“The Internet of Things is about connecting things to the Internet and it’s really about the strength you can build with those connections.” Co-founder of Electric Imp IoT platform Hugo Fiennes offered perhaps the most perfect definition of the Internet of Things at an APIcon (see the full video at the end of page 2 of this post). Because we’ve learned with the so-far failure of Google Glass and many other smaller vision products, if it doesn’t offer a compelling advantage to connecting it, it’s better to invest your time connecting something else.
This piece looks at what both the Internet and those Things have to offer and how to design the connectivity of the two while keeping the user in mind.
What Things Can Tell Us That We Didn’t Already Know
When Fiennes compares the real world to the virtual world, he calls our human-controlled world “broken” and “very random.”
“Vending machines run out of stock. Crops don’t get watered and they die. Pipes leak, they have maintenance issues. And doors go unlocked, security’s not good. These are things happening in the real world but nobody’s watching the real world in such a way that they can actually take proper actions from these,” Fiennes said.
He continues by saying that we deal with things once they happen, not leveraging the Internet’s ability to predict and prevent. “And unless you’re in like commercial airplane maintenance, you are not actually looking for the early signs of these things. If there’s a leak there’s usually a sign. There’s a pressure leak or something goes wrong. You can tell if you can get the data, get it somewhere you can analyze it and actually look for trends.”
The machine-to-machine world has been making these predictions for awhile, but not at this level of data. In comes the Internet of Things and we are able to create trends and even machine learning.
What the Internet Knows That Things Should
Fiennes said that the Internet and smartphones know stuff too. “The Internet knows stuff that [is] useful for real things to know. Stuff like ‘Is there surplus renewable energy on the grid?’ That can be great. If you have a water heater, and you can take advantage of surplus energy, that’s really good. Water is a great way of storing energy. You can fire up the water heater, bring the temperature up higher than you would normally, [conserve] the surplus energy and get it very cheap. It helps the electricity company, it helps the consumer.”
Similarly, his company Electric Imp plugs into different weather APIs to determine if it’s going to rain today, which can trigger different actions for irrigation systems. If someone’s on her way home from work, a house can automatically set the desired climate control.
He also mentions how much the Internet knows about cats—although he admits we don’t know exactly what that is yet and how it can be applied to the real world past automating our Awww’s.
Fiennes summed up the benefits saying, “So connecting things—you put these things together, it’s obviously really good.”