The Internet Of Things, Or, The Consumerization Of Engineering

February 11, 2015

I had heard about it, but aside from thinking of everything around me having an IP address, and imaging doing silly things with my refrigerator,  I didn’t really know what it meant. Recently we heard that Citrix had acquired OctoBlu, a leader in the IoT space and saw some impressive demos of human/device interaction at Citrix Summit 2015 in Vegas.

Then I became aware that this team, and the co-founder Chris Matthieu, are based right here in AZ and down the rabbit hole we went. Turns out that in addition to doing amazing stuff like starting a GoToMeeting when you enter a room (via Moheeb Zara) and when the meeting ends sending everyone a recording of the meeting via Sharefile automatically, they do things like Hack High Performance Cars! And if that is not cool enough, they are also very active in the community right here in my backyard.

We (me, my 13 year old son and Joe Shonk) attended the IoTPhx meet up and met a fascinating bunch of developers, hackers, engineers and enthusiasts. Here is just one project that was demo-ed:

MicroChip was there showing their Development products and some cool expanded Arduino compatible boards. My 13 year old son received one in the giveaway…this could be the start of something big!

So what does it all mean? According to WikiPedia:

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing devices within the existing Internet infrastructure. Typically, IoT is expected to offer advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services that goes beyond machine-to-machine communications (M2M) and covers a variety of protocols, domains, and applications.[1] The interconnection of these embedded devices (including smart objects), is expected to usher in automation in nearly all fields, while also enabling advanced applications like a Smart Grid.[2]

OK- but not sure it that really helps.What I saw at the IoTPhx Meetup was the ability of people at all levels of skill and experience to get into coding and executing ideas on low cost and easily accessible platforms. These platforms are relatively powerful single board systems that are easily programmable, provide broad connectivity and include inputs for sensors of light, sound, movement, gravity etc. and outputs for controlling external things like lights, motors, wifi, etc,  and

Is that new? Not really, professional engineers have been coding and embedding functionality in microcomputers and doing device control for decades. However, these are highly educated, well paid professionals working in mostly large companies using expensive and proprietary equipment. The revolution here is that starting at ~$50 bucks anyone can put together their own system, using their own ideas and realize results that before took teams of men and women, many thousands of dollars, high expertise and months of work. In addition, these ideas can now communicate easily across the entire internet using simple code and even graphical “grab and drop” interfaces.

Just as we have seen with computers evolving over the decades, we now carry massively powerful systems in our hands. What was not even possible just a few years ago, we now experience in a portable telephone -Star Trek like global information, communication and access!

The last several years have been characterized by many as “The Consumerization of Information Technology“. This is a time in which people have tremendous power in their hands. Technology products are targeted to individual, every day, “normal”(i.e. non expert) users. With inexpensive devices, and cheap apps, we can surpass the capabilities of large Enterprise class systems from just yesterday. We can do more, we expect more and simply don’t need or want to be held back.

From my point of view, I see the “Internet of Things” as the Consumerization of Engineering. Now for just a few bucks, some creative ideas and a little of your own free time you can create engineered results. You can instruct a controller to do things, to communicate between whatever devices you like, to talk across the Internet to do whatever YOU envision.

What do you think? A bright future? Just a bunch of toys? The tech version of “We the People?  The best way to fight the coming war with machines? Let’s start a conversation….


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