25 Replies Latest reply on Feb 17, 2016 10:26 PM by dougw

    Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment

      As discussed in no small part here on element14, and across the big fat Internets, the IoT is simultaneously fantastic, the "next big thing", and also fraught with problems.

       

      These include things like security and standardised protocols. Gaps in the IoT concept that are the result of slow, organic evolution rather than systemic design flaws. But flaws they are, nonetheless.

       

      And that got me thinking. If we were to invent the Internet of Things today -- deliberately and with forethought -- how would it differ from the ad-hoc network that gradually formed into the IoT we now know?

       

      So as something of a thought experiment, I'd be fascinated to hear how you guys would approach it. If you could start afresh with the entire sector and concept of IoT, how would you do it, and what would be yours proceed for putting it all in place?

        • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
          peterjcs23

          The definition needs to narrow. TI define the current state of play like this:

           

          The IoT creates an intelligent, invisible network fabric that can be sensed, controlled and programmed. IoT-enabled products employ embedded technology that allows them to communicate, directly or indirectly, with each other or the Internet.

           

          This should be narrowed down to "communicate only via the internet"; other wise we have a Bluetooth of things of some other standard.

           

          And having narrowed down the hardware and comms layers we could consider defining the the data format to some database like structure.

           

          Then if I make an IoT product I can be pretty sure it will communicate and exchange data to your IoT  product and your database.

           

           

           

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          • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
            DAB

            I think most of the standardization issues revolve around whose hardware will be at the core.

             

            As long as the applications feed data to vendor site so that the information can be collected and examined, most of the standard just will not matter.

             

            I am still dubious that all of the collected information will be of much use to the average person.

             

            The marketer's and promotion companies are the main beneficiaries and I consider them too intrusive already.  I really do not want them targeting me or people like me.

             

            DAB

            • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
              clem57

              When IoT becomes strictly home centric (no connection to net without a proxy), the issue is moot.

              C

              • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                shabaz

                We've seen great strides in many technology aspects (radio, power, sensors, processing, cloud) but the one thing I would have loved to see would have been local governments doing more. Mandatory opening up of public bodies and local government APIs many years ago, I personally don't care about the format implementation too much (of course they should be robust, certificate-based where personal information is to be accessed, and mandatory hardening to protect access to those servers and allow everyone to use them). City-wide WiFi. Rather disgusting that for all the desire for getting children coding, many have no access to the Internet in their homes and libraries are disappearing. API training classes, talks from industry, free use of space for IoT enterprises. Local businesses and stores getting incentives (reduced rent?) if they add value for residents through APIs too.

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                  • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment

                    That's a really good point. We're reaching a stage where internet access is as essential as power, water and gas, especially when looking at things from an educational aspect. But (certainly here in the UK) government and local government have made no progress at all on this front.

                     

                    I was in San Francisco once, and you could get an open Wi-Fi signal anywhere in the city.

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                      • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                        mcb1

                        We're reaching a stage where internet access is as essential as power, water and gas

                        Sorry but internet access is not life sustaining.

                         

                        It is a convienience that sadly has become addictive to many people.

                        In some cases it is a distraction to their lives.

                         

                        While it has made accessing information so much easier, I'm not sure which way the pendulum is swinging   Good v Bad in terms of benefits to humanity.

                        Internet and Education is an excuse. Sure pupils can look up information but they can also find it in books.

                        They can chat with others using skype, but they could also talk via telephone or actually talk face to face.

                         

                        Long before mobile phones we used to make plans and stick with them. There were some holdups along the way, if you ran into trouble/holdup, but we survived/existed very well.

                        Now there seems to be some anxiety if the person is 1 minute late and they haven't texted or phoned.

                         

                        The Christchurch earthquakes were a very good reminder that relying on the internet is NOT the best solution for passing vital information.

                        Someone decided that having the vital information on the council website was the best way to distrubute it, but sadly they forgot about the eastern side that had no power, no water and certainly no internet.

                        Smartphones that chew through batteries in day are no help when you have no means of charging them. (yes the intelligent ones had 12v chargers, but that's a small percentage)

                         

                        On top of that because everyone decided to ring everyone even text messages were several hours later than when they were sent. I have no idea if the telcos dropped internet ... they were struggling to keep the emergency service available so I doubt it was there.

                         

                        It also seems that ipv1 made a very good observation during one of the challenges. If everyone in India had a few devices connected, the whole internet would crawl to a halt with the volume of hundreds of millions of devices chattering about nothing.

                         

                         

                         

                        So sorry spannerspencer I don't agree that internet access is vital.

                        If you can't live without it or have an occasional requirement, then have a data plan.

                        Mark

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                          • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                            shabaz

                            Hi Mark!

                             

                            As you say, not necessarily always life-sustaining but Internet is essential 'plumbing' (like water and electricity) for business (and I believe teaching). Today, most businesses have critical applications without which their stores/branches absolutely have to shut down. Some things they can do locally but the remainder require a network connection of some sort, and it can include the Internet or bits of the infrastructure that is shared with Internet access (like copper and DSL or mobile phone network). They take steps to have backup connections like the data plan you mention.

                             

                            I just don't think there is any decent level of investment in teaching any more. When I was at school I was given a total of half a dozen books or so for nine subjects total, to last me two years. But I also had access to a library and teachers who were fantastic in these subjects, and parents who provided books too. It was always implicit that some teaching would come from parents. Some kids had private tuition.

                            Times have changed, there are fewer libraries and the divide between the amount of knowledge obtainable online (even if that means connecting to the school's private network through the Internet) and the practical access offline with reduced libraries is huge. Amazon is great, but it is an expense. I've known single parent families to struggle so much that they worry about if they have any food for the day let alone consider a book. Sad, but it still happens in the UK. Documentaries on TV shows people on welfare with televisions but they are concerned with finding the most controversy to keep viewers watching and ratings high. There will always be a few that abuse the system. There are particular production companies who exclusively deal in such programs because it is easy money for them. Irritating, and many people fall for it.

                             

                            To be honest it will get there, to a point where it will become essential infrastructure, one way being similar to phones, where usually an outage is considered so severe, that the telephone company has to report to their government if communications are cut off for more than a certain amount of time per year (I think 6 minutes for the UK). Today it certainly does degrade more quickly than phone lines used for voice, but the telephone company networks are now internally not entirely dissimilar to the hardware that the public Internet is composed of (telephone networks are far more redundant of course!), and some bits like copper lines to homes still remain unchanged except the equipment at the ends. The Internet is definitely not a replacement for phones nor even a $1 transistor radio for emergencies today, but we still see elements of its emergency usefulness especially when live images/videos from disaster situations are available. There are slow frame rate long range methods by radio, but the Internet has made it far more accessible to get such emergency footage out, get bodies to respond and save lives.

                             

                            Methods will hopefully be found to scale to billions of devices. Already there are storing mechanisms, perhaps in the future inspection mechanisms to better prioritise traffic in emergency situations, and there are companies that already have servers worldwide to allow people to think they are downloading or streaming content from (say) a news website but in reality for a better response it is coming from a nearby location (e.g. Akamai is one vendor). But as you saw first-hand for real, this really isn't there today for many emergency situations, so lots of work still to do : (

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                              • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                                mcb1

                                Some things they can do locally but the remainder require a network connection of some sort

                                We have quite a few data circuits between various parts of the country, but we've always had these in one form or another.

                                The methods and costs have changed but essentially they are fixed links.

                                 

                                It's not these that I consider 'non essential' it's the open WiFi so we can search for the nearest fast food outlet, etc.

                                 

                                 

                                We have similar issues with familes here in NZ, with some schools insisting that the pupils have to have the latest itoy as part of their 'stationery'.!!!!

                                My attitude is that if it's required for learning, then the school should provide it, just as they do with blackboards/whiteboards, chairs and desks and a classroom.

                                 

                                 

                                Mark

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                              • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                                clem57

                                Guess what, it is not like internet is air!

                                • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment

                                  Certainly I don't mean to suggest it's as essential as water and power, no -- and you're right that it's something we should try not to let ourselves become too reliant on.

                                   

                                  But right or wrong, I think it's also becoming a place where people work and earn a living, which elevates it from a luxury and closer to being a household necessity. Not for everyone, but for many, and more every day.

                                   

                                  I tend to think of it like the road networks. Built for a different purpose, but now an integral part of people's existence and subsistence whether they like it or not. And also, as you say, it's crumbling under a weight of traffic it was never designed to carry!

                                   

                                  There's a good (though slightly old) TED talk that this conversation reminds me of: https://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_bezos_on_the_next_web_innovation

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                            • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                              rsc

                              Personally,

                              I have no interest in having my coffee pot, fridge, or microwave connected to the internet.  I do have security cameras and such.  It'd be nice to know where things went if stolen, so tracking is useful.

                              Having data from home "stuff" stored in the "cloud" seems silly.  Beacons for information about places and structures is nice to have.  This reminds me of the 1980's when all the new PC manufacturers were fighting to be the one to standardize to.

                              Somehow, advertising will take over all of these things in the end.  My future coffee pot will take 1/2 hour to warm up while playing fat loss ads on the front LCD - "Press BREW to order now"

                              S

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                              • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                                mlease

                                If we had the opportunity to start over again with the Internet of Things, the first thing I would do is not call it the Internet of Things. The "Internet of Things" is less meaningful than VERY broad terms like "transportation" (a Prius to jumbo jets to oil tankers) or "consumer products" (60" plasma TVs to bike computers to iPods) or "networking" (gigabit Ethernet to 4G LTE to Bluetooth).

                                 

                                Unfortunately, when you look at everything that falls under the IoT it does look like a big incoherent mess because there are so many things that are lumped under IoT (mainly by the manufacturers to jump on the IoT bandwagon). The reality is everything in the IoT doesn't need to talk with everything else in the IoT. Within the many segments of the IoT, real standards and de facto standards have been and will continue to emerge. The cost, performance, security and other needs of the applications and devices in each segment will drive those standards.

                                 

                                From a practical perspective, security is obviously a big issue and to a large extent we're still suffering from the lack of security that was originally designed into the Internet. The sheer amount of data that millions of IoT devices can generate will become a bigger issue for Internet congestion, storing all that data and making sense of all that data. Devices that stream massive amounts of data over the Internet should be the exception and smart devices that can interpret and report on the data they capture will hopefully become the norm. Hopefully the market forces will cause that to happen because it isn't the type of thing that can be mandated through standards.

                                  • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                                    crjeder

                                    Wasn't the idea of IoT about different things talking to each other? E.g. your car telling your microwave to warm up the food 'cause you 'll arive shortly? Or your dryer talking to the power company to find out which time electricity is cheap enough for the budget you set?

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                                      • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                                        shabaz

                                        Hi! Yes, there is a requirement for M2M, P2M and P2P communications supported using IoT (machine-to-machine, people-to-machine, people-to-people).

                                        • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                                          mlease

                                          Yes, the idea of the IoT is things talking to other things (or computers or people and so on). Without going off on a tangent about the silliness and impracticality of many of the examples people spew out about the IoT, in general the things that need to talk to each other fit within application groups. Your home automation system wouldn't talk to the traffic signal on the corner which wouldn't talk with the ATM at the convenience store, each of those would be an application group that would talk with other things within its group.

                                           

                                          Even within application groups not everything needs to talk to everything, Your dryer doesn't need to talk with your home theater system which doesn't need to talk to your microwave oven which doesn't need to talk to your security cameras. It wouldn't even make sense for all of them to be on the same network. A security camera would need a high-bandwidth, low-latency network connection 24x7 to provide useful imagery while a window sensor or microwave oven would only very occasionally have short messages to exchange with something else and the network latency would be almost irrelevant. For performance and cost reasons, a window sensor would want some type of low-power mesh network, the microwave could use power-line networking and the security camera would want WiFi or even a wired Ethernet. This also touches on data generation and storage. To really be useful the security camera data would need to be stored for days, easily chewing up gigabytes of disk space (hopefully locally and not in the "cloud"). Most other things in a home network would generate very little data and most of it would be acted upon immediately so there would be little reason to store any of it.

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                                      • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                                        crjeder

                                        Since security is important I'd start reinventing there. But first let us analyse where existing solutions failed. AES is secure and solutions in hard- and software exist. BLE for instance encrypts communication using AES. But it is insecure nevertheless. Why? For encryption both sides need to know the same secret key. Trivial knowledge. But how does the key get there? It would be straight forward to require the user to enter it on both sides. But average users can not be bothered to enter 128 bit keys even on a keyboard and a big screen. Therefore other methods were invented. All of them failed. The security of punching the key into the device completely relies on an adversary being unable to watch and observe the key. By this out of band transfer an adversary needs to literally "look over your shoulder" to get the key. Much easier to the user are in band key transfers like those invented for Bluetooth (pairing) or WiFi (WPS) but without asymmetric cryptography it is impossible to produce a secret key which cannot be observed in band. Therefore all this process failed. Added PINs do not help either, the can easily brute forceed.

                                        In my opinion including a mandatory key exchange protocol based on asymmetric cryptography is important.

                                          • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                                            shabaz

                                            You're totally right, security needs to be built in to solutions and many of the ones we see skip many steps. It is totally feasible today to have the same authentication mechanisms that are used for (say) e-commerce and secure websites, i.e. PKI based. But adopting such things could mean adding another IC to the BoM, and some

                                            software effort. So it is dispensed with on the cheap solutions we see.

                                             

                                            But, even some small low-power consumer products do this already today. Not directly IoT related, but Apple products use a certificate mechanism to authenticate things plugged into iPhones. The official Apple cables contain a tiny chip inside the connector body to do this. It is possible to probe this, and see the exchange.

                                            It means that official iPhone cables can offer more features than non-official iPhone cables, e.g. video output or whatever.

                                             

                                            Provided devices ship with a unique entity (e.g. a unique identifier or a signed cert) and a mechanism exists to validate that it is  genuine (e.g. certificate verification process) then after authentication you could subsequently negotiate new keys and then use AES or any other cipher (i.e. just like HTTPS) would work and fill the product with its actual desired configuration securely.

                                             

                                            This is just one aspect however, there are plenty of other issues to resolve with resource constrained devices and radio communications (as mcb1 rightly mentioned a while back, sometimes even the presence of encrypted data can signify an event if someone is listening to it, although there are techniques that (say) make RF data transmissions look buried in the noise) so many other things also need to be considered. It needs more discipline from product and solution vendors. Some solutions do have this discipline in certain industries, we just don't hear about it because IoT means 'fridge alerting when it is empty' according to a lot of people.

                                            Also, it is right to only invest more in securing data that is sensitive. Not all data needs to be secured to the same level. The difficulty is determining a few things such as putting a value on the data and determining who needs to be the users of the data. But such determinations need to be done when shopping for IoT solutions or for any security solutions.

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                                            • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                                              DAB

                                              I totally agree about security.

                                              Most of the current devices put your information out on WiFi for anyone close enough to read.

                                               

                                              I would like more control over automatic encryption of user data so that ONLY the user has access.

                                               

                                              DAB

                                               

                                              Just because I am paranoid does not mean that someone is not out to get me.

                                            • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                                              crjeder

                                              The next area which needs a makeover is privacy. The IoT business model today is: "give us all your data, we do all kind of calculation and sell the results - maybe we share some of the results with you."

                                              I don't believe that IoT should be done in the cloud. Data should be stored and processed "on premise" close to where it is needed. If it has to be transmitted to somebody then on equal terms and only for a specific use case.

                                              • Re: Reinventing the Internet of Things: A Thought Experiment
                                                dougw

                                                It is people that need more information, it is people that need more work done, it is people that need more productivity, it is people that need IoT. Machines don't need to talk to other machines. What people need is endless - the more they get, the more they see, the more they can conceive of wanting. IoT technology is here already, so why is it not instantly fulfilling all these needs?

                                                It is because IoT is only accessible to a small number of people like engineers, technicians, scientists and programmers. These people only represent a small fraction of the wants and needs of all people, and such people are not particularly interested in providing solutions to everyone else, because we are busy working on what we think is important. And even if we were somehow motivated, we have no clue about what everyone else's needs are. They can't even explain their wants and needs in a language we would understand. I don't mean language literally, I mean if we don't live their experiences, we won't understand their needs. And even if we knew what everyone wanted, there are not enough IoT experts to address even a small fraction of the potential applications. We can all already see many more applications than we have time, money and motivation to address.

                                                The only way IoT is going to fulfill its promise is if everyone is able to use it to achieve whatever what they want. This means programming languages must be designed for non-engineers and non-computer scientists. Despite the plethora of cool languages popping up, this requirement has absolutely not been met yet.

                                                This means machines need to become "smart" enough to understand what people want and smart enough to implement solutions to real needs. This has certainly not happened yet.

                                                You could come up with a lot of other infrastructure that would be needed, but the world is not really going in that direction - because there is not enough motivation or clarity on the part of people who could make it happen. How many people would actually like to give billions of other people the power to make their own jobs obsolete?

                                                IoT will become more accessible over time, but if it ever becomes pervasively accessible, it will not likely be by altruistic planning, it will most likely be by entrepreneurial people figuring out a way to exploit the process.

                                                IoT and technology in general are still in their infancy, so the question perhaps is not really what should we have done or how we would have done it better, it really is - how should we do it from here? I would like to see less security and more accessibility, but there is clearly a growing sentiment for more security and less accessibility. The internet has expanded my horizons so dramatically, I would be very unhappy about any curtailment. I feel very sorry for people who live in countries where internet access is strictly controlled and I don't think it enhances their security. I expect the same sentiments to hold true for IoT.

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