Preston Tesvich
IoT, web, hardware, architecture, api

The Tangled Web of Things

What could the future look like in the face of ubiquitous device connectivity.

“Markets now have the clear signal they need to unleash the full force of human ingenuity and scale up investments that will generate low emissions and resilient growth. What was once unthinkable has now become unstoppable." - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon @ conclusion of Paris climate talks (COP21)

The result of last year's Paris climate talks: the promise of a $16.5 trillion global investment in renewables and efficiency from 195 countries.

195 countries.

For perspective, in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was agreed to by 48 countries. Never before has there been such a global convergence of interests and identification of common purpose. What will be the ramifications of the COP21? According to Bloomberg, "Governments will have to offer incentives for clean energy production, scale back support for fossil fuels like oil, make emissions more costly, and reduce deforestation. The changes will touch industries from transport to construction, and encourage people to change their behavior."

I work in the buzz-word laden 'internet of things'-- the ambiguous and nebulous set of technologies that at its core consists of connecting everything that has a power switch to the internet to monitor, coordinate, and optimize. Ostensibly, this trend is slated to disrupt everything and address many of the world's most challenging problems, including energy efficiency and turning my toaster on with my phone (because c'mon who doesn't want to do that ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).

So, of course, I viewed the COP21 and my experiences since through that lens.

As boots on the ground in the industry, it's been interesting observing the trends:    

Governments will continue fund the infrastructural change both by pumping money directly into particular industries and by subsidies for those that comply with higher efficiency standards. The agreement for emissions transparency in the COP21 treaty will encourage a proliferation of connected devices that collect and stream energy use data. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition headed by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg will bring private equity investing expertise to the technology development required to drive these architectural changes, and other venture capital firms and angel investing groups will follow suit; further, more government grants will be earmarked to cleantech.

Loss of subsidies in the fossil fuel industry will increase the cost of many carbon products. A wide range of industries will be affected by the cost increase in petroleum from the fuel powering trucking fleets to the grease needed in a manufacturing facility. Plastics will become more expensive, and better recycling methods at all stages of the supply chain will be in demand. Operational efficiency will only become more important. The Industrial-Internet-of-Things (IIoT), already the largest and fastest growing sector of the IoT, will accelerate. Supply side companies will adopt connected warehouses and factories more rapidly, while logistics will see the emergence of automation technologies such as electric driverless vehicles for medium and long distances and aerial drone delivery for last-mile logistics.

Currently, electricity and heat used by residential buildings account for 15.3% green house emissions in the U.S. (9.9% global), and in offices 12.0% (5.4% global), together constituting the single greatest source of emissions. If carbon taxes are introduced at the industrial level, it will trickle through commercial and down to the end consumer level. Circa solar subsidies, taxes, associated subsidies, and a continued reduction in device prices will drive consumer adoption of greener habits and technologies. LED lighting, smart thermostats, and systems which coordinate and optimize energy use in homes and offices will increase in demand. Construction and real estate development companies will begin offering more connected building options. Companies who own large buildings such as hotels will begin retrofitting their installations with smart lights, blinds, and HVAC to decrease their carbon footprint to LEED certified. Product companies will add connectivity to everything with a power switch to streamline their product development and lifecycle management. Power companies will push for their users to adopt connected high-wattage devices to aid in demand response automation.

The engine of these changes is the precipitous drop in the price of connectivity and meteoric rise in availability of wireless chipsets. Not only is the silicon becoming commoditized, but also newer, cheaper, and more robust wireless technologies such as LoRaWAN, HaLow, and Bluetooth Mesh are entering the market, foretelling a ubiquity of sensors, actuators, and appliances that are connected to the internet. These connections allow for collation and analysis of data; both user-driven and autonomous coordination of devices in the field will optimize for efficiency and convenience. These smart devices, known in their totality as the ‘internet of everything’ will drive tremendous efficiency gains across the industrial, commercial, and consumer spaces.

For many use cases, standardization at the hardware level is a long ways out—the reality is that different radios and hardware configurations are needed for different situations. To combat this fragmentation, product and service companies will remain flexible by relying on cloud-based APIs to glue these disparate systems together, dramatically simplifying and accelerating application development. Further, hardware makers can focus their resources on design, manufacturing, and distribution rather than a bloated software team building backend systems from scratch. The major reduction in product development will lead to a flourishing of connected device solutions that not only address gaps in efficiency but also lead to new consumer services and revenue streams.

What do you think? What else is driving the IoT?

Is it inevitable, or a fad?

Is it winner take all, or will ‘coopetition’ be the theme?

- P