The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to connect all devices to networks, easily accessible and offering a wealth of information. Analysts forecast some 26 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020, each with its own unique ID. In preparation for the IoT era, sensors, microcontrollers and many other electronic devices are being developed and launched.
Electronics World in conjunction with RS Components addressed this issue with a dedicated webinar, which took place at the end of September. The webinar can be viewed at www.electronicsworld. co.uk/events/webinars.
It was hosted by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino of Designswarm, product and interaction designer, and entrepreneur (see box).
Here she addresses a few outstanding questions, relating to this subject, complementing the webinar presented in September.
Q: How do you think the Internet of Things will change in the next five years?
There’s a lot of uncertainty and excitement at the minute, quite beyond Gartner’s Hype Cycle analysis this year. Many investments are falling flat of expectations as startups realise how hard it is to get market adoption of new types of devices. Wearables find little “sticky-ness” and short-lived interactions. Startups try their luck with crowd-funding, and find little success or get burnt out trying to find further funding after campaigns that are too small. All these challenges will probably have disappeared by the time 2022 comes along. We’ll have a niche but growing community of investors who will be interested in long-term returns. We’ll also possibly have digital tools to help someone plan adequately for manufacturing and product development. We may even see a price drop on things like certification and design to manufacture processes that might become entirely digital. I hope beyond anything else that we will see consensus emerge in the industry around communication technologies which allow the most creativity and lowest cost to creative minds.
Do you think privacy is dead in the Internet of Things?
I don’t think privacy is dead just like privacy isn’t dead on line. It’s simply changing. Our idea of privacy is also reasonably new, after thousands of years living in villages and ten people per household. As we became more urban our ability to isolate ourselves from others increased. The Internet has broken those barriers down again but also exposed our location, actions and thoughts to others for the benefit of advertisers and the NSA. With the Internet of Things, new data can create new insight into our lives, unless we are able to fully control the conversation we have with our technology providers.
The EU (http://www.internet-of-things-research.eu/) is introducing recommendations on this matter, which will help create some ethical barriers and obligations for companies to give consumers tools to control and protect their privacy. This is really great and I think the UK should lead on this too.
Who are the emerging players in the industry?
Companies who traditionally have been digital only are recognising the potential of physical objects, token or urban experiences as a way to extend their offering. This will really represent a sea change when it comes to IoT soon. Companies like Paypal, Google and Facebook are currently only dipping their toes into the Internet of Things with flashy acquisitions, but once knowledge is transferred, you can be sure that retail experiences will change with their help.
Do you think standards will slow down the development of the industry?
Not right away as there are many ways to connect to the Internet. Zigbee may or may not be on the way out, Bluetooth Low Energy certainly has an advantage because of its ubiquity, but GSM is presenting interesting opportunities for startups (my own, the Good Night Lamp is working with Eseye’s M2M platform) with customers who need zero setup and global coverage for their product experiences.
Are there any formal courses to guide through IoT implementation?
There aren’t really any formal training courses available beyond beginner Arduino and Raspberry Pi. You may, if you’re starting from the very beginning, choose to take a class at ‘Technology will Save Us’ http://technologywillsaveus.org/, http://codasign.com/ or go to Does Liverpool and attend one of their workshops and events.
What impact can Internet of Things have on the emerging market of renewable and power grid?
The reasons why the Internet of Things isn’t called the Intranet of Things is really about being able to adopt an open and APIable way to address hardware. For renewables, we should be building those PV cells and small windmills cheaply and easily with a view to being able to control them and sell power to the national grid when we should/want to. Developing an ecology of white goods that are controlled by our garden windmill would be amazing, so being to “plug” into it will make innovation happen quickly. This will really show the market what it means to live in a more sustainable future home without costly setup and investment.
Do you see the future of IoT devices in proprietary or open source developments?
Open source is at the heart of the Arduino community and that platform has really led the way when it comes to prototyping devices for the mass market. There is currently no good way to sell that to investors but perhaps the new IoT entrepreneurs in the next few years won’t need the same types of investors that funded apps and websites.
Is hardware now something that a VC will invest in at this time?
In the UK, sadly it’s still too early to say we have all the pieces in place to have a rich and active investment ecology. I’m trying to address that with IOT Angels, a series of Master Classes on the Internet of Things for investors. The UK certainly has a history of investing in hardware if the numbers are there, which sadly is usually in industrial or B2B applications. Most IoT startups are in the consumer space and the lack of financial support means that those companies will need to prepare to be financially independent for a long time.
With the amazing consultancy BERG recently closing, what do you think is the best way for designers to work in the field of connected objects for the future?
I don’t think BERG should be seen as an example of failure, they were doing something quite unique but tricky. Part toy, part printer, part industrial offering, Little Printer and bergcloud were really companies with the budget of a startup. There’s plenty of space for designers to become the founders of startups because − unlike technologists − they will often have a user-centered view of opportunities and product development, and everything we know about successful companies points to those characteristics as being highly desirable.
How can we be more professional than hobbyists in IoT?
There’re plenty of incubators that will open up in the UK in the next months to turn an idea into a company but the first thing is to go to a meetup and meet people who would want to collaborate with you on your idea. Traditionally incubators accept teams and not lone founders.
Is brainwave involvement in anyway related to the IoT, like controlling events using brainwaves?
Drones, brainwaves and limited functionality wearables don’t excite me particularly. They don’t respond to user needs but rather try to sell you into strange behaviours that can never really become habit and integrate into people’s lives.
Why did RS get involved?
RS launched an Internet of Things (IoT) themed area hosted under Design Centres via its online DesignSpark community DesignSpark community to act as a knowledge base to aid engineers designing IoT-enabled applications. The Design Centre includes an introduction to the IOT and includes the latest blogs and a series of articles written by partners, DesignSpark community members and leading Industry experts including Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino of Designswarm. It focuses on a detailed break-down of the IoT and a look at how it all started, where it’s heading and why we need it, exploring how “Things” connect from hardware to applications, network infrastructure and security of data.
‘The Internet of Things - Connectivity Makes The World Go Around’ webinar took place on September 26th. You can view it free online at www.electronicsworld.co.uk/events/webinars