Association Report: CEA
A Cup of Internet of Things
At the 2013 International CES earlier this year, a Belkin/Jarden partnership was announced that would offer Internet-connected devices, such as coffee machines and crockpots, to grant consumers everywhere the ability to remotely program and monitor small appliances. Now, the ability to turn off a pot of coffee left on after leaving the house in a hurry is an easy swipe of your smart phone away.
It seems today everyone is turning to the Internet. Starbucks has installed over 500 of their Internet-connected Clover coffee machines in stores and connected them to CloverNet, a place where users can share their preferred brewing details for that perfect cup of coffee. The Starbucks staff can monitor sales data, coffee maker performance and even perhaps improve that perfect cup of joe. The company now has plans to connect other in-store equipment, such as refrigerators—improving customer service and helping the bottom line.
Bloomberg noted these developments in their article, “Starbucks Links Coffee Makers to Web Fueling $27B Market,” and highlighted Starbucks among the companies, “leading the charge for mass adoption of internet-connected devices and machines.”
The fact that both our personal coffee maker and our preferred coffee retailer’s coffee machine can connect to the Internet is not coincidental. These separate developments tie into a much bigger trend permeating countless other unassuming industries: the Internet of Things (IoT).
There are a variety of synonyms used to describe IoT, including the Internet of Everything, machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and the Industrial Internet. But regardless what you call it, the tech industry is bringing the Internet to a wide swath of devices and objects. Cisco projects the number of “things” connected to the Internet will grow from 15 to 25 billion by 2015, before exploding to 40 or 50 billion by 2020. Cisco also estimates the 99% of physical objects that may one day be connected are not connected yet today and, while that number might well grow to 50 billion by 2020, it would represent less than 4% of all things in existence.
Blending of Physical and Digital Worlds
Physical and digital worlds are colliding and essentially extending the concept of hyperlinking to include not just digital elements like documents, but also physical objects like, well, coffee pots. Creating a digital identity of the physical world requires four primary elements:
- Replacing physical analog devices with their digital counterparts.Consumers have spent the last decade replacing their analog devices with digital ones. We’ve swapped VCRs for DVRs and portable Walkman tape players for MP3 players (and now smart phones). In doing all of this, individuals have built the foundation to bring the Internet to many different devices in a myriad of locations.
- Embedding digital elements in the physical object. Ordinary things are now being digitized through the “sensor-ization” of objects. Sensors are being embedded in objects as diverse as surfboards, shirts, TV remotes and toys. Dutch start-up Sparked is using wireless sensors to monitor cattle and report on their location and health. A company called Koubachi offers Wi-Fi-enabled sensors that monitor indoor climates to optimize plant care. Sensors on household appliances can alert manufacturers if an appliance needs repair or maintenance.
Extending communication links and addressability.The next step is to provide connectivity between the devices and the sensors so that the information captured can influence a wide band of decisions.
For a physical object to transmit or receive information, a communication link to the digital network is needed. This can be a 2G or 3G connection, or information can be disseminated through fixed or wireless (Wi-Fi) Internet. It can also connect via hub devices like smart phones and tablets using technologies such as Bluetooth and then be pushed further using connectivity links enabled by the hub device.
- Providing curation.Curation translates digital information into actionable items. These are the algorithms that turn digital bits into physical outcomes. Curation allows us to capture, extract and find meaning in data. All around us services are coming to market to curate meaning from these now captured digital bits.
What the Future Holds
To truly make IoT relevant, the physical has to move from digital back to physical. Today, one can lock a door or turn off lights in the physical world with the flick of a wrist. In an IoT world, these simple actions will be done digitally.
Naturally, many issues still need to be addressed such as reliability, security, privacy and control of digitally available data. It is critical digital data remains secure in order for this market to be viable.
Society is entering an age of extrapolation. Today, we primarily use applications to achieve specific objectives. We check the weather forecast through a weather app. We use a traffic application to determine how long it will take to get from point A to point B.
However, we are shifting from an environment of taking action to one in which we are acted upon. For example, Google Now prompts you when it is time to leave for a meeting across town based on traffic and time to your destination.
Imagine a day when your alarm clock setting is established by traffic patterns. In the future, your shower might turn on based upon what it knows about your daily routine. Clothing options might be recommended based upon your activities for the day and health sensors that perceive your mood.
For the foreseeable future, IoT will toggle between the visible and invisible world and eventually, a large portion will slip into invisibility. Using sensors to collect information digitally and employing algorithms to utilize this information, a device’s ability to self-regulate will increasingly take place in the background—perhaps aiding the most unassuming products to make the most useful recommendations.
IoT was named as one of the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA)Five Tech Trends to Watchin the years ahead. The trend will be prevalent on the show floor of the 2014 International CES, the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies. The show will run January 7-10, 2014, in Las Vegas.