February Meeting | Beyond the Buzz: the Internet of Things

This month we assembled a diverse panel of IoT-related professionals to take us “Beyond the Buzz.”

Below is a sample of some of the issues presented and discussed.

Our panelists:

  • Caroline Andrews, an RFIC design engineer at local start up PsiKick (Silicon Valley office).
  • Vineet Arora, a Microsoft Azure certified architect with over 23 years of experience in the IT services industry, currently at WinWire.
  • Emily Gorcenski, from Barron Associates, Inc., is a research engineer, trans woman, technologist, hockey player, and mathematician working at the intersection of science, technology, computing, and regulation.
  • Eddie Gotherman is a Lead Embedded DevOp at GE Intelligent Platforms. He’s currently on the frontier of the Industrial Internet with Equipment Insight providing OEMs with remote monitoring and diagnostics for their equipment in the field.
  • Jack Stankovic is the BP America Professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of Virginia, working at the intersection of IOT and Cyber Physical Systems.

First we were treated to an introductory presentation about IoT by Vineet.

Why IoT?

“Every company has to be a software company,” CEO of General Electric Jeffrey Immelt has said. Because survival depends on innovation, and technology now drives innovation. The average lifespan of a Fortune 500 companies has gone from 70 to 15 years. Why? Because technology is a harsh mistress; without innovation, a failure to evolve will fell even large, successful companies. Remember Blackberry, Blockbuster, Circuit City, for example? They found themselves out of business because they failed to adapt their business to consumer’s changing needs.

Even newer companies will fail if they don’t innovate. For example, what is the difference between Uber and Lyft? They provide the same service. Nor was Uber the first to market, but now it is the largest ride company on the planet. Why? It has innovated better, delivering a better user experience, and therefore a better product, to its customers. Think also of Netflix, a young company that has changed its fundamental product multiple times already to achieve its current success. A success driven by innovation driven by software.

And that’s where IoT comes in, because it is the driver of the software of the future. In 2010 there were very few connected devices. Today there are exponential categories of connected device. Just 6 years later. Yes, there has been technology embedded in physical objects in the past, but falling hardware costs and cloud services are making it easier to embed technology in everything, rather than only in select, physical objects that merited the significant investment. Now that the devices will be everywhere, the software infrastructure will need to accommodate this complexified environment.

Enter IoT

IoT is an IT solution that collects data from physical objects and then analyzes that data in order to take action that accomplishes a business goal. There are 3 things that make up IoT: (1) Embedded (sensors) technology at the edge of experience; (2) A platform that interacts with those sensors and bring in data from physical objects; (3) Applications that consume the data and either take action or help make decisions.

Panel Q & A: What is your professional outlook on IoT?

Caroline. PsiKick is betting the business on the increasing use of radio sensors. But if you want such items to be ubiquitous you have to make them small and batteries even smaller. In fact, we are trying to come up with sensors that require no power, or very, very little. Then there is the platform that devices all connect to

Eddie Gotherman. GE as well is investing heavily in IoT, believing that represents the future of industry. GE is building an industrial internet platform that will allow companies to control their production processes based on data generated by sensors in the machines and around the factory. The way to improvement in service is to use data to anticipate problems and customer needs.

Emily Gorcenski. In the medical world, smart devices interact with both consumers (who want health data) and business (hospitals who monitor their machines). The standard for a medical device is, and must be, higher than that for your FitBit. Likewise, when you are gathering private health information, there are, appropriately, regulatory and privacy issues. Not to mention the social implications: software that can ‘identify’ for example the gender of human faces may be fascinating, but we should also consider any harmful indications from the mistakes made by any data-driven algorithm.

Jack Stankovic. The possibilities of smart homes improving lives with this technology is real. Many people may be willing to let these ostensibly invasive products into their house in order to maintain their independence, to improve their quality of life.

What problems do you see ahead?

Vineet. There is an integration problem. Companies that offer smart items, often these items only work on some platforms. And as we know, many of these devices are not easy to use; they require technical knowledge. The same for security. We see these devices hacked very easily now but that is because IoT is still very new, at the beginning of its development.

Jack. A smart house has to work for regular people, not IT experts. But a bigger problem I see is in the scale of IoT needed to create a truly smart house, for example. If there were 25 billion devices on the internet on the 2020, that would only be 3 linked objects per person—and that’s not enough. We need to imagine linked objects on a different level of magnitude if we are going to create a smart world out of our smart things. We might take the body as a guide on the necessary magnitude to connect our world in proper complexity: there are 100 trillion cells in human body. Clearly these issues need to be addressed as IoT matures.

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