Things from the ThingMonk IoT thing

The IoT: “So many players coming at same thing from different perspectives”

Lucy Carey
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Is the Internet of Things about the individual, or huge ecosystems? And how’s it being used to monitor radiation and save beer? We headed to East London to find out.

Developer focused analysts RedMonk are known for
having their fingers firmly embedded in only the zestiest of
zeitgeisty pies, so the JAXenter team was intrigued to hear that
they would be organising an event centered on the Internet of
Things (IoT).

In typical Shoreditch style, things got off to a late
start, with proceedings hampered by a long line of attendees
answering the siren song of the bacon sandwich van mere seconds
from the keynote area. Food and drink was a recurrent theme across
the event – also on offer was an impressive display of AR drones
controlled by IoT enhanced fruit, and an evening of cocktails
courtesy by Bartrendo, the robotic mixologist. Both talks made
waves across the Twittersphere, and provided fun interactive
demonstrations of the capabilities of this nascent technology.

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It wasn’t all zaniness though. At the core of
ThingMonk, there was a very serious objective – and that was to
frame ideas for making the IoT ‘real’, and ways to make this
happen.

Speaker Rick Bullotta from ThingWorx explained that the IoT is
incredibly dynamic in its diversity – and with that diversity,
comes a multiplicity of perspectives. To some, it’s all about the
individual system, and to others, it’s about growing and developing
colossal, sprawling ecosystems around it.

ThingWorx falls into this latter camp, and the crux of
their focus is making sure everything is interoperable, and not a
horrible coleslaw of devices locked into their own little Galapagos
systems. With so many players coming at same thing from different
perspectives, this is a considerable task.

Bullotta believes that, “It’s going to take a village” and
a whole range of unique skill sets to bring it all together. This
will require a “metamodel approach”, cherry picking ideas picking
core values from big industrial powerhouses to designers to steer
the movement: Principles such as aesthetics, utility, and humanity
from the design world, and values like scalability, security,
interoperability, and new delivery models from the
technosphere.

RedMonk founder James Governor noted that lots of big
firms are starting to understand the importance of design to making
the IoT come together. Speaker Haiyan Zhang aptly summarized this
point with her talk, ‘Crowdsourced Science’. In the wake of the
Japanese earthquake and tsunami on March 3rd, 2011 which devastated
the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, worried citizens were forced
to peruse government generated PDFs for the latest radioactive
fallout readings.


A design specialist at IDEO with a background in software
engineering, Zhang understood that, “Data is not the same as
information”. Working together with a team of volunteers, she
utilised crowdsourced data from Pachube. Taking aggregated geiger
counter readings from across Japan from this real time data
infrastructure platform, the team built a map which conveyed the
latest readings instantaneously in a clear, unbiased way. This IoT
powered project went viral within a matter of days following the
quake, and, for many, checking the latest readings on the map
became part of their daily routine.

As well as design, there are also practical aspects
(or as Tom Taylor put it, the ‘boring bits’) to take into
consideration – factors which will be vital to ensure IoT develops
commercial momentum. In this vein, Dean Wampler from Typesafe
talked about how reactive architecture could play an important role
in managing the service demands of potentially thousands of
interconnected things that will make up future IoT systems. The
reactive manifesto is couched on mass scalability, high fault
tolerance, and high availability – three things that will be hugely
important for any large scale IoT undertaking.

Taylor also raised the matter of the day to day
realities future IoT startups will have to take into consideration.
Things like customer service, shipping, operations, and
manufacturing processes. Amidst all the talk of quadcopters, beer
brewing, and smart homes, there’s been very little discourse around
the minutiae of IoT powered services – and that’s something that
Taylor would like to change.

He pointed out that, though it will take a bit of a
shift for digital companies to move into the realm of physical
objects and all the logistics this entails, the agile, iterative
mentality in the DNA of tech operations is something that will give
them a crucial edge in the developing world of M2M over traditional
industrial businesses.

Consumer considerations were also at the heart of Chirp
inventor Patrick Bergel’s presentation. Bergel believes that the
evolution of the IoT will be a jerky process of ‘punctuated
equilibrium’, rather than a gentle arch towards maturity. He called
the current phase of the IoT the ‘Lego Age’, illustrating his point
with an image of the surprisingly small variety of shapes that come
together when a large amount of the toy bricks are spun around in a
washing machine.

At the moment, “We are still gluing stuff together
with a limited sense of fantasy of what we can make”, with
conceptual leaps coming about by necessity (recent Bitcoin
co-option for criminal activity is an interesting example of this).
Ultimately though, it will be consumer demand that shapes the
future of this field.

The optimism and excitement about the potential of the IoT
was very evident at ThingMonk. But that’s not enough to propel a
leap forward. The real winners in this field will be those that can
come up with products and services that can make an real difference
to people outside the sector, throwing the doors of the IoT wide
open to all.

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