The connected devices world that is emerging is not the Internet of Things, Apigee VP Brian Mulloy says. Mulloy spoke to ProgrammableWeb about the difficulties and next steps of enabling a true IoT environment following the launch of Zetta, Apigee’s IoT platform technology announced at the I Love APIs conference last week.
“Zetta is a developer-first platform with a really strong API component,” says Mulloy. “We think of it as an API-first IoT platform.”
One of the difficulties facing developers and makers with a broad IoT vision is that, at present, connected devices can each speak with an app or with an end user, but the infrastructure isn’t there to enable the objects to speak directly to each other, Mulloy says.
“With the connected car, for example, I can fire up my iPhone app and see if my tires have enough air in them. Thats not the IoT. It’s when I can turn up at the garage and my car can talk to the air pressure actuator and automatically tell it how much my tires need to be pumped up, that’s the IoT.”
Mulloy describes the problem in terms of graph diameter. Whereas social networks have proved that the degrees of separation between all people comes down to about 3.9 in the interconnected world of Facebook friends, the graph diameter for the Internet of Things is still infinite. There is no way for one connected device to know of another and easily share a permission in the same way that an end user might enable OAuth so that her Instagram photos are posted on Facebook.
“In IoT, there are a lot of problems besides just having the OAuth problem,” explains Mulloy. “It is a hub-and-spoke model where our iPhone app is the hub. What we want to do is transcend the hub and spoke so that the tire pressure can talk to the car directly. But there are constraint problems, processing power problems, connectivity problems, it’s not cheap enough. So how Zetta works, it is about becoming that hub so that all of those devices can speak to each other.
“And that is how we think we can decrease the diameter of the Internet of Things so it has two to three degrees of separation.”
In part, the model mimics an approach being used by Philips Hue lightbulbs. In the Philips system, a local API speaks with each of the lightbulbs in a home, and that is all coordinated through a hardware hub (called a bridge). Philips is creating a remote API so that users can also jump over the bridge and work directly with managing each lightbulb if they want, but the local API and hub approach allows lights to be aware of each other and work in tandem directly rather than each light being controlled separately via its own API. That’s the power that Zetta wants to bring to any connected device network in transport, home automation, smart agriculture, warehouses, or any other sensor and device-enabled sector.
Zetta is an open source platform built on Node.js. Siren hypermedia APIs are used at the core to enable developers to build an API-first architecture that models device and application states as REST interfaces.
Mulloy is confident that such an approach will also mean developers can create a better user experience for IoT end customers. He cites the example of using several connected devices at home: his Pebble Watch, Google Glass and his smartphone. When a new email or text comes through, he is bombarded by multiple notifications from each device informing him of the message. Imagining this scenario across a wider range of devices in a connected home instantly instills a sense of heightened anxiety for what the IoT world will bring us.
“No one thought of an experience where the devices work together,” says Mulloy. ”We don’t have the design metaphors to really think about what an IoT would look like.” The hope is that with Zetta, developers will be able to start defining an end-user experience that makes sense.
Zetta is licensed under a Creative Commons license, with open source code available on GitHub.