to enable a number of connected life scenarios – such as aggregating fitness data resulting in lower health insurance. This is already starting to happen: John Hancock insurance has partnered with incentive-based health program specialists The Vitality Group to offer policyholders discounts on their premiums based on their level of fitness activity using tracking data from wearable devices like Fitbit.

To maintain privacy and security as these connected data services expand, you need software like EVRYTHNG to manage the fine-grained access and permission controls, plus real-time data relationships with other people, products, apps and enterprise systems, for a diverse set of digital object identities at scale. It’s a non-trivial, real-time data management challenge.

Every product manufacturer has to find the right balance between privacy and personalization for their brands. Enabled by the right IoT technology data systems, if consumers can enjoy the benefits of IoT (personalization, convenience, efficiency) without having to compromise privacy or security, that would be the best of both worlds.

Smart whisky bottle: EVRYTHNG, Thinfilm & Johnnie Walker Blue

Earlier this month at Mobile World Congress, we and our partner Thinfilm and customer Diageo unveiled a prototype smart whisky bottle.

The prototype combined our IoT smart products cloud with Thinfilm’s OpenSense™ printed NFC tag and Diageo’s premium whisky brand Johnnie Walker Blue, and demonstrated the business value of connecting a CPG product that’s smart enough to determine whether the consumer is pre- or post-purchase, and to engage them accordingly with relevant content.

(If you’re not familiar with the smart bottle, check out some of the media coverage on GigaOm psfk, +Plastic Electronics and The Daily Mail.)

The joint solution offers end-to-end intelligent product solutions that combine real-time cloud software with smart packaging hardware powered by printed electronics technology. This unique combination can extend the boundaries of the Internet of Things to include billions of everyday items, including consumer goods, food and beverages.

EVRYTHNG-THINFILM joint solution

In the case of the Johnnie Walker Blue bottle, we focused on the OpenSense™: a new Thinfilm NFC tag that detects whether a bottle has been opened, and delivers content designed to engage the consumer based on a series of rules in the EVRYTHNG platform, based on variables that include whether the bottle is closed or open.

However, the joint solution offers even broader commercial applicability. Thinfilm’s range of printed electronics products (including pressure-sensitive NFC & sensor-based smart labels), combined with the flexible, programmable rules engine in EVRYTHNG’s IoT Smart Products Platform, enable cross-industry solutions that include personalized marketing and offer customization; brand authentication and anti-diversion; product serialization and asset management; and track-and-trace monitoring.

Interested in learning more? Download our fact sheet [PDF, 1.1MB]

ABI Research's Hot Tech Innovators report, 2015

Technology analysts ABI Research recently released their “Hot Tech Innovators” report on the most pioneering companies operating in today’s global markets.

As ABI’s Chief Research Officer, Stuart Carlaw, puts it:

“If you are working for a company sitting comfortably in the bird seat of any tech market, these are the companies you need to have on your radar. The companies featured in this whitepaper represent not only the most forceful potential disruptors for tech markets but also the hottest acquisition targets around.”

He adds:

“They all share a common DNA: they are young, they are aggressive, they are nimble, their technology solution fills a needs-gap, and they are on the cusp of imminent breakout.”

Performance at scale: EVRYTHNG

We were understandably delighted to be profiled in this report, and we were particularly pleased that the performance, accessibility and scalability of our IoT Smart Products cloud platform was specifically called out:

“An additional advantage that EVRYTHNG has is the scalability: since the platform has been architectured to support pronouncedly high-volume product environments, it is relatively well future-proofed for any use cases where the future growth in connections and data are difficult to predict.”

Interested in the full report? Download your complimentary copy of ABI Research’s Hot Tech Innovators report