Development of the Internet of Things

Development of the Internet of Things

Today, there are roughly 1.5 billion Internet-enabled PCs and over 1 billion Internet-enabled cell phones. The present “Internet of PCs” will move towards an “Internet of Things” in which 50 to 100 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020. Some projections indicate that in the same year, the number of mobile machine sessions will be 30 times higher than the number of mobile person sessions. If we consider not only machine-to-machine communications but communications among all kinds of objects, then the potential number of objects to be connected to the Internet arises to 100,000 billion ! In such a new paradigm, networked objects are so many that they blur the line between bits and atoms. Several authors have created new concepts to apprehend the Internet of Things paradigm. For example, Julian Bleecker speaks of blogjects to describe objects that blog 11 , Bruce Sterling speaks of spimes to portray location-aware, environment-aware, self-logging, self-documenting, uniquely identified objects that provide a lot of data about themselves and their environment, Adam Greenfield speaks of the “informational shadows” of networked objects, Rafi Haladjian speaks of the Pervasive Network connecting any type of machine, permanently and seamlessly, both indoors and outdoors, at high speed and at an imperceptible cost, but not with just anyone/anything.

All specialists agree that the challenges of the Internet of Things will be manifold and farreaching. We will try here to identify some of these challenges by considering the perspectives of Research, Industry, and Central and Local Government. Obviously, many initiatives involve Research, Industry and Government at the same time like, for instance, the three-year project, announced in February 2010, involving the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and Microsoft.

Research perspective

Today the Auto-ID Labs form an independent network of seven academic research labs on four different continents 13 that develop new technology such as RFID and Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) for revolutionising global commerce and providing previously unrealisable consumer benefits.

Three of the laboratories – University of St. Gallen, ETH Zurich and MIT – organised in Zurich in 2008 the first Internet of Things Conference that brought leading researchers and practitioners from both academia and industry together to facilitate sharing of applications, research results, and knowledge. The next conference will be organised at the end of 2010 in Tokyo around the theme “IoT for a Green Planet”  – it will explore the technical requirements and business challenges to address today’s societal challenges with IoT technology: Health monitoring systems to support the aging society, distributed awareness to help predict natural disasters and react more appropriately, track and trace to help reduce traffic congestion, product lifetime information to improve recyclability, transparency of transportation to reduce carbon footprint, and more insights into various kinds of processes to improve optimisa-tion. It is noteworthy that this conference will take place at about the same time as the 27th TRON Project Symposium on the Ubiquitous Computing Society, which is organised every year by Professor Ken Sakamura.

Another research perspective for the Internet of Things is given by Hewlett-Packard which has launched a ten-year mission, a Central Nervous System for the Earth, to embed up to a trillion pushpin-size sensors around the globe. By combining electronics and nanotechnology expertise, Hewlett-Packard researchers have developed “smart dust” sensors with accelerometers that are up to 1,000 times more sensitive than the commercial motion detectors used in Nintendo Wii video game controllers and some smart phones. Potential applications include buildings that manage their own energy use, bridges that sense motion and metal fatigue, cars
that track traffic patterns and report potholes, and fruit and vegetable shipments that tell grocers when they ripen and begin to spoil.

In China, research in the field of Internet of Things is viewed as essential to foster economic growth and catch up with the developed countries. Since 2006, several research institutes have been involved in a far-reaching project, including Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology (SIMIT), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, North-western Polytechnical University of China, with strong support from Chinese government. Researchers in Electrical & Electronic Experiment Demonstration Centre of Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics have already developed a wireless sensor network platform of their own intellectual property, which includes ad hoc network wireless sensor node, data storage and data remote access terminal.

A promising initiative for pushing forward the limits of imagination, creativity and audacity with respect to the Internet of Things is “Council” – a loose group of professionals, animated by Rob van Kranenburg, Media theorist, which includes artists, designers, coders, thinkers and tinkerers. The members of this open consultancy/think-tank “have been through the full range of emotions and conceptual breakdown that comes with grasping the territory, the full logistical, business, social and philosophical implications of the Internet of Things.”

Industry perspective

The first industrial realisation of the Internet of Things, in the sense of RFID tags embedded in objects, was actually the Presto network in 1998 . Despite this forerunning initiative, during ten years, the Internet of Things was more a topic for research, especially in the Auto-ID Labs, than for industry.

When in January 2005 Wal-Mart and the U.S. Department of Defence demanded that their major contractors and suppliers mark their shipments with RFID tags for inventory control, Kevin Ashton said: “It is an incredible milestone in the development of the technology. We need to understand that January 2005 is more the end of the beginning than anything else. When RFID really gets to go to the ball. It has kind of been a Cinderella technology in the basement of the computer revolution for the last ten years.” The explosion of the RFID market in 2005 marked the dawn of the thinking about the Internet of Things…

Then, in 2008, an open group of companies launched the IPSO Alliance to promote the use of Internet Protocol (IP) in networks of “smart objects”. The IPSO alliance now boasts 53 member companies, including Bosch, Cisco, Ericsson, Intel, SAP, Sun Microsystems, Texas Instruments, and – since December 2009 – Google and Fujitsu. Several large companies have already invested in Internet of Things applications such as, among others, ATOS Origin, AT&T, Cisco, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Google, Hitachi, IBM, Intel, Motorola, Oracle, Qualcomm, SAP, Siemens, Telefonica, Texas Instruments, Thales, VeriSign and Verizon.

Furthermore, as the Internet is running out of addresses, in the near future it will be moving to a new protocol, IPv6. The current system, IPv4, has roughly four billion addresses. The new address space can support 21 28 (about 3.4×10 38 ) addresses, which means, to take a commonly used analogy, that it provides enough addresses for every grain of sand on every beach in the world! While it is unlikely that we will be assigning IP addresses to grains of sand, the idea of assigning them to each of the more or less 5,000 daily objects that surround us, is quite appealing. With the right technology in each object (e.g., an RFID tag) and the right network in the surroundings, it will become easy to locate and catalogue items in a few seconds and to reap the benefits of the vast array of new information that communications among them will provide. IPv6 is undoubtedly one of the steps to making the Internet of Things a reality. The IPv6 Forum, which is based in Europe, is working towards deploying IPv6 in line with the European Commission Communication of 27 May 2008.

In Europe, SAP has been an early promoter of the Internet of Things along with the Internet of Services. Noting that the Internet of Things combines the power of ubiquitous networking connectivity with modern sensor technologies, SAP highlighted the merging of the digital world with the physical world (i.e. information concerning the identity, location and condition of physical objects can be made available through the Internet anytime and anywhere), the capability of objects to communicate with each other and hence become active participants in global business processes, thus leading to tremendous efficiency gains in many industries.

But over the last few years, beyond sporadic announcements and initiatives from industry, the Internet of Things has been ramping up. Some specific Internet of Things products have indeed gained visibility; few examples are given below:

  • Violet’s Nabaztag 23 (2005), a cute bunny that can deliver anything from ambient information through lights and sounds to verbal information,
  • ƒ ZeroG Wireless (2006), a new paradigm of wireless connectivity through low-cost, small size Wi-Fi chips embedded into any system including consumer electronics, smart energy devices, home and building controls, portable medical sensors, and sensor networks), and T2TIT (a software solution that enables secure and privacy-friendly communication between objects,
  •  Arduino (2008), an open-source electronics prototyping platform intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and any “tinkerer” interested in creating interactive objects or envi- ronments,
  • ƒ Alcatel-Lucent’s Touchatag (2008), a contactless application service for consumers, application developers and businesses, which by using Radio Frequency Identification(RFID), Near Field Communication (NFC) and 2D barcode technology provides users with one-touch, fast and easy access to, among other things, information, registration, ticketing and payment,
  • ƒ Arrayent’s Internet-Connect System (2009), a turnkey communication system that enables companies to connect their products to smartphones and computers via the Internet,
  • ƒ Usman Haque’s Pachube (2009), a service that lets the user tag and share real-time sensor data from objects, devices, buildings and environments around the world,
  • ƒ Haier’s Internet of Things refrigerator 24 (2010), the world’s first refrigerator that can store food but also be connected to a network, for food management, and be connected with the supermarket for enhancing consumer experience.

What these first Internet of Things applications point out to is a “metamorphosis of objects” from artefacts (objects that are simple, hand manufactured one by one at local scale, and activated by muscular energy) to machines (objects that are complex, gauged, composed of several parts, and whose electric power source is neither human nor animal) to products (objects that are mass manufactured) and finally to gizmos (objects that are unstable, modifiable by the user, programmable, and short-lived).

The emergence of the Internet of Things is likely to provoke industry disruptions and transformations as the latter often originate from major technological breakthroughs. However, what we observe at this early stage of Internet of Things deployment is that established industry incumbents and new entrants co-exist in the embryonic marketplace. Focusing on competence enhancement, the former do not seem to have great difficulty crossing the chasm created by the Internet of Things disruption (e.g., Cisco’s Intelligent Urbanization Initiative, IBM’s Smart Planet) while new entrants, favouring competence destroying innovations, rise rapidly to visibility and significant presence on the market by holding market niches (e.g., Arduino, Arrayent, Pachube, Violet from 2003 until 2009). This shows that changes in the emerging Internet of Things industry are likely to come more from the introduction of new business models (i.e. the organising principles and templates around which a business is built) thanfrom the seniority and size features of the companies.

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