Friday 17 June 2011

Sensors in the home ... mass market?

My home is instrumented with over 30 sensors. These provide information on temperature, movement, doors & windows, alarms (such as smoke), and visual information through lamps and cameras. Some also measure power consumption and allow control of electrical devices. They all connect to a central hub controller using the ZigBee wireless standard, and are completely user installable by non-technical people very easily. The hub self organises and configures the network as you add more components to the system. Batteries in the smallest sensors generally last about a year. The hub has battery backup from mains and also a GSM data SIM if the ethernet connected broadband should fail. The system is managed / configured through a web browser on any computer operating system or via an iPhone/iPad app. The system can use the same set of sensors and other components to provide a number of services including security, energy monitoring and home automation.

The user installable aspect and ease of retro-fitting are the main reasons why this system (AlertMe) has the potential to be mass-market. However I believe this will only happen when the product is available and showcased in home improvement stores (such as B&Q and HomeBase in the UK, and equivalent others across the globe). The fact that it can be fitted in a matter of minutes by almost anyone, and is as simple as un-boxing it and inserting batteries and then fixing the sensors with sticky pads, means that it needs to be on the shelves of retail stores nationwide in order for this innovation to have a bigger impact on the marketplace.

Thursday 16 June 2011

IoT: The built environment - a workshop

It was great to attend the KTN workshop on the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Built Environment today in London. A number of interesting issues were raised.

A major outcome in one of the syndicates that I witnessed at the event was the need for incentives for the construction industry to add support for smart sensor infrastructure in new build sites. It seems that characteristics of this particular industry sector mean that there is a lack of enablers for say, implementing Ethernet or similar network points in each room next to 13A mains power sockets in new buildings, whereas in the consumer electronics industry there are few such inhibitors in for example adding a new A/V socket to new devices (such as HDMI).

Since construction companies typically build and then sell the property to another organisation to take forward, maybe it is these customers of construction that can lead the requirements for new innovation rather than trying to regulate. It seems to me that the building industry has quite enough regulation already!

A second important point made in the workshop was the need to encourage opening up data so that others will innovate and offer services that people will want. It is necessary to make it simple and cheap for people to acquire data and add some value to it. As I said in a previous blog post, it is imperative that a marketplace is established that takes away the pain of developing innovative solutions.

In the same way that the iOS App store free's developers from having to do marketing (all apps are brought together in one searchable, place with user reviews and ratings), payment transactions (all the credit card accounts/validation etc is done) and other 'pain' or hassle, an InfoStore marketplace would spur the innovation of applications that could access the data made available from 'things'. Such an InfoStore would provide potential innovators and developers with not only data feeds with defined descriptions, but also scope, terms & conditions, and a price (value) of the data. This would then allow developers to innovate and produce applications and services for more traditional App stores for end customers to realise benefit from and pay for.

Thanks to all those who organised and attended the workshop which was a pleasure to be a part of.

Sunday 12 June 2011

An Internet of Things Future

The premise for the Internet of Things (IoT) community is that the number of addressable devices on the Internet will be over 7 times what it is today by 2020. Already we are seeing a wide range of consumer devices that have internet connectivity. Such devices when also able to tap into sensors around buildings (e.g. movement, temperature, light, sound, etc.) can bring a new dimension of comfort, security, environmental consciousness including energy saving, to the people who use or indeed manage the use of the space. Outside of buildings, but still in the environment, such devices can make a huge impact on such areas as congestion, pollution control, communications, and service provision.

In the home, for the masses, it is the point at which automation and intelligence in technology also makes a difference to the human sense of security, comfort or cost control which is the tipping point for wide adoption of it. Outside in the street, it is the corporate cost of managing the public space that provides a key driver. Many services and facilities then follow from the deployment of such systems, provided that the interfaces are open and a market for using the data is created in an economic way.

Rather than setting the cost of access so high that only a few large corporations can take advantage of it, the market should look to a volume based model which encourages innovation and grows the potential market. A good analogy to this would be how software developers have vastly reduced the price of applications software which is appearing in App Stores now compared to the much higher prices that were previously charged. The profit per sale has decreased but the volume of sales has more than made up for that. The end user feels that the cost of the service is reasonable and so many more people take it up. And the platforms behind the most successful App Stores have taken the pain out of selling, marketing and distributing for sellers as well as simplifying processes for buyers.