At EELive this year, I gave a talk entitled What marketing won’t tell you about the Internet of Things. While the talk title is link bait, the presentation is more about how technology is not serving consumers and how to start fixing that. A few people asked for the presentation notes or a transcript, as the talk is tough to do without some back and forth. To that end, I wanted to write things properly (so you don’t see notes like “tell the optometrist story”).This blog series is going to cover my talk, including my slides.

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So, as the moderator says when introducing your talk, without further ado, welcome to What marketing won’t tell you about the Internet of Things. As we discuss making things part of the internet, removing their wires to make them ubiquitous and magical, it seems necessary to point out that just over 150 years ago, just about everything was already wireless.

 

Despite my contrarian title, I am enthusiastic about the Internet of Things (IoT), also known as the Internet of Everything, connectivity, or whatever else you want to call it. I am thrilled that on a hot day, I can vent my car from my phone, even turn on the air conditioner as I head toward the parking lot. My fire alarms can email me when their batteries are low instead of beeping at 4am, they can even text when they detect something more serious. And the data from the pedometer that lives in my pocket is also in the cloud where I can compare my activity level to the calories I’ve consumed.

 

There are many applications in industrial and civil connectivity. In the normal mundane IoT world, machines can (and do) report their need for maintenance. In a more futuristic application, acoustic sensors around a city can detect gunshots and automatically report them to the police.

 

Those are excellent applications but I do not intend to focus on them in this series because industrial and civil connectivity are configured by relatively experienced, technical people. While understanding  the pitfalls and tradeoffs can make their jobs better, I’m more interested in the large consumer market with its inexperienced and nontechnical users.

 

They’ve been hearing about this Internet of Things, a term bandied about to describe a world where our devices improve our lives by being connected, even more than now. I want the refrigerator that sends what I need to my phone, which adds it to my grocery list, which is filled by the robotic cart. I look forward to a time when my house detects no one is home and turns off potentially dangerous appliances (toaster oven and stove tops). I want my car to communicate directly with my home thermostat to let my house know when I’m fifteen minutes away to provide efficient climate control. The possibilities are endless and endlessly amazing. But we aren’t there yet.

 

Too many connected devices cause more headaches than help. They are unreliable, too difficult to use, dangerously unsecure, and/or impossible to configure. I am tired of being the target audience, using my engineering skills to make not-quite-there products work for my home.

 

Thus, my talk was about what marketing won’t tell you about the Internet of Things but I probably should have subtitled and what we can do about it.

 

My talk was originally called The Internet of Things is a Bunch of Hooey because I feel lied to about this technology. It is worse than it being 2014 and not having hover cars yet.

 

As an engineer, I can see why that is. Realistically, I’d rather have a cell phone or online language translation.

 

As a consumer, I keep hearing about the internet of things, how it is cool and coming. I see in an infographic from Cisco that cows will soon be on the internet [1]. There is one from Intel that makes it apparent our robot overloads will be here soon[2].  My favorite is the one that has Godzilla representing a refrigerator[3].

 

As an engineer, I keep hesitating about what interesting gadget to give my father-in-law. I want one that is easy to use, robust (in both software and hardware), and able to be configured even though I’m two thousand miles away.

 

 

As engineers and product designers, our value is in making a product for users, not for engineers. Consumers need it to work, to just work, right out of the box. They shouldn’t have to fiddle with it. That’s why they buy products instead of building it themselves. The hacker/maker/DIY market is awesome but it is not the bonanza that we keep hearing about.

 

Unfortunately, engineers often like to focus on shiny things instead of the difficult pieces of making a system work end to end.

 

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This is sort of my plan for the whole series, plus, pie charts are cool.

 

We are going to cover all the items in my agenda but unhappy customers and device tradeoffs should be bigger pieces of the pie. I will spend most of my time on them. Part of my main thesis is that when you are designing a connected device, those should be bigger pieces of your pie too.

 

Connectivity methods are important, too. They all have their pros and cons; we need to understand technical details if we want to choose the right one for our device.

 

Also, for embedded HW/SW engineers, the cloud stuff is important because it is far away from our core skillsets and quite difficult to do right.

 

As for the phrase “Internet of Things”, it did sound cool, at least the first few thousand times I heard it. Now it sounds trendy and maybe a little overused. Anyway, that’s an entirely separate rant, probably worth a whole post on its own, maybe several if you participate.

 

I’d rather stop complaining, stop touting these things as the future, and get out there to build something neat.

 

Realistically, the whole series is about stuff I want: better connectivity for consumer devices.

 

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[1] Cisco's infographic:  http://share.cisco.com/internet-of-things.html

[2] Intel's infographic:  http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/intelligent-systems/iot/internet-of-things-infographic.html

[3] Godzilla's infographic:  http://www.bestcomputersciencedegrees.com/internet-of-things/

 

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