There’s been a marked increase in chatter about the coming IoT – the “internet of things” – with some important revelations and developments this week and last about the quick ramp-up of this emerging and potentially $19T space.
When you track the conversation, there’s an important distinction in voice. On the one hand we have the makers of the things (those ones who manufacture the objects). On the other we have the connectors of the things (those who write the software to network the objects). The one hand is the material, the other the ethereal.
A strong voice within the maker space is German industrial powerhouse Robert Bosch, Inc. The company’s chairman of the board of management Volkmar Denner recently gave an interview to the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. Denner was asked about Google and whether Google (aided by its $3B acquisition of Nest) will grow to dominate the interconnectivity of everyday physical objects like garage-door openers, bicycles, thermostats, cars and power tools, just as it dominates search, user video and a major chunk of mobile. Here’s a snippet from the interview:
Welt am Sonntag: Google has also acquired the connected device company Nest, so it is making inroads into the world of physical objects. Will Google dominate the internet of things??
Denner: In my view, it’s still not been decided who will play the most important part in the internet of things – IT companies or companies that truly understand the objects themselves. It’s often forgotten that Bosch already produces software that is integrated into objects. This is an area we have a better handle on than the dedicated IT software houses. In the connected world, Bosch benefits from a combination of both hardware and software expertise – coupled with our broad technical base and the depth of our knowledge of the sector.
Welt am Sonntag: So is Google being overvalued?
Denner: I have great respect for Google. But what’s essential here is to have expertise in physical objects. And we are currently seeing that IT companies are in fact still struggling to get to grips with the world of objects. It’s no easy task to reliably manufacture good, high-quality objects.
Denner’s comments set a nice springboard for this week’s news that Bosch Automotive – the corporation’s largest business segment, which represents 66% of Bosch’s annual $6.3B revenue – partnered with IBM to create a brand new engineering platform for auto-component connectivity. A joint press release announced the partnership and noted: “Driven by innovation in consumer electronics technology, the automotive sector is under immense evolutionary pressure. Today’s vehicles are more connected than ever – containing as many as 100 computerized controllers and 10 million lines of software code. As vehicle complexity continues to rise, automotive suppliers must address pressures to reduce costs and to innovate quickly, while also managing the intense challenge of delivering vehicle quality.”
So here’s a situation where Bosch and IBM created a partnership to co-develop the material and the ethereal from day-1 planning through process and into production – the exact combination Denner says is critical to succeed within the new now of the IoT. It’s an important distinction, again because in the emerging world of the IoT, connectivity must be a germinal, not latent thought. The influence of Steve Jobs is obvious.
Maybe this will be the ultimate legacy of Steve Jobs, who first championed the marriage of OS and hardware in Apple 1.0, then later developed the holy trinity of integrated OS, hardware and industrial design in Apple 2.0. A legacy whereby the equal interplay of connectivity, materials and design will revolutionize and guide the 21st century of manufacturing, the same way Ford’s assembly line revolutionized and guided the 20th century.
All of which then sets up important commentary from the application-side of the discussion. I recommend you take the time to read Dr. Hossein Eslambolchi’s 3-part series on the internet of things.
Dr. Eslambolchi argues for an application-aware network (AAN) model to connect the world’s physical objects and sets up his argument by stating: “Once a century, a new industry revolutionizes the way we live. This century, that industry is the internet of everything (IoT).” He later says: “Comparable to how the introduction of hosting services dramatically changed the web, the AAN will generate a similar shift in how companies view networking. I do believe every company is beginning to change the game for customers by turning the network ‘inside out’ – creating a user-centered, application-driven network. This is unlike the model of the 20th century with the network being the core and application at the edge. I like to think of this as rotating the direction of thinking from application outward to networks that support it in both wireless and wireline businesses across the globe.”
There’s a good bit of futurespeak there, but Dr. Eslambolchi points to the inescapable fact that the application layer has grown immensely in size and response, and right now, manufacturers large and small can gain easy access into the IoT through the application layer.
If you’re coming at the conversation from the material side, application awareness and access might seem a bit complicated. The good news is that low-cost, high-value tools are available right now to connect web-enabled physical objects.
Let’s say you’re a manufacturer of a web-enabled object, or have plans to launch a web-enabled object like a garage-door opener, a fishing reel, a bicycle or a pedometer. An Application Programming Interface (API) is the logical networking choice right now. More and more companies are developing and exposing APIs. One reason is that public-facing production can be quite simple through a custom API that interfaces with any number of different platforms including phones, pads, desktop browsers and even social-media notification systems.
TxMQ typically recommends IBM API Management Suite for API exposure and management. It sits on top of IBM’s DataPower Appliances and not only handles the management of any API(s) you wish to expose, but adds a security layer as well.
Here’s a plain-language example. Let’s say you’ve just released a web-enabled garage-door opener. You’ve developed a use case whereby a homeowner is to be notified if the door opens any time between user-designated hours. You could craft a custom API to interface with mobile phones. You expose and manage the API, again with a security layer, entirely through the IBM API Management Suite. The solution allows you to offer smoother, more stable customer interface at the same time you slice development and monitoring costs within the smart-object market. And the big payoff comes during the next design cycle, when connectivity becomes your baseline principle – not an afterthought.
It’s one example among potential millions, but illustrates how small and large businesses need to connect their existing products starting today, and forward-engineer the interconnectivity of their products starting tomorrow.
(Photo courtesy of Flickr contributor GM)