The Stack Archive

Avoiding an Internet of Isolated Things

Mon 22 Jun 2015


maartenMaarten Ectors VP of IoT, nextgen networking and proximity cloud at Canonical discusses the urgency of enabling apps and app stores on any smart device…

The difference between one iPhone and another is not the hardware, but rather the personalised collection of apps individual to each user. A single app like Uber has changed taxi drivers’ worlds around the globe forever. The power of mobile apps and app stores has been felt in almost all industries. The impact raised the question – What would happen if you could put apps and app stores onto more than just phones? This is no longer theoretical because there are now open source solutions which put apps onto any type of smart device. This is all part of the Internet of Things, also known as IoT.

Until now IoT was all about connecting single devices to the internet. Your thermostat is now internet-connected, so too are your smart lights, your scales, your health wearables, even your toothbrush. If it is not directly hooked up to the internet, then it is an app on your mobile that provides the connection.

The Internet of Isolated Things

There are several limitations to this approach. The first one is the Internet of Isolated Things. Your scales talk to one mobile app, while your toothbrush talks to another and your smart light only talks to other devices from the same manufacturer. To solve this issue, cloud solutions are used. However this provokes other problems, such as usability. If you push a light switch that connects to the internet and then talks to a smart light, it could take several seconds between you clicking and the light going on. If the internet goes down then you can’t turn on your lights.

Do you want your favourite search engine or social network to know how many times you turn on the lights?

Security is also an important issue. If either your light switch or your smart light has a security bug then a virus could cause a fire by switching the light on and off 10,000 per second until the bulb explodes. Finally privacy is an issue. Do you want your favourite search engine or social network to know how many times you turn on the lights?

The solution to these problems is to have smart devices at home, in the office and around cities that have apps. If you have an app-enabled smart device, then the light switch and the smart light can talk to an app on the smart device and can therefore communicate locally, privately and securely.

Almost any smart device that has a modern phone-like processor can be app-enabled. The newest processor boards cost less than $10. Prices are going down fast, size is shrinking, and performance is growing. App enablement requires the device to have spare CPU, storage and memory, so light bulbs and toothbrushes are not ideal. Think about smart fridges, hoovers, alarm controllers, air conditioners, dishwashers, drones, network gear, robots, etc.

Why do I want apps on a fridge?

Many people ask why you need apps on fridges, hoovers, washing machines, alarm controllers, sprinkler systems, etc. They see the device as having a single purpose. The reality is that software can redefine the purpose of a smart device. If you have a washing machine with a touch screen that is app-enabled then that touch screen can have different options customised to the user. For example, provide instructions depending on level of expertise. Unused options could be automatically moved away from the main menu and frequent functions could move up in the settings list. If the washing machine has a USB slot then you could install a webcam that can identify the colours of the fabrics and help flag colours that shouldn’t mix. Bluetooth capabilities could also provide the user with voice instructions and listen to your feedback via a built-in microphone.

Of course we can integrate IoT technology with other items inside the home. Telling your house to “Be Quiet!, when an important phone call comes in could temporarily stop the washing machine, the dishwasher, the hob and even signal the dog to stop barking.

The touch screen can also be redefined for other purposes. A screen could display a keypad when your alarm is on, eliminating the need to install extra alarm controllers. Your washing machine could access a temperature sensor and talk to your alarm system to see if you are home or not, and show a thermostat app on the touch screen. Call the app “Bird‘s House” and you could have the first app that makes a Google acquisition irrelevant.

We don’t know what the IoT Angry Bird or Uber app will look like for the dishwasher, fridge, network router, drone, robot, industrial gateway, tractor, etc. However app stores for smart devices will help make new markets and potentially new millionaires because software is redefining everything…

About the author:
Maarten Ectors is the VP of IoT, nextgen networking and proximity cloud at Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu and the open source solution “Snappy Ubuntu Core” that puts apps and app stores on any smart device. More information at ubuntu.com/things .


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