You can’t escape the internet of things.
Multinational conglomerates, old-line manufacturers and Silicon Valley startups are all busy developing applications that will let people reserve street parking, monitor stresses on steel beams, and in general gaining insight into the real world.
LEDs and lighting in particular will play a key role, because lighting already forms a ubiquitous grid around us. You can’t attend an event without someone telling you about their idea for bringing intelligence to the inanimate world.
But not every good idea will lead to a good business plan. Like the PC boom in the early ’80s and the dot-com boom of the late ’90s, the Cambrian explosion of ideas and companies will be followed by a harsh consolidation. Sure, Pets.com looks silly now, but respected VCs put over $50 million into the company.
We’re still in the early days of the internet for the inanimate, a few founding principles are already emerging.
The internet of things is more about distributed intelligence than networking
When most people hear the term “internet of things,” they get a mental image of household appliances or automotive components sending a continuous stream of text messages to each other or to a centralized support center.
Unfortunately, that’s also the wrong image. Instead, lights, air conditioners and other appliances will largely make their own decisions: embedded intelligence will effectively allow objects to act autonomously or within selected parameters. The role of networking and messaging, meanwhile, will be minimized. Intelligent devices will send messages when they might need outside help — like an oil change — or when they need to offload data stored in local memory, but they won’t be giving up-to-the-minute reports.
Why? The vast amounts of information generated will far exceed the ability or desire to process it economically in real time. Office buildings — and all of the copy machines, lamps, power strips and other items plugged into the local electrical system — will generate gigabytes of information on a daily basis. Building a network, and a back-end system, to accommodate the flow of information will quickly try the patience of both businesses and consumers.
A distributed intelligence approach also allows manufacturers and developers to better harness the power of Moore’s law. Chips get better and cheaper all the time. Networks are delicate creatures with multiple interdependencies.
With the internet and cloud computing, it can be easy to overlook the importance of distributed intelligence. Most of the time, you seem to be using your laptop to access a server located somewhere else. But look at how many times a day you use a “local” application like PowerPoint or word processing. Distributed intelligence is still a powerful force.