Sunday, October 20, 2013

Internet of Things: two visions

I do like the idea of ubiquitous computing - it's what you get when you follow Moore's law and adopt IPv6's address space: a whole lot of cheap components that are aware of each other.

We've certainly achieved the cheap: due to the increasing demands of the smartphone market, a GPS chip, decent processor, memory and more are certainly ubiquitous.
It's easy enough you can buy a Raspberry Pi with a few clicks, and have the power of a decent server available to you.
Right now, I've got my Pi running burning-down - I do need to extract a few key stats from the data, given we are in a bushfire season too.

What we lack is robust means for all of these cheap different components to talk to each other. The fact I had to frown at my air-conditioner so much to get it to speak to me is alarming, what's more alarming is the Korean Electrical Engineer understanding of the web is terrible - the reason my 'smart' Air-conditioner takes so long to connect to my phone stems entirely from the fact the designers simply spam the local spectrum with "hello, are you there" requests.
Having read the basics of the specs, I doubt I would have taken the same approach. That said, the future won't be built by folks like myself, it's more likely to emerge from a Chinese manufacturing plant. Western businesses believe they are cutting costs, but the real effect (and in my opinion, a good one to some degree) is training the next generation of localized startups, developers and more.
This is widely acknowledged: it's common for Indian app developers to observe an idea working in one market, produce a clone and localize it; to obtain the first mover advantage.

My issue with this scenario is not derivatives or some kind of 'theft' of ideas; but the production of silos.

I can't explain to you how much it frustrates me that I can't simply buy a Nest Smoke Alarm here in Australia; because of shipping costs; plugs and voltage.
I can't explain to you how much it frustrates me that I can make my phone, laptop and air conditioner talk; but only behind certain limited network conditions and with enough manual coddling to make the effort invalid.

There's two efforts, tackling different parts of the problem that I'm aware of. The first is http://thethingsystem.com/

Clearly, someone here knows enough buzz words to appeal to developers; but ultimately I have my doubts about the utility of it.
For example; I accepted the initial overall concept enough to be half way through purchasing a second Pi to run it (clearly marketing works for them) before I dug into the 'supported hardware' section.
95% of the devices listed aren't in my market, available for me, or of use to me.

On the other end of the spectrum, I'm reading about the architectural problems that 'The Thing System' and others will likely face:
http://iot-datamodels.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/a-modular-open-source-platform-for-web.html

This acts as a hell of a reality check to me; as the language here and assumptions made are so far removed from the current computing ecosystem that they border on unobtainable.

Where does the middle ground lie? With devices that talk through limited protocols and proxies; or a approaching a lingua franca of computing spanning multiple devices, domains and more?
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