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How the 'Internet of Thing' will become the Internet of Things

Steven Max Patterson | June 19, 2014
Right now, most of the IoT is limited to connecting a singular device to the cloud and the cloud to an app to control it.

Qualcomm's Liat Ben Zur spoke of the "Internet of Thing," in the singular case rather than the plural, at the recent MIT Technology Review Digital Summit. She made the point using Google's Nest thermostat that is connected to the cloud, and the cloud to an app to control it. Add another IoT device, add another cloud, and another app and so on. She brought into question IoT device interoperability and the rationale for sending all IoT data through the cloud when the purpose of much of the data is communicating between local devices on a proximal network. Proximal means local, like a LAN. If IoT devices from different brands are to work together in the proximal network independent of the cloud, the industry will need to agree to standards.

Qualcomm has a dog in the standards fight, though — an open source software framework called Alljoyn intended to accelerate the growth of the IoT, leading to greater consumption of the company's processor and radio chips in IoT devices.

Companies like ThingWorx (acquired by PTC) and IControl provide machine-to-machine (M2M) clouds that interconnect disparate devices built to various standards into systems. One example of the ThingWorx platform is a farm irrigation IoT application that combines soil moisture sensor readings with weather forecasts to optimize crop irrigation. Similarly, IControl has built home safety, security, and monitoring applications. These companies are delivering IoT today using the cloud to provide interoperability, processing, and control logic. Generalizing the immediate demand for IoT interconnectivity, Pubnub CEO Todd Greene presented his company's real-time network platform that companies like ThingWorx and IControl or independent integrators could use to interconnect IoT devices in a system.

Unlike the platform companies, Qualcomm's goal isn't to deliver IoT applications immediately to end users. The company is working to engage consumer and industrial electronics companies in the development of its open source Alljoyn project, making it a standard. According to Ben Zur, Alljoyn solves what she describes as "not so sexy IoT problems" that enable IoT devices to operate as a single system within the proximal networks across device brands, independent of the cloud. Alljoyn provides automatic device discovery, identification of services running on the devices, and information exchange between IoT devices.

An example of how IoT devices should interoperate within the proximal network was smart-smoke and air-quality detector company Birdi, Ben Zur said. When sensing a fire in a bedroom, the Birdi detector would have televisions and wireless speakers sound the alarm and provide an evacuation route, make smart light bulbs blink and change in color, and unlock all exit doors. The only communication outside of the proximal network should be the call to emergency responders.


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