Design Elements for the Internet of Things 2.0

Internet of Things 2.0

Twitter connected coffee pots and the next “Smart” devices that upload a stream of worthless data to the internet are on the way out. Or that is what Steve Wozniak thinks will happen when the internet of things bubble bursts. But just like the dot-com bubble of the late 1990’s it will give birth to a much more useful IOT 2.0.

Do you remember when the web was just about useless? No? Let’s jump on the wayback machine and check out circa 1997 and click through to the “Cool” button. You find gems like Adopt a Virtual Kitty, or This Guy Who Wrote a Seinfeld Episode. The late nineties got a bit too excited about the magic of the internet, and took it out on the web with view counters and crappy buttons.

We are living on this same lame level with connected devices. I know we think we are fancy with our app enabled dog feeders, but that is about as cool as Yahoo’s “Cool” button. Gone are the days where putting an “E-” or a “.com” to your business will line up investors around the block, and shortly calling every thermostat, wearable, and flower pot “Smart” will follow.

Web 2.0

The dot-com bubble lasted up until it popped in 2000, but the web did not die out; It just grew up.

Web 2.0 made a browser an interactive portal to the internet. The world became social online, and when online collaboration really caught on. Google made everything truly searchable, and people ditched static html pages for dynamic server side scripting and javascript. The world collectively decided on the new elements that would make up the web.

We find ourselves at this familiar crossroads between IOT and IOT 2.0. We will slowly move away from a single app to device interface, and streaming pointless data to xively. A new era of connected and social sensors and actuators is about to be born.

IOT 2.0 Design

Let’s take a step back from the connected devices we have now and think about what would make them really useful. What are design elements that would need to be introduced to actually make our things intelligent and not just “Smart.” Through my experience in using these devices and going over their design as a student electrical engineer I have come up with a list of components every IOT 2.0 device should have.

1. Interconnected Data 

Pairing one device to an iPhone or Android app is a terrible idea. If everybody did it then it would be just the App Store of Things. IOT startups do not yet have the clout to cut deals for their new app to organize data generated by our Nike shoes, and our Fitbits. Corporations should not be the gatekeepers to what people can do with their data.

I propose we move to a more connected method of using these devices, where data freely flows around the user. Pubnub and similar companies are taking the right steps to this goal but it is not quite there. I could probably write two or three articles on this topic alone, so I’ll stop here before I keep rambling.

2. Biometric Authentication

Security will become a huge deal when people start driving connected cars or using implanted medical equipment that doses a patient when a doctor hits a button. Passwords are inherently insecure for these type of applications. Soon we will use our mobile devices to authenticate a user from biometrics. Then that device becomes an agent acting on the user’s behalf.

3. Virtual Intelligence

When our cars generate a stream of data related to engine vibration, heat transfer, fuel injection, instantaneous tire pressure, and correlate that to an array of environmental variables it becomes quite clear that conventional programming won’t handle that. We need to take that data and find new ways of interpreting it. Some of my personal work attempts to use biologically inspired learning algorithms to tackle big problems like this. The massive amounts of data IOT 2.0 will generate will have to be sifted through by these types of programs. If you are interested in this field you should check out some of the work from Numenta, I have personally learned so much from them and founder Jeff Hawkins.

4. Distributed Computing

Go ahead and try to push biometric authentication, machine intelligence, and massive data storage on a “Smart Sock” run on an Attiny. Even if you could do it, it does not leave much room to expand the platform. To “future proof” our devices we need to treat them like a small component of a larger connected ecosystem. Send the data produced by our wonderful sweat detecting sock off to a cluster where algorithms crunch the data and a web server displays it nicely on your mobile device.

5. Actual Useful Things

The almighty and all powerful internet should not be confined to tweeting the number of pencils in a smart pencil holder. No the IOT 2.0 will have tons of sensors, but more importantly connected and intelligent actuators. The strongest benefit of connecting hardware to the web is that these devices can become more efficient when they gain some context. Providing environmental variables to buildings, or farms can reduce waste and make things more cost efficient.

The interconnectedness of the tubes and pipes that make up the tangled web of things are under utilized. Someday soon we will look back and realize that even our hot “Smart” workout watch is but a shadow of what the connected computing environment will have become.