Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Internet of Things: It’s going to change your life, if it hasn’t already

The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to change how you think, how you live and just about everything else.  You may not know it but it probably already has. Don’t believe me?  Read on.

In recent years a lot of talk has been about the Internet of Things.  At first it was just a concept, then a buzzword.  So…what is it?

Before we dive in too deep, I’d like everyone who has a Fitbit… Ok anyone who is wearing a fitness tracker of any sort of fitness tracker to raise their hands…  Go ahead.  Guess what?  Everyone who raised their hands is already a participant in the Internet of Things.  More on that later.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is worldwide network of, well, things.  Ambiguous I know, but that is the point.  The closest Webster entry defines a thing as “a material or substance of a specified kind.”  For the sake of this post, let’s define a thing as a person, machine, cloud service or anything else capable of communication or integration within the other things over the internet.  Still a bit ambiguous, perhaps that is why some refer to the IoT as the Internet of Everything.

Ok great, so now that we have a working definition, is the IoT a reality or is it still just a concept? Well, I am here to tell you that not only is it a reality, but chances are, you or at least your things, are a part of it.

The Internet of Things is cutting edge no doubt, however, it did not just spring up out of nowhere.  It is the union of the last 30 years of technology.  Combining the advancements brought to us by the world wide web, E-Commerce, Social Media, Smart Phones, and cloud computing was just the next logical step.  That is not to say there wasn’t any innovation.

In my opinion, there are two major advances.  The first is that it allows the machines to be much more autonomous.  This is huge, in today’s fast paced world allowing the machines a higher degree of autonomy only seemed logical.  Since the cost of computing power, storage, and networking has become so cheap, it is now an achievable goal.  The second advance is our ability to quickly integrate all this cheap computing power together.  Many of the today’s products have added some sort of Api or implement standards allowing an object that has a limited scope of use to be tied together.  The fact that these products are implementing a standard instead of using some sort of proprietary tech gives consumers the ability to make what is called a mashup. The product of these mashups is an emergence of new ideas and features that the original items individually just couldn’t provide.

Consider this, years ago I had a home theater system, I wanted everything to integrate as much as possible.  To accomplish this I had to pick a large company offering all the products I would need. For that I was able to assemble a system that used one remote and allowed the TV, Receiver, and other parts work together, providing a better experience for myself and my family.  Though in the end it worked, it limited my choices in components meaning I had to forego features offered by other manufactures that couldn’t participate in the proprietary linking system.  In addition to not having all the features I was looking for, this also made the costs extremely high because I was very limited in my selection of components.

Recently I bought a new Samsung TV, an Xbox One, a sound bar with sub-woofer, and I already have DIRECTV.  With all of these “things”, I wanted integration.  This time I was happy to learn that all I needed to do was connect them all together using a HDMI cable and it would just happen.  The Xbox was able to directly control all the other components, even the sound bar that connects to the TV.  As a consumer, how that happened was not important to me.  But the companies developing each product had to make integration and standardization a priority.  They implemented numerous standards, providing integration with outside systems.  The end result?  My Xbox can not only turn my TV off, it can change

channels on the satellite receiver or TV if I didn’t use satellite.  It can control the volume on the sound bar and turn the whole system on/off.  It can do it all of this using voice commands!

What are these “things” you keep hearing about?

So what are the “Things” that make up the Internet of Things?  You probably already guessed that smartphones, connected homes, and smartwatches are all “things”, right?  What you may or may not be able to articulate is why.  What makes them “smart”?   This goes back to my earlier comments about integration and standardization.
So what sort of things are available?  Frankly, at this point that list would be more of a book.  Instead I will list a few classes of items that you are likely to start with.  Do you have a smartphone like an Apple IPhone?  It is a “thing”.  Does anyone have a Smart TV?  Yup, they are “things”.  I bet a few of you even have lights that can be controlled by your phone.  All of these objects are “things”.  They can, and do, integrate with other objects to form a more useful network.

If that isn’t enough, simply visit to your local home improvement or electronics store.  Want to adjust the thermostat before you come home? Try a connected thermostat.  Want to know when someone rings your doorbell, even from work?  A smart doorbell might be for you.  Are you interested in having a security system that YOU can monitor from anywhere in the world?  Security systems are available at every price range with nearly every possible feature under the sun.  One of my personal favorites are the new irrigation systems; they are usually a direct replacement for the old “dumb” sprinkler controller we have all had for years.  There are light bulbs, nanny cams, TVs, and so much more.  I even heard of smart diapers, I will leave it to you to guess what they do?

What sort of business opportunities does the rise of the IoT provide?

Ok, so we have discussed what the Internet of Things is, and what the “Things” are but where are the business opportunities in all this?

This is a great question, possibly the most important one of all.  Before we address this, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.   I am sure you remember that company a few years back that decided to start selling books out of a garage.  In case you don’t, these days they are known as  How about the website that was literally put together in a weekend to help a few friends keep up with each other’s lives?  Yes, they call themselves Facebook.

While not impossible, developing something along those lines and becoming a direct competitor for the Amazons or the Facebooks would be far more difficult today than it would have been in years past.  It can be done, but the market has been filled with new web based ecommerce and social networking solutions over the last 20 years.  People have innovated and others have built upon those innovations.  Many businesses are now simply creating websites to extend or replace their brick and mortar operations.  While not as revolutionary are the aforementioned organizations, they still get the job done.

I am here to tell all the entrepreneurs out there that today is a new day.  This (IoT) market is not loaded with competition.  All things are again reset, and mostly equal, once again.  If you missed out on the previous booms, this is your chance at redemption.
This “reset” has happened many times before with both e-commerce and social networking, however, neither of those (in my opinion) rival the opportunities offered by the emergence of the Internet of Things.

 Not since the rise of the web have we seen such a wide range of opportunities as those presented by the Internet of Things.  The world of IoT really is in its infancy allowing innovators of every kind to have a chance at a piece of the pie.  While I believe this is true, it may not be so obvious to others.  Like the beginnings of the web, many people could not really see the proverbial forest for the trees.  Many well respected industry insiders said that there was no money to make here, that it was nothing more than an online encyclopedia or way to kill some time.

Today we have another chance to get in on the ground floor.  Those who innovate could be handsomely rewarded.  Everyone else will benefit no doubt, through new conveniences, but if you want to take your business to the stratosphere like the Amazons, Facebooks and Apples of the world; now is the time.
The only question is: what should you make?  Only you can answer this.  If you need a bit of help a quick Google search for “IoT Use Cases” will return many good ideas.  I have a few ideas myself, but I’m not telling!

Change your Life?

So I think at this point I think the life altering effects of the Internet of Things are apparent.  If not, let’s do a quick recap a few of the core points:

  • The wide spread use of the IoT is made possible by cheap computing, storage, and networking
  • For Consumers objects with a limited scope of responsibilities such as a sensor, micro controller, or wearable are usually but not always the “Things”
  • Integration between these things is crucial, leading to an emergence of new functionality
  • The Internet of Things is the next logical step building upon advances from the World Wide Web, E-Commerce, Social Networking, Smart Devices,  and Cloud Computing
  • Machine to Machine communication and an event based architecture allow machines to be more autonomous
  • Standardization allows for “mashups” between products that don’t need to be designed to work together to integrate
  • Objects labeled as “Smart” or “Connected” are usually an indicator that they participate as a “Thing” in the IoT sense
  • Business Opportunities

All of these characteristics come together to make something new: a worldwide network of things, many are very simple, integrated, sometime autonomous, and in the end creating something greater than the individual objects alone.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Now that we have a basic understanding of what the Internet of Things is, we can start to explore some of its more interesting application.  Here are just a few topics we hope to cover in the coming months…

Getting Started with IoT Using Cloud Based Services including If This Then That (ITTT)

There are many free and paid cloud based services available to help get started with the Internet of Things.  One of the easiest to use (and free) is If This Then That (IFTT).  We will help you get your feet wet by walking through several different things that can be accomplished using this service requiring only a login and a few mouse clicks.  We will also explore a few other offerings in the market.

Home Automation using SmartThings

Within the consumer space the IoT is really taking hold “smartening” our lives more each day.   A company called SmartThings (recently acquired by Samsung) is one of the leaders in this arena.  We will take a look at the basics of setting up Home (or Office) automation using products from, or compatible within the SmartThings Eco System.

Microcontrollers and the Internet of Things

You may not really know what a micro-controller is, but it is highly likely you have heard of one or both Arduino and Raspberry Pi.  We will take a short tour examining recent applications of each.  We will also see just how easy it is to get started with just a little tech knowledge.

The Maker Movement & the Internet of Things

The Maker movement is an emerging culture that attracts independent inventors, designers, hackers and a wide range of other DIYers.  Over the last few years it has gathered so much steam that even the president of the United States had to take notice.  It has its own magazine, meetups, a Manifesto, a MakerCon event, and even annual Maker Fairs in cities around the country.  You may already be a Maker!

Interesting Use Cases relating to the Internet of Things  

Some people have a hard time finding real use cases for the Internet of Things.  This isn’t the first time that happened, both the World Wide Web and the “Cloud” faced similar challenges in their early years.  We will examine a few use cases that are already being addressed and look at how they have affected our lives.  We will also discuss a few that are a little less obvious.

Getting Kids involved with the Internet of Things

In today’s world many people feel that we are required to expose our children to the latest technologies.  The advantages this gives them is immeasurable.  We will look at some of the ways to get your kids involved, at whatever age.

Stay tuned for those and other exciting topics in the coming months...

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