Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Internet of Things

If you haven't heard of it before, you better start keeping your eyes and ears open NOW.  To put it simply, the Internet of Things refers to the point at which connected devices are talking to each other, as well as to human beings.

It is, without a shred of doubt, where we are headed, and it would be more accurate to say we are already there.  Why is it important?  Because it opens up a world where the ubiquity of sensors, the ability of analyzing the vast amount of data, and the speed of communications to make it possible to act on that data quickly, changes all our expectations of how we solve problems, which previously seemed too hard.

This post is by no means intended as a potted introduction to either the foundation concepts, or the likely range of consequences of the Internet of Things.  In fact, preparing for a professional development workshop for architects in which I was hoping to do that, I found it remarkable how unimaginative and banal almost all of the projections of implications for the built environment are just now.  You can get some idea by checking out this infographic, or the relevant sections of 50 Sensor Applications for a Smarter World.  The list is the product of a workshop at a conference of experts in computing, so maybe that explains the disappointing ideas.

When I suggested at my workshop that we could expect a transformation not just of the lives of the affluent citizens of the developed world, but that the Internet of Things can make a significant difference in closing the poverty gap, I prepared to be met with predictable incredulity. As is reasonable, until you remember that the fundamental enabling technology for this step change is 'connected mobile devices'.

The archetype of those is the mobile phone, and it may surprise some that the number of SIMM cards sold has long ago exceeded the number of people in the world. Even allowing for inactive SIMMs and multiple accounts, the day we have a mobile for every man woman and child on the planet is quite close.

Already, Indian farmers are moving from subsistence to tradeable surplus, by accessing weather and market information provided by the central government, and urban Indian labourers for hire are bootstrapping themselves to greater earning power by using the phones to cut out middle men in sourcing jobs.
So it isn't an unreasonable projection to suggest that better data on urban utilities will help clean up theft and inefficiency, until the quality and lowered prices of services turn even the current slum dwellers into satisfied paying customers.  And it is this jump to the transformative potential of richer data that answers the question of 'why would we embed sensors all over the planet?'

There are many sources, of varying quality, to follow up this topic:
  • I found the white paper by Dale Evans for Cisco (the biggest frog in the internet communications pond), to be a good start.
  • The Internet of Things: How the Next Evolution of the Internet is Changing Everything
    is downloadable as a .PDF here.
  • The increasing necessity to acknowledge the interdependence of physical and communication planning is the basis of the blog post What an Urban Planner Should Look Like in the Internet Age by Emily Badger.  Read it here.
  • There is one monograph I am aware of, but haven't laid my hands on:
    Henry, Christopher. Volume # 28: Internet of Things 11 Sep 2011.  This edition of the quarterly magazine has a very large number of short articles, with competitively obscure titles, as the blurb says: "not just about framing the issue, but also about indicating a practice in the making: we call it correlation designing".
Watch this space.

I just noticed another infographic, in PCMagazine.  Check it out here.


allen said...

Hi Steve

This post highlights a fascinating area of discussion that has had my interest for several years relating to how to combine high technology with architecture construction. It is not novel to apply high technology, such as home automation techniques, into architecture, as significant developments have occurred in this area.

As mentioned in this post, I was a little bit suspicious about the excessive optimism related to using the Internet of things technique and attempting to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor in some developing countries. For one thing, Dale Evan pointed out that “while greater efficiencies and new business models will have a positive economic impact on closing the poverty gap, but 50% of the power distributed for North Delhi Power Ltd wasn’t paid due to stolen by the poor people in India and inefficient infrastructure.”

Some people question whether we should actually accept the market information provided by the government. I believe that we should because there does not seem to be a better source. However, a negative example is the Mexican government’s notorious indulgence of monopolies. As a result, Mexican people “enjoy” higher prices for the telecommunication services compared to people in other countries.

This link is to an article about this issue in Mexico:,8599,1642286,00.html

I am not complaining about the Internet of things technique. On the contrary, I was extremely excited when it came out years ago. Thus, I was automatically interested in the technique of home automation in buildings and how the Internet of things technique actually worked in the real world. This phenomenon indicated that a majority of architecture design solutions as well as interior design had the potential to completely change in next generation due to highly artificial intelligence and greater efficiency.

This link is to an article that briefly describes the relationship between home automation and the Internet of things technique:

This video shows my idea of a dream house:

Steve King said...

Some good points. But I have to point out a couple of things.

The Indian farmers are getting weather and market data. The best source is the government bureau of meteorology, and also the government monitored version of the market data, which is more carefully matched to their interest than the speculative market reporting.

At the same time, in India, the government has made sure the telecom market is so competitive, that the prices are rock bottom.

And the discussion of water and power in the Mumbai slums suggests that if theft, but equally importantly, leakages, were identified, the supply authority would find it worthwhile to invest in the infrastructure, and drop prices enough to make it worthwhile even for the poor to be paying customers. Because most people believe that capitalist markets don't produce that result, the example of telecom penetration in India is such a powerful example that they can.

Yangtian Jason Jin said...

First of all, in order to gain a better understanding, I looked up the term ’internet of things’ on Wikipedia. ‘It refers to uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure.’ I will just abbreviate it as IOT. The concept of IOT was first used in the early 20 century by Kevin ashton(Kevin Ashton: That 'Internet of Things' Thing. In: RFID Journal, 22 July 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2011.) He suggested that the raw data from the internet are all resourced. Humans will make errors and have limited time, it would be more effective and accurate if the devices can gather data themselves and then give back to human.
As modern society develops, it creates opportunities and problems simultaneously, in the past years people tried so hard to reduce the amount of work must be done by human as much as possivle. The IOT seems virtual but actually it is connected to the real things. The internet is a great invention and so is IOT, most of our mobile phones are ‘smart phones’ contains not only calls, SMS, but also the ability to access internet, GPS, cameras and so on. Steve has mentioned the 50 Sensor applications for a smarter world and things like ‘smart phone detection’ is almost known to everyone. That’s unimaginable few decades ago.
It is also interesting to think it in architectural way: Some tricky designs can be achieved by using advanced technology and the building can be easily managed (smart parking, auto control of windows according to weather) they can be quite environmentally friendly.
The example Indian farmers access the information provided by government to effectively make their plans according to weather and market. The labors also using phones to cut out middle men in sourcing jobs is another direct way of making their lives easier. I literally agree that better data on urban utilities will help clean up theft and inefficiency, until the quality and lowered prices of services turn even the current slum dwellers into satisfied paying customers. However I am still bit worried about the standard of ‘satisfied’. In china, for people at the bottom of society like farmers, it’s very hard to get them satisfied unless things that are completely free, they sometimes not willing to pay even ten dollars for services that may worth twenty. Therefore in my own opinion, if we really want to clean up theft and inefficiency, the best approach is still education. Focus on the bright side, IOT is a revolution that as if we created a new world full of implicit connections, it is a remarkable leap to further civilized world.

Sher L said...

The idea of utilizing the internet from how we communicate with each other to cloud computing and how it affects global development tremendously. The obvious potential for data collection and production in allowing control for anyone who has access to the internet which I think would continue to redefine the way we carry on our lifestyles as more internet-based devices are becoming embedded with sensors and picking up the ability to communicate.

Companies are increasingly fighting to produce upcoming technological devices to allow more natural user interfaces for wider marketing purposes to bring up the idea of simpler lifestyles. This rapid expansion roughly demonstrates the tech development speed. Theories like having a 3D computer seemed impossible 10 years ago. Now, technology which is reinforced by the internet has made the concept called SpaceTop of having a computer which allow users fully interact with documents or objects manipulations beyond the LED display computer screen instead of the traditional mouse. Further information on the prototype can be found here:

As far as bridging the gap between the rich and the poor by the Internet of Things, I agree that the idea is completely plausible. Aside from financial barriers, current programs from private companies like AT&T offers free online resources to help communities use technology effectively in lesser developed countries. I believe that technology would widen the levels of education which would then improve the infrastructure as well as theft and inefficiency on poor neighborhoods to help narrow the gap. Dave Evans pointed out, "Humans evolve because they communicate." which in this matter implies that internet-based communications play a central role in overcoming poverty. I also agree on the Indian farmers example in accessing information from central government in order to gain a more lucrative business while demanding easier ways to handle middle men in sourcing jobs in terms of cost of time. Increased efficiencies in various aspects as mentioned are conclusively contributed heavily by the Internet on Things.

Sources links: