Mobile and the ‘internet of things’

mobileTech Thursday, by Steve Guengerich

I just returned from GigaOM’s annual Mobilize conference, held Monday and Tuesday this week, at the UCSF Mission Bay conference center in San Francisco. With this week’s post, I wanted to focus on two sessions that caught my interest as a potential area of opportunity for Austin’s mobile entrepreneurs.

The first session was a solo presentation by Mike Kuniavsky, CEO of ThingM, on the subject of “The internet of things to come.” It was a good introductory session by Mike, a noted author and consultant in the field, which you can watch courtesy of Livestream and GigaOM.

The core of Kuniavsky’s presentation was a discussion of six major drivers enabling much greater velocity and volume of innovation in the field. His list of these drivers includes:

  • Object-oriented hardware
  • Cheap assembly
  • “Anchors” in the cloud
  • Social electronics design
  • Arduino
  • Low volume sales channels

I won’t go into an explanation of these drivers – you can watch the video for the details. Suffice it to say that his opinion is the companies and technologies that are represented within each of these drivers comprise the innovation ecosystem for the internet of things.

The panel discussion on the “Infrastructure for the internet of things” was a great follow-up to the overview. In it, the panelists discussed both tech and non-barriers to success.

In particular, I thought the remarks by Bo Begole, Principal Scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), were insightful. Bo spoke about two barriers that need to be overcome, both of which can and should be tackled by mobile app developers.

The first barrier is the need for some sort of intervening filtering system, perhaps in the cloud or on a mobile device. The need for this filtering is imperative because, at present, these smart devices have no subtlety: they unilaterally demand attention. Without the ability to sort out all of the notifications, alerts, and other signals that a roomful of smart objects sends, people can and will be overwhelmed with information interrupts.

Bo mentioned a project that inside PARC called Meshin that is still in development, but getting close to being spun out. Meshin’s Android-only app has been available in the Android Marketplace for a all of a week, so it’s brand new.

While Meshin’s ‘center of gravity’ is primarily email, Bo said that there is ample reason to believe, based on PARC research, that an extension of the app’s design paradigm could be applied to the internet of things.

The second barrier was the need for a way to detect and then administer a collection of smart objects. The answer is some sort of unified interface. Another PARC example that Bo cited tackling a version of this problem is an offering from a spin-out called PowerCloud.

While it is mainly focused on detecting and administering wi-fi access points, there’s a good basis to believe the PowerCloud approach could be extended to a more diverse environment of smart objects.

In my personal experience, I’ve seen a couple of examples of technology that each tackle a part of this problem. On the detection side, Scott Kirkwood of Kirkwood Labs pitched a deal at the Clean Energy Venture Summit a couple of years ago that performed auto-detection of devices.

On the administration side, I’ve been working with a company called GoodRobot, led by Alan Majer, with whom I presented a session at SXSW Interactive earlier this year.

Alan’s team has been working on a technology for administering a collection of smart things in the home, with the ultimate goal of providing a simple to build and use control panel.  You can see an example of a prototype that works nicely on tablet, but is still handy from a smart phone browser.

So there you have it: a different kind of mobile opportunity, but one that no doubt will get here sooner than we think. I welcome your comments, questions, and examples of other companies or technologies.

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