What’s holding up the Internet of Things?

Internet of Things, showing the Cloud and connected devices and services

Brian Profit wrote a good article about technology embedded in ordinary objects and how they are being connected in ways the industry calls “The Internet of Things.” Since I introduced IBM to the connected home market in the early 1990s and ran a Digital Home consulting firm after retiring, I felt compelled to share my perspective in a comment to Brian’s article, which I include below.

The “smart home” concept has been stuck in the niche of DIY geeks and high-end new homes with professional installation for over 40 years, always just on the cusp of becoming a mainstream market. Brian touched on the issue of protocol compatibility, but why is that such an issue, and what other issues are there?

Manufacturers of Things live in different market silos and see the world differently, some needing high bandwidth, others needing long battery life, and still others wanting real-time communication or not needing to communicate beyond their silo at all. That leads to different decision criteria among constantly changing technologies and protocols. No wonder one picks Wi-Fi while others pick Zigbee or Z-Wave or whatever. But there are still bigger issues to solve, and a comment about “device discovery” started in the right direction.

The need for programming and professional installation will limit market adoption, because each new device or change in lifestyle or habits requires a truck roll from a professional. That can be partially avoided with EASIER programming that the consumer can do themselves but not completely.

Better would be to avoid the need for rules-based programming entirely. In the area of home healthcare, Zilant Wellness partially addresses this problem by pre-pairing each new medical device or environmental sensor to the user’s gateway so they just plug it in and it works, talking with all other Zilant delivered products. They’re handling much of the configuration remotely, which is a good trend.

Another way to avoid rules-based programming is with smarter homes that actually learn about what’s going on inside through an array of sensors for sound, light, temperature, etc. That might require some sort of neural network and artificial intelligence technology, and that brings up the issue of where the learned intelligence is stored – somewhere in the home or in a remote service online.

Other important trends include cheaper devices with built-in networking, such as door locks and LED light bulbs with Wi-Fi, and large retailers getting into the market, including Lowes, with its Iris system. But the marketing challenge is how to demonstrate the value proposition in a store, where window drapes are in one place, electrical wiring and thermostats are in another, and appliances are somewhere else. How’s the consumer to see it all work together, assuming it even can? Who in the store can explain it? We have a very long way to go to bring the Internet of Things into mainstream homes in a big way, and in my view it hinges more on marketing than engineering.

The Internet of Things - a Cisco infographic showing connected devices by location, application and industry

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