Buzzword technology has two possible fates: they fail and disappear or they succeed and disappear. Remember at one time “multimedia” and “networking” were buzzwords. They succeeded and now they’ve vanished into ubiquity. Of course, there are plenty of failed buzzwords (like telecosm) that you probably don’t even remember. They just vanished into obscurity.
Unless you’ve been living under the CNC mill in your local hackerspace, you’ve probably heard or read about the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Companies big and small have realized that getting in early on The Next Big Thing is good for share prices and, right now, IoT is where everyone is trying to make a play.
There’s two things I’d observe, though: First, IoT is far from new. Connecting embedded systems to the Internet is old hat (I even wrote a book called Embedded Internet Design way back in 2003). Second, the way it is going, IoT–in its current incarnation–is doomed.
To see why I would say that, let’s do a thought experiment. In the early days of the Internet, there was no big money involved in it. It was just a quirky government and academic project. But pretend the Internet was being invented in today’s business climate.
Now imagine the ads in your local newspaper: Subscribe to KoolDNS! More free addresses than any other provider. Surveys show that 85% of all sites are available when you use KoolDNS. Another ad would want you to buy a browser that allows you to read over half of the most popular Web sites.
What? Sure, your typical Hackaday reader can manage IP addresses directly and could probably cobble together a reader for some non-HTML format. But the broader public relies on DNS services and a standard HTML format. It is hard enough that a very small percentage of sites today rely on some specific browser feature.
Yet this is where we are heading with IoT. Everyone has an open or semi-open broker. Groups of companies are banding together to create standards that compete with the other guy’s standards. In other areas (for example, WiFi) vendors have submitted to IEEE standards. The IEEE is working on an IoT standard and it might be out by 2017. Meanwhile, it is a land grab to get something to market now, hoping it will take off and displace everyone else.
If you don’t think this kind of thing affects you, you might want to go watch a movie on your HD DVD or Betamax player. As a consumer, being on the wrong side of a standards war can get pretty expensive.
How to save it? I’m avoiding IoT infrastructure that isn’t open source. There no promise the eventual winning standards will be kind to open source, but at least you (or someone) can likely bring it up to snuff. Plus, if you decide to stick with it, at least you can support it yourself if that makes sense in your application.
The truth is, I don’t think IoT will win or lose. I think it has been around for years and will continue to thrive in places where it makes sense. For places it doesn’t make sense, the fad will eventually die down, the big companies will go milk the Next Big Thing (smell-o-vision, perhaps) and the rest of us will continue developing embedded systems that meet our needs.
In the video below, Jeremy Rifkin says the Internet of Things is going to launch a new economic revolution on par with the industrial revolution and that there will be 100 trillion Internet-connected sensors by 2030. However, I can’t help but think that his argument of zero marginal cost is going to apply more to the Star Trek-style replicator than to IoT.
[Artwork courtesy of dadallone]