Bruce Sterling is a sci-fi novelist, futurist, design-theorist, and one of the defining authors of cyberpunk. He’s coined neologisms like “buckyjunk”, “spime”, and “slipstream”, was writing about augmented reality way before it became a reality, and currently holds the title of “Visionary in Residence” at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He’s also credited with having invented steampunk alongside William Gibson.
In his keynote address from the 2006 O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, Bruce discussed the theoretical and technical challenges that society faces with the development of the Internet of Things (IoT). With this type of technology a person will be able to find lost keys, for example, with a simple Google Search.
It would seem that the “Internet of Things” is turning from science fiction into reality with the advent of the UK being the first country in Europe to implement “White Space” mobile internet, leading to the ground-breaking deployment of a city wide, fully functional wireless network. This has manifested in Cambridge, making it the first White Space City. White Space is the general term for unused but allocated spectrum which has been reserved for analog TV. This portion of the spectrum offers vastly increased range, speed and signals that penetrate areas that 3G cannot.
IoT can be seen as an utopian ideal with the potential to be made manifest within the next 10 years. There are many challenges ahead as highlighted in the following quote from Gerald Santucci, Head of Unit “Enterprise Networking and RFID” at European Commission:
“For the economy, the Internet of Things will bring a disruption – only companies that are able to exploit this new potential will survive. For the society, it will impose a new “social contract”, not only among humans but also among people and objects. The current policy challenges – notably security and privacy – will not wear off, far from it, but will require radically new approaches summoning up both technology and regulation. And new challenges will surely emerge, in particular ethics – what is the place of humans in a ‘new society’ where ‘thinking objects’ dominate and gradually conquer their autonomy?”
The IoT is a concept that has emerged from a vision of an always connected world. Seamless connectivity between devices anywhere, anytime, in any condition is the goal behind the concept of the IoT. Pervasive computing or ubiquitous computing is an emerging trend that is gradually helping technologists worldwide to realise this vision. Needless to say for IoT to be adopted profusely a significant number of marriages between technologies need to take place. A ubiquitously connected world means that connectivity between devices through smart interfaces to a network that is always on. So, whether it is a short range mobile transceiver, data storage device, a camera, or a lightbulb the underlying technologies need to work together.
There are two main funded projects and alliances which is pushing IoT to become reality:
IOT-A- INTERNET OF THINGS ARCHITECTURE – this is funded under the European Union (EU)’s 7th framework Programme (FP 7), and is expected to be complete by August 2013. The key organisations involved in the project are VDI, Alcatel Lucent, Hitachi, Siemens and Telefonica.
IoT-A, the European Lighthouse Integrated Project addressing the Internet-of-Things Architecture, proposes the creation of an architectural reference model together with the definition of an initial set of key building blocks. Together they are envisioned as crucial foundations for fostering a future Internet of Things. Using an experimental paradigm, IoT-A will combine top-down reasoning about architectural principles and design guidelines with simulation and prototyping to explore the technical consequences of architectural design choices.
IOT-6 UNIVERSAL INTEGRATION OF THE INTERNET OF THINGS THRU IPv6 BASED ORIENTED ARCHITECTURE – this is funded under the European Union (EU)’s 7th framework Programme (FP 7) and the project is likely to be completed by 2014. The key participants include Mandat International, Ericsson, Serbia and Vienna University of Technology.
IoT6 is a 3 years FP7 European research project on the future Internet of Things. It aims at exploiting the potential of IPv6 and related standards (6LoWPAN, CORE, COAP, etc.) to overcome current shortcomings and fragmentation of the Internet of Things. Its main challenges and objectives are to research, design and develop a highly scalable IPv6-based Service-Oriented Architecture to achieve interoperability, mobility, cloud computing integration and intelligence distribution among heterogeneous smart things components, applications and services.
In a follow-up post, I’ll discuss how startup company Neul (Cambridge, England) is pioneering the use of white space radio for machine-to-machine communications (M2M) and has developed a new, open M2M communications standard entitled “Weightless” to harmonise connectivity of devices.