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The Internet of Things

3 Jun 2015

This is my editorial for the Summer 2015 issue of HardCopy magazine:

The RCarduino

The RCarduino: an Arduino strapped to a model car chassis by the LA Robotics Club.

It seems inevitable that the next bandwagon coming our way has ‘Internet of Things’ written on it in very large letters, just as the previous one proclaimed ‘The Cloud’ as the universal solution, and the one before insisted that ‘Services’ were the answer to everything. Once again, we can expect every new product and service to boast an association with the new buzzword, even if it’s just a humble cable-tie.

Which is, of course, not to say that we shouldn’t take the Internet of Things (IoT) seriously. After all, considering our servers to be deliverers of services, and then delivering them through the Internet, did open up new possibilities not only in terms of technology but also in transformative business models. Regardless of the hype, IoT does represent a major paradigm shift, in that it invites a new way of thinking about the Internet, and opens up whole new worlds of both possibilities and considerations.

In a 1991 article for Scientific American, Mark Weiser of Xerox PARC suggested we were about to enter a time of ‘ubiquitous computing’, which he described as the Third Wave: “The First Wave was many people per computer. The Second Wave was one person per computer. The Third Wave is many computers per person.” Today, some 24 years after the article appeared, it is common for people to be regularly accessing the Internet from at least two, and sometimes three or four, devices. Continuing the analogy, it would seem we are about to enter a Fourth Wave in which computers extend beyond people and into the very things that make up the real world.

The most obvious manifestation of this paradigm shift is in the things themselves – the sensors and the motors, and the tiny computer systems that connect them. For many, this is the most exciting area, reminiscent of the Golden Age with ‘maker boards’ such as the Arduino, the Raspberry Pi or Intel’s Galileo, Edison and the tiny button-like Curie taking the place of the Altair 8800, the MK14 and the UK101 of 40 years ago. Pioneers are literally tying such things to model cars and drones, while companies like Intel dream up new ways to power and communicate with such devices.

Meanwhile, out in the Cloud, Big Data is wondering how it is going to cope with the truly immense amount of data that is going to be flowing back from all these Things. As James Reinders pointed out to me at iStep 2015, this is essentially a problem in distributed computing, and as such will require developer tools that can cope with applications that span platforms ranging from a Raspberry Pi to Microsoft Azure, taking in perhaps Windows 10, Android and iOS on the way. Over the coming issues we will be examining such subjects in more depth, but in the meantime, check out Simon Bisson’s introduction in the current issue of HardCopy magazine.

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