The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things…


Most parts of our lives are connected to the Internet in some way. With advanced mobile devices and cost effective connectivity even while we move we have nearly the same capabilities we do when home, maybe even more.


The ability to have motion and location dependent services allows us to find a close restaurant or lowest price gas station. In a way we have extended our use to things that the Internet wasn’t initially designed to provide. While these services are all based on connectivity, it’s hard to imagine during the early days of ARPANET creators thinking it would allow us to stream live television shows to a phone as we travel on vacation or play multiuser games across the globe. They did realize that this was going to change the way we communicate and do business and it has.


Changes come sometimes from demand like faster modes of transportation. However, sometimes changes come from the convenience of the service. In our home, like many, we HAD wired telephone service, Cable TV and Cable Internet. We don’t have great cellular service inside the house with metal roofs and metal window screens… In the past we had Satellite Direct TV and finally made the decision to move to Cable TV. That decision was made on cost and performance and the result was better service at lower cost. It didn’t take long for the Cable provider to realize they could provide Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) and soon we had a box next to our cable modem that connected our existing wired phones. The result was the phone company was no longer needed and we had one less bill and one less vendor.


From the phone user perspective the service is good and nearly identical to the previous service and lower in overall costs. Of course, if cable is out you might also lose the ability to call the cable provider. Common services can create common modes of failure and so now if cable is completely out we lose TV, Internet, and phone services. According to my kids life completely stops…


I wrote a paper a while ago called “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” that talked about the evolution and use of services and it’s still relevant. We use services for different things, hence there are the services AND how we use those services. The Internet evolved from a concept of communicating via packets versus a continuous single connection. It’s a communication service. Over time it became fast and more deterministic and now we are able to face-time and watch live streaming video over these communication services.


The Internet of things is happening now even if it’s invisible to most of us. In our home we’ve moved to nearly 100% LED light bulbs. My youngest son did a science project on cost effective LED bulbs. (I might share that in a future blog). Along the way during LED bulb comparison we ran into the WINK Hub and LED smart bulbs. These 60w equivalent LED bulbs have a good price; good lumens and also the ability to be remote controlled via the HUB hence the “smart”.


Ok that’s not too amazing – we’ve had remote light controls in various forms for quite a while. I still remember my grandfather’s TV remote that was a clicker that struck a tuning fork to turn on/off, change the channel or volume… The difference is that these bulbs are controlled from my iPhone via an app. So I click on a light – the request via my cellular connection to the internet gets to a HUB server then to my WiFi Internet connected WINK Hub and then via a signal to the correct bulb. There are some interesting features of this remote control approach. First object grouping: You can group things and control them as a group. I really need this feature to control my kids as a group… I have four bulbs in a ceiling fan grouped and called fan1 – that allows me to turn the “fan lights” on or off and even dim them. Can you still use the switch? Sure but you can also control things from anywhere your phone is as long as you have connectivity. I drive my wife nuts with my ability to turn things on off and dim or brighten.


The way this is accomplished relies on a technology called mesh networking. It wouldn’t be efficient to wire every device and there isn’t always a good Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signal from every device back to your home WiFi router. What Wink does is use a router that leverages efficient low-bandwidth ZigBee and Z-Wave. This is great for low power low data rate devices like bulbs that need to be turned on, off, brightened or dimmed. ZigBee is another network but one that uses mesh based concepts. Remember those party games where one person tells a message to another person and so on? Imagine that without the errors. The hub talks to closer devices that share with other devices until it reaches the device you want to control. Mesh is a set of connections that vary to create efficient dynamic connections. So if the Wink HUB can’t reach the bulb directly it will try to reach it via other ZigBee devices. So the HUB can talk to another smart bulb and a mesh is created that gets the data/command to the correct destination. As you add more “smart” devices to your home the paths a mesh can take get even better. That’s key – as our homes get smarter they will get faster and more efficient at communication.


Where is the Internet of things going? Ok, in my view we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. It won’t be long when many appliances arrive “smart”, ZigBee or otherwise. You will be able at work to get an alert that an air conditioner is broken and the house is warm or that the whole house lost power/connectivity. You can also use the IoT to find a missing object. If your keys or wallet was IoT connected you could query the mesh and other mesh objects would say essentially “I can see it, it’s near me”.


When the IoT devices become simple and cheap suddenly they can combine with things like RFIDs to give you even more information. You car will tell you its fuel level as you sit inside your house. Your water bottle dispenser will tell you it’s low and also that you don’t have any spare bottles. Your toothbrush might complain to your phone that you’re not brushing twice a day. Your refrigerator might take a survey of contents and tell you what your running low on or what’s getting old.


As you move around your business will too. Your car will help you plan where and when to buy gas. Your phone will make sure you don’t leave home or work without your laptop. It doesn’t take long to realize that simple communications between objects and people will change our lives. For better or worse? We shall see… I’m still waiting for computers to make my day easier and shorter…



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